Article appeared in "The Nanjinger" November 2014 Go back »

2014-11-26 | Nanjing

Article appeared in "The Nanjinger" November 2014

Reflective of the times in which we live, on 16th October the Nanjing Chapter of the EUCCC held its first Corporate Social Responsibility Award Competition and Green & Clean Forum, in an event combining a recognition of businesses with best practice in CSR and sustainability with insightful addresses on the CSR state of the nation.

While this was the first time such an event has been staged in Nanjing, no less than an impressive seventeen entries were submitted, from giant MNCs right down to little babies with less than 10 employees; suggesting an ever-increasing awareness of the importance of measures allowing responsible growth and a giving back to the community.

Yet, the relatively new concept has not yet become a substantial part of daily business operations; especially in China understanding of CSR principles is lacking to put it mildly. Speaking at the award ceremony, Jacob Thomas, founder of Maker Sustainability Consulting, described the barriers his business encounters primarily with Chinese companies. “When we talk to potential Chinese clients, most of them have never heard of the term. They will be very confused. Then charity and donation is mentioned and they will immediately pull out their cheque books.; ‘Oh, yes I understand charity, I am a very compassionate person; how much do you need?’”

Keynote addresses from the day’s activities included those from BASF-YPC and Omega Zeta, in which Dr. Oliver Conen, General Manager of Engineering, Maintenance, EHS & Utilities presented the former’s Verbund Principle that works to optimise resource and production efficiency, while Albert Marino, General Manager of New Building Materials showed how the latter puts sustainable materials to use in green buildings.

The Chamber’s forum and awards were also a chance to challenge the generally accepted wisdom that CSR is for big companies with deep pockets. While there were awards for heavyweights Siemens, BSH and Philips that illustrate this, along with the rational that without size and profitability CSR is unlikely to occur, this first EUCCC Green and Clean Forum was also an opportunity to hear from the small-to-medium sized businesses who, by necessity on account of their size, need to think about CSR in different terms.

It was therefore a pleasant surprise to see MAN Diesel & Turbo China win an award in the category Human Resources & Work Safety for their program Safety Culture Cultivation, through which they where able to achieve an impressive 350 days without lost time due to injury in 2013. From “safety moments”, conducted at the start of every internal meeting, to bulletins, magazines and videos, the Changzhou based firm has established a true culture of safety first, and has reaped the benefits. Attendance at Management HSE training sessions has also risen dramatically from less than 10 percent to 80 percent. There are few better examples of good CSR helping to improve a company’s efficiency and ultimately, its profitability.

Through starting with a look at the big picture, Nanjing International School set out to first audit their carbon footprint, as a result deservedly taking home the trophy in the category Sustainable Growth & Environmental Protection. Ever the ones to have the student body get their hands dirty with on the job experience, the Green Report Card project that began two years ago required staff to fill out questionnaires on the school’s usage of energy, water, waste, resources and transportation, latterly captured, along with data collected from on-site inspections, in a Sustainability Report. The initiative shows very well one of the prerequisites for successful CSR; clear involvement from just about everyone in the organisation, who in this case walk away empowered by new knowledge of their organisation’s contribution to the carbon footprint issue at large, and what exactly they are doing about it.

As the first such event of its kind, it was inevitable that firms entering the competition would have differing visions of the expectations required to be considered for an award; big institutions who should really know better such as Hilton and Fairmont submitting entries that were little more than cut and paste jobs from their corporate websites.

One thing is for sure; CSR is relevant to everyone and can take on many different incarnations; be they the Internet giant Tencent investing ¥57 million in the production of a film depicting the lives of fair trade tea pickers and promoting it via their platform WeChat, or the utilisation of modern technology to recover an ancient craft, as displayed in the porcelain industry by award winner Shangyu Gushi Yueyao R&D Centre.

As these stories show, the 21st century is seeing the development of an entirely new business model: CSR and sustainability not as part of a company, but at the root of it.

Judging by participation and attendance, EUCCC is rightfully confident in their hope that the event can be held annually at the national level, becoming the Nanjing chapter’s signature event, with other chapters nationwide supporting it. The success of the event has also been seen as a signal that more EUCCC members demand greater focus on the environment, policy and responsibility; key goals for the Chamber over the next year must therefore include engaging with the government on this theme in more effective ways.

Welcome to the century of sustainability.

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Sherry Yu