Business Impacts – Action Where It Matters

By Mitun Majumdar, Associate Director, Corporate Citizenship

Business Impacts – Action Where It Matters

The UN’s Global Goals herald a new era where companies are being asked to play their part in solving some big global challenges. They require more action; collaboration; scaled impact; faster change. Business now has to step up. But where should companies focus their efforts? Which impacts matter most for development?

In today’s fast-changing world, all companies need to understand their touchpoints with society. A consumer-driven trend is at work. It’s no longer enough just to consider direct operations – the whole value chain should be in play from suppliers to the consumer. Where are jobs created? Where are environmental risks greatest? What social benefit do products bring? These are the types of impacts that all companies need to understand, measure and take action on.

But if the first step to driving positive change is to understand impacts, there is a crucial second step too. It’s about action.

The impact knowledge gap

In our latest research, Corporate Citizenship found that many people know surprisingly little about companies’ impacts. We call this the impact knowledge gap. Based on a global survey of sustainability and corporate responsibility practitioners, just one in five said that external stakeholders currently have a “good understanding” of their firm’s footprint.

This is a huge missed opportunity. Imagine what could be achieved if a company had the data to really understand who it was affecting and how. If it was able to understand that, take action on it, and explain its role in development more convincingly to all those who have a stake in the business.

The action imperative

Some companies have taken the first steps to understand their impacts, for example undertaking a value chain analysis to map impacts or quantifying these through impact assessments. These no doubt are valuable exercises, providing hard data to highlight where a business’s impacts lie as well as the scale of them.

But data must drive meaningful action. It should be the basis for companies to focus in on ‘impact for change’ areas – targeted areas in the value chain where specific interventions or collaborations could amplify positive impacts and reduce negative impacts to improve lives.

Using impact data to drive action might include:

  • High-impact partnerships –data can be used to identify the right partners that have shared objectives on the issues you want to change, for example gender equality, infrastructure challenges and water scarcity. It can create understanding of what each party brings to the collaboration in terms of existing resources and skills, and identify levers that will enable the partnership to scale impact at a faster pace.
  • New targets –it can help to pinpoint where a new commitment can be set to enhance positive impacts and drive performance, for example on local sourcing. Data provides a foundation for understanding what you can achieve and how you will get there.
  • New products, services or business models – impact data can highlight areas of unmet need and in turn spark innovation. For example, adapting a service or product for an underserved group can create new revenue streams and cement reputation, while addressing a pressing social issue.

We believe the most effective businesses don’t view value chain mapping and impact assessments as the end point. There’s a huge opportunity for companies to use this insight to drive real change for society and business – faster, more focused and where it matters most.

Over 50 companies and key opinion formers will be meeting in London on Tuesday 8th March at Corporate Citizenship’s ‘The Challenge of Change’ discussion to explore how this can be achieved.

Corporate Citizenship’s latest research on this topic ‘Impact for Change’ is available to download from the thumbnail above.

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