Social value in the transport sector

Chris Farrell, managing director, Impact Reporting. Credit: Impact Reporting

Social value and social investment have become buzz words within the transport sectors as more and more organisations are aware that they need to define social, environmental, and sustainability goals.

For example, analysing common inputs – money invested in charities, time spent volunteering, or trees planted – is often balanced with common outputs – jobs created, lives saved, and carbon emissions prevented. Social value is often calculated as a social return-on-investment (ROI), which relates to the perceived societal value of an organisation’s impact. It is important to be aware of the qualitative data – the narratives and experiences – that also exist. These are often overlooked but are an effective way of contextualising your impact and humanising reporting about your corporate social responsibility (CSR).

CSR is drastically influencing business behaviour in the transport sector and increasingly being seen as an effective and responsible strategy for setting organisations apart. However, to get to a point where you are truly trusted by prospective customers and seen as a desirable employer, the clear measuring and reporting of your impact is imperative.
Employees need to understand why they are engaging in a social or environmental project and whether the outcomes have contributed towards the business’s purpose. They want and expect transparency. It is important to reflect on your current business behaviours to understand if all stakeholders are working towards a common goal and if your CSR budget is being allocated efficiently.

How social impact is recorded, analysed, and reported is just as important as how it is created. Updating and quantifying data live is crucial. It is already standard practice for human resource, sales, and financial data to be captured robustly and accurately in real time. Google Analytics, Xero, SalesForce, and intranet systems are all updated live, and reports can be gathered at the click of a button, instead of manually compiling data from multiple sources.

It is important to make the analysis of your social responsibility an ongoing requirement, and refrain from solely relying on an annual report.  Transport organisations must ensure their organisational purpose – rather than monetary metrics – drives their CSR strategy. All forms of CSR activity should be encouraged, however, if you only invest exclusively in activities that produce a high ROI, you are in danger of ignoring other projects that may be more valuable in the long run or provide a broader range of benefits to society.

It is easy to pay lip-service to social value and not be truly committed, however, eventually your stakeholders will see through this. The real and rewarding challenge comes when you take control of the agenda, using strong figures to support your decisions. Quantifying social value in an accurate and consistent way is key for all transport organisations. For example, aligning to and supporting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is a straightforward and ethical way of benchmarking the impact of many value-based businesses.

We encourage our transport clients to look to the UN’s SDGs because of their worldwide and future-proofed applicability. Organisations track and report on their pro-social and pro-environmental activities according to which SDGs they contribute towards – to provide structure and help employees understand the greater goals they are helping to achieve.

As the owner and operator of Britain’s railway infrastructure, Network Rail, has set the social value standard within the rail sector. It sponsored the development of the sector’s Common Social Impact Framework (CSIF) and it aims to always be measured against these values.

Manchester Airport Group (MAG) – the owner and operator of three airports: Manchester, Stansted, and East Midlands – is now focused on the measurement of their social and environmental impact. The CSR team at MAG standardised the way they captured their social value work. They create monthly overview summaries of their social and environmental impact, to gauge month-on-month progress, to share with stakeholders.

Delivering social investment initiatives is not only key for rail and aviation sectors, which are established to be used by the public and impact on the environment and society, but also for shipping. It will be an interesting journey ahead as CSR becomes increasingly central to the success of the transport sector.