Making responsible social and environmental choices has not always been a first priority for many corporations, but recent history has changed all that.
Small, but mighty Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs), using 21st century global communications, are nipping at the heels of corporations caught in unethical and irresponsible practices. NGOs have effectively organized market campaigns and are moving these companies toward the higher standard now demanded by their clients, their consumers, and society as a whole. The lever that moves these giants is the risk of destroying their carefully built brands if they fail to recognize their moral liability and clean up their practices. In Barbados, the fight continues. But the challenge to compel our corporate citizens to live up to their environmental responsibilities remains.
In 2000, basking in the success of its Healthy Lifestyle Project the Nation Publishing Co. Limited approached its sister company StarCom Network Inc. about joining together in a national campaign to promote environmental preservation and protection. It was intended to be a millennium gift to Barbados. According to the Systematic Media Survey these were the two most powerful media houses enjoying the majority of listenership and readership on the island. It was felt therefore that they would be best positioned to influence and change Barbadian attitudes towards the environment.
The Greening Barbados Project was thus born, and the two threw their full media muscle behind the programme. The project, despite large volumes of publicity and the investment of resources into the hosting of two major expos however, has failed to generate the response and interest from the general public, corporations and groups that was anticipated.In fact, eight years on, it seems to have died a natural death. And so the challenge remains.
It moves one to ask- Do Barbadian companies give a hoot about their corporate social responsible (CSR)? Are CEOs of companies reading this article and saying CSR what? It is important to note that corporate social responsibility goes beyond charity and goodwill. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development considers it to be "the continuing commitment by businesses to behave ethically and contribute to economic development while improving the quality of life of the workforce and their families as well as of the local community and society at large." This implies some liability on the part of the company to be held accountable for the social and environmental consequences of its actions.
It is encouraging to note that the local hotel sector is paying attention to its CSR and seems to have gotten it right. One of the island’s environmental champions is Loretto Duffy-Mayers. Duffy-Mayers, Director of Environmental Programmes at the Almond Casuarina Resort, observed, “CSR is a major part of the green certification (programme for Green Globe 2) and what we do at Almond. We look at business holistically. Not just the financial aspect but the environmental, social and cultural aspects as well. Almond sponsors the Holders Season, CIMEX, and the St. Peter’s fair. Individual properties sponsor beach clean ups and programmes in their area. Every year we have Environmental Week and there is a UWI lecture and tours of the property. We believe that for tourism to be sustainable everyone must benefit and it must not impact negatively on the lives of the people in the area”.
It must be said that an organisation’s reputation is one of the biggest determinants of its success. In overseas markets, particularly in Europe, consumers are deliberately choosing to do business and buy products from companies that are environmentally friendly. Companies are responding by greening their processes and letting the consumer know in their packaging and advertising just how environmentally friendly they are. Large corporations like Wal-Mart are teaming up with environmental groups and cosmetic companies are declaring that they are not doing any animal testing. Large oil companies are contributing to save the whale, penguins and seals projects.
But what of the Barbadian company and the Barbadian consumer? Should Barbadian companies see CSR as part of their business strategy or should they wait until consumers demand it? The progressive company examines all the potential areas of crises and plans for them. That means taking CSR seriously and adopting a solid environmental and social strategy. Some of the island’s manufacturing entities are paying attention to CSR issues and are to be commended. Others like export leaders,the Rum Refinery of Mount Gay and Arawak Cement Company Ltd have gone further, seeking international environmental management system certification through the ISO 14000 series. They stand to benefits from increased efficiency and less wastage of energy and raw materials; compliance with environmental regulations and improved public perception, particularly among international organisations who may prefer to conduct business with companies that comply with accepted international environmental standards.
The improved competitive edge which they now enjoy should inspire other companies to incorporate these principles into their processes, not just as an export strategy but as part of the effort to be a good corporate citizen and to build a better Barbados.