For Gas Networks Ireland managing director Sean Casey, Corporate and Social Responsibility is a business imperative – particularly in a business that relies as heavily as his does on general good will.
“If you believe in doing things the right way for the community and for the environment, that will spread, you will get a good name and, in turn, it becomes easier to do business. In our case, when it comes to pipeline projects where we have to traverse people’s land, that’s a lot easier to do when people trust you,” he said.
“It’s why CSR is at the top table here, as one of the key performance indicators we report on.”
Much of that reporting is driven by Caroline O’Connor, the company’s corporate responsibility manager.
“The ethos at Gas Networks Ireland has always been one that is focused on the community,” she said. “Both figuratively and literally, we’ve been building pipelines with communities, with landowners and with customers since we were established, both for the sake of our own business and because we have a role of national importance, helping to ensure continuity of energy supply for the State.”
A commercial semi-state organisation, Gas Networks Ireland employs 520 staff, servicing the connections and managing the network that supplies gas to 666,000 customers, including domestic, commercial and industrial users.
“For us, CSR is the place where our business meets society, the economy and the community. It’s how we work together on the issues that have to be addressed, exploit opportunities and tackle challenges – together.”
In recent years the organisation has undergone enormous change, including a restructuring of its parent, Bord Gáis, the separating out of infrastructure from supply and the creation of a multi-utility model that includes not just gas but water too.
Going for Business in the Community’s Business Working Responsibly Mark at this time made sense. “The BWR Mark provided us with a measurement tool that allows for gap analysis so we did the assessment piece in 2011, identifying the strengths but also the areas that needed improving,” she said.
Having succeeded in being awarded the Mark in 2013, the company is now determined to hold on to it.
“It is the most comprehensive measurement tool I have found. It is dedicated to continuous improvement, and that’s why we like it. You can’t just keep doing what you are doing in business you have to improve. As such, the Business Working Responsibly Mark is now embedded in our business strategy. It’s up there at the top level, with a CSR score card system in place that drills down through every aspect of the organisation and everything we do.”
One example of this continuous improvement is in relation to disability. While the organisation was fully compliant with existing regulations in relation to disabled access, working towards the Mark encouraged it to take things further.
It introduced an accessibility programme which focused on improving conditions at its Network HQ in Cork for those with health, mobility or agility issues. Employee assistance programmes were developed, enabling staff with particular illnesses to express what the company could do to make it easier to do their job. Equality and diversity programmes were formulated both in relation to staff and customers.
It also intensified its work around renewable energy, leading the charge in the biogas industry with its research into anaerobic digestion techniques using landfill gas, agricultural slurries and residues and municipal separated waste.
Gas Networks Ireland has won numerous awards for its customer care processes but even here participation in the Mark process helped raise the bar, leading to the introduction of people with a disability and older people to its mystery shopper panel.
Upping its CSR game meant looking at supply chain management too. “It’s been a journey, ensuring there is a responsibility value in our procurement processes alongside all the values that were always there, such as health and safety and quality. We started with things we could easily get stakeholders on board with, such as community engagement, but one gaping hole that emerged was that we had never asked a question of our suppliers in relation to human rights, for example. So we brought that into our procurement on a trial basis in relation to pre-qualifying questions for contracts of over Euro 250,000.”
Public tenders must be scrupulously fair and transparent, so effecting any change on this front was always going to be a challenge. “You can’t just ask a question because it’s a nice question. It has to relate to a potential supplier’s ability to do the job they are tendering for,” she explained.
“On all these fronts there has been huge learning involved and it’s still early days, but we are so up for more. The enthusiasm around the Mark from staff has rubbed off on everyone throughout the organisation.”
Sean Casey agrees: “For us, getting the Mark was never about getting an accolade, it was always about finding future work we could do for our own continuous improvement.”
For further information, please contact:
Elise McCarthy, Corporate Responsibility Consultant, T: 01 8747232 E: firstname.lastname@example.org