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Sustainable business is a must for PR, says Forster Communications’ Jo Foy

20th March 2013

Sustainable business practice means considering how your business affects a wide range of stakeholders including staff, suppliers, clients, community and the environment. It might be assumed that creative businesses don’t need to think about sustainability as they have low physical impacts, and as many are SMEs, they must carefully manage expenses. But I would argue you don’t need to choose between sustainable policy and profit. With clever planning, the two can work hand in hand.

Often the priority for business is about winning contracts and setting up operations efficiently. There is little room to consider “nice-to-have” extras like fancy HR and sustainability policies, right? Wrong. Research highlighted by Business In The Community (BITC) shows that only 14 per cent of people in the UK are fully engaged with their work compared to 21 per cent average globally. Lack of engagement leads to lower productivity levels, which in turn has a significant impact on the bottom line. In PR our most valuable asset is our staff, so engagement is crucial.

We’re a team of 30, average age is 35, 21 per cent of us work part-time and 32 per cent of us have dependants. In this respect, we’re probably not that different from other similar sized companies in our sector. So the schemes we’ve designed utilise simple mechanisms to drive engagement.

Our wellness scheme encourages staff to think about their wellbeing in a holistic manner; rewarding staff for social, nutritional, physical, community and cultural activities. In the last phase, 90 per cent of staff took part in the scheme. Another simple mechanism is the creation of a futures panel who meet on a regular basis to ensure everyone has the opportunity to feed into the direction of the business. Independent research shows these schemes are making a difference for us. 71 per cent of staff feel that internal communications is good and 90 per cent of staff feel informed about the strategic direction of the business.

Likewise, when we looked at how to encourage more staff to walk and cycle, to help both the environment and each staff member’s physical health, we came up with a simple system that gives staff that choose these methods of transport additional holiday as a reward. Since we launched the scheme we’ve seen a 140 per cent increase in the number of commuter journeys done on bike.

Encouraging staff to take part in local groups like community groups and giving staff volunteering time allowance creates opportunities for new skills to be learnt and vital new links developed. Don’t forget your network of suppliers either. This year we created a hubspace which offers an extended network of suppliers and associates free central London desk space with internet access. The cost of all of these schemes is relatively low, but the benefit of having a network of additional skills, expertise and experience to draw on has been invaluable.

It is absolutely right that SMEs question spending carefully, but I would encourage PR agencies to look again at the benefits of using your creativity to place sustainable business practice at the heart of your business.

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