How do we measure our value to society?
When it comes to responsible business, the UK construction sector has a bad habit of talking itself down. We’re very good at pointing out where we’re going wrong, but we’re less good at celebrating success.
Although there are clear areas for improvement, the reality is that UK construction is full of people working hard to address the environmental and community impacts of construction. In fact the sector does a lot to generate fantastic positive outcomes. It’s unlikely that this trend to beat ourselves up will change overnight – but I think it is important we find a way for our sector to become better at shouting about the good things we do.
If we can’t get better at telling the world about our successes we’re unlikely to be able to attract the right diverse mix of talented people we need to help improve our performance – or for example be able to make a successful argument to other stakeholders that the sector can make a genuine and impactful contribution to hit the 2050 net zero target set by the UK Government.
But it’s always hard to know where to start. How do we define ‘good’? How can we objectively track how ‘responsible’ companies are? What do we measure?
At Mace, we realised we had an issue, and we set out to change that in our 2017 Responsible Business strategy. For the past two years, we have published a number we call our Value to Society, or our social value contribution. Alongside our financial performance, we publish it every year as part of our annual results. This year, the figure was £491m.
The figure is generated by an independent review of our business that takes into account more than 60 different performance measures, from the amount of renewable energy we use to the number of apprentices we employ to the number of volunteering hours completed by Mace people.
The precise balance of those measures and how they interact with our financial performance is guided by the independent team we’ve appointed to develop the system. The valuation measures are customised to Mace, to reflect the mix of sectors and global markets we work in – so it isn’t something that can be consistently applied to every business.
However, it gives us a baseline from which we can measure ourselves. It makes sure that we can track our performance year on year, and ensure that we’re moving in the right direction. It gives our people something to be proud of, and a way of easily summarising our contribution across a range of different factors.
Understanding 'Value to Society'
Below that big round number are a host of compelling stories about the work our teams are doing on projects and programmes. That includes everything from the 15 different clean technologies we’re trialling to reduce the use of diesel on construction sites, or the eight hectares of green space that we’ve created through volunteering projects over the last twelve months. It also captures the more human side of our work, for example our work with ex-offenders to help them get back into permanent and meaningful employment or our STEM afterschool clubs with primary school children.
We know that Mace people are motivated by the knowledge that our business is ‘doing good’ out in the world, and the projects and programmes that we help to deliver make a difference to the communities they’re being built and operated in.
We also know that the sheer volume and complexity of everything we’re told we need to do to transform construction can be overwhelming, even for those of us that deal with it every day. By producing a ‘Value to Society’ figure each year we help to make that tangible, and we give people a starting point to engage with the huge range of work we do across the world.
Beyond that, the figure we produce helps to translate the message – often sadly missed – that good business performance can be tied to delivering better outcomes for everyone.
Using our annual performance figure, we can show that by building and managing better projects, Mace adds value across local communities and our entire supply chain. That clear business case is something that we sometimes struggled to articulate effectively before.
Whether it’s something similar to Mace’s ‘Value to Society’ or a totally different system, it’s vital that more clients, design teams, contractors and suppliers find effective ways of talking about the great responsible business work they do, day in and day out. If we don’t, we risk losing the momentum we’ve already generated and we will end up losing out on a huge opportunity for the sector – and for the planet and society as a whole.
A version of this article was originally published by Construction News.