The Importance of Corporate Social Responsibility

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Written by Tom Southern, Pacific CEO, CBRE

In the initial growth phase of a business the natural emphasis and attention is on developing from a financial perspective. However, as a business matures there is the opportunity to take stock and focus on broader considerations such as giving back to the community in which you operate.

For CBRE in Pacific this has entailed the development of a multi-faceted Corporate Social Responsibility program – one that took shape following a period of significant growth pre the Global Financial Crisis.

CBRE: A CSR Case Study

In this growth phase, we transformed the business via a series of M&A’s and the launch of a raft of new business lines. Our staff numbers doubled and our financial performance was significantly enhanced.  But we were cognisant of the fact that financial considerations weren’t the be all and end all for our staff. With that in mind we decided to take part four years ago in the Aon Hewitt Best Employers survey, which measures staff engagement. Part of the feedback from the survey, particularly from our younger employees, was that we were perhaps focusing too heavily on financial success and that we needed to become a more well rounded corporate.

At a global level, CSR has been a highly important tenet of our business for many years. We were recently named to the Companies that Care Honor Roll for the sixth consecutive year and through our CBRE Disaster Relief Foundation we’ve facilitated employee contributions to disaster relief efforts and matched those contributions to the tune of 50 cents for every dollar raised. This has provided significant funds to assist communities in wake of events such as Superstorm Sandy and, closer to home, the Christchurch Earthquake in New Zealand and devastating Queensland floods in Australia in 2011.

However, what we recognised in the wake of the Hewitt survey was the need to develop a much more robust CSR platform at a local level. I’m pleased to say that in the years since that first survey was completed we’ve steadily increased our staff engagement scores each year. In my mind, CSR is important for reasons, which stand outside promoting our brand. It fits with the ethos of appreciating how fortunate we are and is vital in helping to develop a happy and productive company culture.

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A Rewarding Experience

A key component of our program has been Walk For A Wish – an idea that was generated four years ago by one of senior Property Managers. It’s evolved to become a company-wide event that sees our Pacific staff take part in concurrent 10 km walks across Australia and New Zealand to raise money for the Starlight Children’s Foundation and Make-A-Wish New Zealand. Last year, Mirvac came on board as our major sponsor and their staff also joined us on the walk. In all we had 900 people take part in last year’s event and, over the life of Walk For A Wish, we’ve raised circa AU$500,000 for these two charities – both of whom couldn’t exist without this type of corporate support. It’s a really humbling experience when you visit the hospital programs that these charities support and it’s personally been such a rewarding experience to see this event grow and garner such strong support from our staff and clients.

Another leg to our CSR strategy has been our Helping Hands program, which we launched in Sydney in 2011 and expanded to be a company-wide initiative last year. In Sydney, our staff members now regularly volunteer at the Salvation Army Streetlevel Café, which provides a place of refuge for the disadvantaged and homeless. Our volunteers prepare and serve lunch, interact with community members, and work in the charity shop. I firmly believe that, where possible, active involvement in a community or charity program enhances awareness and is far more beneficial than simply making a cash contribution.  Our Brisbane office recently held its first volunteer day assisting at homeless drop-in centre the 139 Club.  Victorian staff members have also signed up for the program with volunteer days scheduled for the Australian Animal Protection Society, St Mary’s House of Welcome, the Lighthouse Foundation and the Property Industry Foundation.

Sustainability Initiatives

Sustainability has been another major tenet of our CSR strategy. Sustainability is one of the key issues for our industry and our clients are increasingly favouring agencies with the knowledge and know-how to help them achieve their sustainability goals. Last year we achieved a number of highly significant milestones, including having our operations rated as carbon neutral by implementing a range of carbon mitigation programs. This was the second year running that we achieved this certification under the National Carbon Offset Standard (NCOS), which is managed by Low Carbon Australia. We have also instituted an annual event in all our Pacific offices called CBRE Green Day to give our staff an opportunity to participate in sustainable change and environmentally responsible thinking. It focuses on six sustainable initiatives that staff can pursue: walk, reuse, save water, switch off, and think about printing.

CRS Attracts and Retains Employees

Our employees are our most important asset and we see CSR as increasingly vital in attracting and retaining top talent. These programs give people a sense of pride in the organisation, engender teamwork and are a source of inspiration and connectedness. And most importantly, they’re about “doing” rather than just “giving”.

CSR is a Vital Tool to Boost Business and Employee Morale

It’s critical in relation to staff engagement – we’ve seen that at CBRE with our engagement, as measured by an external provider, increasing each year as a direct result of our CSR program. And that’s been reflected at other organisations that have implemented similar initiatives. Biotechnology company Amgen also has two days of paid charity leave and they recently citied that it was one of the features of the company that made their people proud. Similarly at PricewaterhouseCoopers, 66 percent of staff polled last year cited corporate responsibility activities as a factor in their decision to stay with the firm.

Recent research from the Australian Charities Fund came up with similar findings. More than 60 percent of the employees polled agreed that CSR programs enhanced employee motivation.

Employees want to work for companies that are good corporate citizens. They want to see that they can make a difference. And through these types of programs you’re making your organisation a better place at which to work.


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