Corporate social responsibility: How to be good

<p> Suresh Ariaratnam</p><p>More than ever, consumers are aware of the environmental, social and political impact of their shopping habits. And as information about the consequences of their choices becomes more apparent, companies are required to become more transparent.</p><p>Demand for books on the environment, and on responsible ways to shop or travel, has picked up sharply in the past year. Ian Watson, Foyles' environmental sciences buyer, points to a marked increase in sales of titles about building eco-houses, and the store's recent introduction of a sustainable living section.</p><p>Ottakar's, as early as 2004 (before it was aquired by Waterstone's), built an Ethical Living promotion around publication of Change the World for a Fiver (Short Books), sourcing additional titles on topics such as recycling. "It was a success," says Jon Howells, former Ottakar's PR and communications manager who has now joined Waterstone's team. "It was not one of the big promotions of the year, not the kind of book that would go to number one. It was very focused and it performed respectably."</p><p>Ottakar's also distributed 100,000 free copies of The Rough Guide to a Better World, published in time for the G8 Summit in Gleneagles in July 2005, in partnership with the Department for International Development.</p><p>Feel good factor</p><p>Publishers are also experiencing an uplift in interest in titles that tap into a desire for ethical living. Green Books, a 20-year-old independent publisher focusing on environmental and cultural topics, recorded its best ever revenues during 2005. John Elfred, Green Books publisher, says: "Looking back we were ploughing a lonely furrow in the early 1990s. Green issues now have a high profile."</p><p>One sector in which ethical consumerism is particularly influential is travel and tourism. Publishers of travel writing and guidebooks are responding with guides to ethical holidaymaking: this year has seen publication of The Ethical Travel Guide (Earthscan), in partnership with Tourism Concern; Code Green: Experiences of a Lifetime (Lonely Planet), a guide to "travel experiences that protect and preserve the ecological and cultural environment"; and The Rough Guide to Climate Change (Rough Guides), is coming in October.</p><p>But there also remains the thorny question of the environmental and social damage caused by tourism--especially the effect of cheap, frequent flights. As travel publishers have experienced a boom in book sales, they have also arguably become part of the cycle that contributes to increased carbon emissions.</p><p>Mark Ellingham, Rough Guides founder, and Tony Wheeler, creator of Lonely Planet, recently released a joint statement that suggested people should "fly less often, stay for longer" and, "when you do fly, pay a small supplement to offset the omissions". Both publishers have special sections on their websites dedicated to educating travellers about their choices (see box below).</p><p>Richard Trillo, Rough Guides director of communications, says: "We're not deluding ourselves that this is the whole answer, but it should help to put people in the right mindset--it's important to understand the damage that travel can do."</p><p>Lonely Planet's Sustainable Travel and Responsible Tourism (START) scheme advises people on how to ensure they have a positive impact on the places they visit--environmentally, culturally and economically. Tom Hall of Lonely Planet, who is responsible for START, also writes the Observer's travel column "Ask Tom", in which he responds to reader queries. Before 2006, the column had received only three or four enquiries about ethical travel, but that figure has now become the weekly rate.</p><p>Retailer brands</p><p>Consumers are also keen to find out more about how the companies they interact with behave in environmental and social terms. Any company with a consumer-facing brand must now consider how they measure up in terms of corporate social responsibility (CSR).</p><p>A report carried out by the Future Laboratory (TFL) found that approximately a third of people surveyed regard themselves as "conscious consumers", and consider the social and environmental impact of the products they buy. Tom Savigar, TFL trends director, says consumers are drawn to businesses with civic-minded values, and that they will increasingly punish companies for what is viewed as errant behaviour. According to The Rough Guide to Ethical Shopping, 16% of shoppers in the US and Europe have boycotted a product or company. "There is value to be found in having values," Savigar says.</p><p>Retail brands are particularly sensitive to the attitudes of consumers, who may vote with their feet if they dislike what they see, read or hear about a company's behaviour.