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Best for Corporate Social Responsibility

The industry is getting to grips with corporate social responsibility and sustainability issues in a way almost unheard of just a few years ago.

Over the past few years corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability have entered the thinking of every company in
Britain. With this award, NCE is celebrating the companies that were aware of CSR long before there was a bandwagon to jump on, and for which it is an integral part of their culture. Nowhere is this more conspicuous than at MWH where the stated purpose of the company is to "build a better world", and where social and sustainability considerations underpin everything they do. "We tend to attract people who have CSR as a core value," says David Smith, director of business strategy.

MWH has long been associated with sustainable development and recently hosted a series of climate change workshops and conference calls to bring together experts from various backgrounds to create an open dialogue about how to face the global challenge of climate change. The company is also a member of The Climate Group, an international organisation dedicated to advancing business and government leadership on climate change.

MWH’s UK operation mapped its 2007 carbon footprint at 4,355t of CO2 and it is working out how to reduce this. It has already invested £750,000 in video conferencing facilities to cut business travel and has introduced car sharing, with a database linked to Google Earth to help staff choose the best route.

All travel emissions are being offset via a dedicated fund based on a valuation of £25 for each tonne of CO2 emitted. Staff can put forward "green community initiatives" to benefit from money in this fund, with the biggest beneficiary to date being Daisy Chain, a charity that helps children with autism and their families.

The charity is currently building a day centre in Stockton-on-Tees, and MWH has donated £20,000 towards "green" energy initiatives for the new building. As a result of the scheme, local MWH staff and some of the consultant’s supply chain have also got involved with the charity and the project. Other projects to have benefited from the Carbon Care Programme include a peat restoration project, a Groundwork Trust tree planting scheme and a project to improve energy efficiency at a school in High Wycombe – all of them close to MWH offices or sites.

The company says its aspiration is "to leave a positive legacy in the communities where we live and work", as a result of which employees are given time and resources to engage in social, environmental and community work. With much of MWH’s work being in the water sector it is perhaps no surprise that the company has always had a close association with Water Aid.

Last year this was cemented by an official partnership whereby MWH has pledged to raise £30,000 for the charity. Staff get involved in a wide range of fund-raising activities for Water Aid and other causes, such as the Munroe and Six Peak Challenges, the Mersey Basin Clean-up, a Right to Read project and the One Million Green Fingers initiative to create gardens at primary schools in Yorkshire.

Links with young people are also important, and MWH runs a worldwide programme to educate children about the water cycle, energy use and climate change. The idea is that, once children have this information, they may be inspired to pursue careers in science and engineering.

Last January the company announced that it would sponsor the UK Youth Parliament for the next three years, something that involves financial support and input by MWH employees from all levels of the business.

CSR has been an essential part of the Arup philosophy since the firm was founded in 1946. Founder Ove Arup committed to integrating environmentalism and social purpose into the firm’s projects.

Despite their different approaches, Arup and MWH have very similar mission statements, with Arup committed to "shaping a better world". Last year Arup introduced a formal sustainability policy covering four key areas: the business, its people, facilities and operations, and external relations. This policy provides a framework to guide Arup managers through the different areas.

Under "people", for example, the policy states that the company will "employ and retain staff who have a high degree of awareness and expertise in sustainability" and "provide continual education and training for all staff on sustainability issues relevant to the firm’s businesses".

At around 10% a year, Arup staff turnover is well below the industry average, and staff surveys regularly show that a very high percentage of its employees are proud to work for the firm. This is borne out by Arup featuring regularly in the Sunday Times Top 100 Best Companies to Work For – with special recognition for "giving something back". That "giving" includes the
building of an orphanage in Sri Lanka for tsunami victims, a poverty action network, and support for Habitat for Humanity, SportsAid and Water Aid.

On the surface, contractors would appear to have a tougher time addressing CSR issues than consultants, as they are the ones tasked with building roads, often through wildlife habitats, or quarrying minerals. "By its nature, what we do is quite invasive, so we really need to put something back into the communities we work in," says May Gurney director of marketing and communications Andrew Slater.

The judges were highly impressed with how far the company has gone to "put something back". An internal survey showed that climate change is an issue many May Gurney staff feel very strongly about, so the company has built a series of initiatives at all levels of the business to address it. These include "environment champions", an employee-led behavioural change initiative that has already been responsible for a 25% reduction in waste at the company’s head office. A series of climate change adaptation workshops have also been launched to raise managers’ awareness of climate change and its implications for staff in their private and business lives.

Alongside this are practical measures. These include a website to encourage employees to car share; and offering employees the chance to buy energy monitors. CSR initiatives in the wider community include the "May Gurney Challenge", in which staff and clients work on activities with children aged between 13 and 16 to raise the profile of the construction industry.

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