</p><p>Marks&amp;Spencer, for example, has taken steps to boost its ethical standing through Marks and Start, a programme that offers work experience placements to people of different ages and walks of life. M&S was named Company of the Year at this year's Business in the Community Awards, as a direct result of the scheme.</p><p>At Waterstone's, each shop has an "energy champion", whose role it is to ensure that utilities are being efficiently used. Newer branches also employ a "last man switch" policy, encouraging the last person to leave the building to shut off all unnecessary energy use at the end of each day.</p><p>Borders recycles product packaging, and the newer stores also use energy-saving devices. The chain has also recently introduced a reusable canvas bag that customers may purchase for &#163;4.99, and staff are also primed to ask shoppers if they need a plastic carrier bag, rather than automatically using them.</p><p>John Elkington, founder of SustainAbility, a consultancy and think tank on corporate responsibility and sustainable development, believes that CSR is "the biggest single issue for any company that is consumer-facing". SustainAbility has been advising Penguin subsidiary Frederick Warne&amp;Co, publisher of Peter Rabbit books, on the implications of growing the Peter Rabbit brand globally (the character is especially popular in Japan). In his article "The Land of Milk and Bunny" for online magazine www.grist.org, Elkington writes: "corporate responsibility issues proliferate faster than rabbits in the wild", and suggests that businesses will benefit from forward-planning.</p><p>Joanna Prior, Penguin group marketing and publicity director, says that the publisher is getting better at "articulating policies that are already culturally embedded in the company", such as those published in parent company Pearson's annual report.</p><p>Policy on paper</p><p>For book publishers, one obvious way to demonstrate corporate social responsibility is by having an ecologically sound paper procurement policy.</p><p>The Greenpeace Book Campaign, which has been running for several years, was set up to make publishers aware of the need to stop printing books on paper from unsustainable sources. Primarily, these are ancient forests whose ecosystems are vital to maintaining the necessary conditions for life on Earth. The campaign asks publishers to use "ancient forest friendly" paper, which has a high content of recycled matter, instead. Where virgin pulp is used, Greenpeace wants publishers to only use Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified sources.</p><p>The campaign began in forest-rich Canada, where it has had a strong conversion rate--71 publishers have made formal commitments to phasing out ancient forest fibre--and the initiative has now gained headway with UK publishers. Clare Harington, Random House group communications director, says: "It's very important to both ourselves and our authors, and it is also becoming increasingly important to consumers." Egmont, HarperCollins, Penguin and Random House have all adopted paper procurement policies that give higher priority to sustainable sources, and all are moving towards blanket use of FSC-certified paper.</p><p>Egmont's procurement policy sets out a series of principles that the company will follow in sourcing paper. These include not using endangered species of trees or material from manufacturer Asia Pulp and Paper and their subsidiaries--who Greenpeace charge with questionable logging practices. Egmont aligns itself with the values of FSC, whose criteria it has adopted as a benchmark.</p><p>"As major paper users, they are acknowledging the part they have to play in long-term sustainability," Belinda Fletcher, Greenpeace forest campaigner, says. Since publishers are essentially having to change their supply chain this may take some time, but a procurement policy is a very positive first step, she adds.</p><p>Random House is embarking on a green office audit to calculate its environmental impact, and will take steps to become both carbon neutral and energy efficient. The audit will cover power usage, recycling, business travel and haulage miles. Random House contributed to the planting of trees as part of the Trafalgar Woods initiative, at a site near its Tiptree distribution arm. The distributor employs a "closed loop" service, which minimises haulage miles, and Voice Pick technology in the warehouse that reduces paper documentation.</p><p>Penguin has an eco group that looks at green efficiencies in its Strand office. It offers help for staff wishing to buy a bicycle, as well as a "bicycle doctor" to aid repairs. It will also plant 20,000 trees, creating a 30-acre Penguin Woodland. As part of this eco-push, Rough Guides also pays to carbon neutralise the travel of all of its authors, and the publisher's team is even planning to travel to the Frankfurt Book Fair by train this year. Trillo says: "I can't hand on heart say this is going to happen, but the team are definitely considering it."</p>