Corporate social responsibility (CSR) in construction is moving from a ‘nice thing to do’ towards being an integrated part of business delivery. Increasingly clients see CSR as a core competency of their supply chains and contractors are aware of the importance of addressing CSR from a reputation perspective and in meeting their client’s requirements.

There is also a broad consensus of the potential benefits of CSR for clients, for contractors and, more importantly, for society as a whole.

The fact that the majority of companies reported the main driver for CSR efforts as ‘brand reputation’ indicates that most recognise the way CSR affects the way in which their company is viewed by others. Put simply, good CSR practices can help build positive perceptions of organisations.

Nonetheless, our survey indicates that contractors lack detailed knowledge of CSR and many lack the skills, time and resource to implement CSR activities and report on performance. The results also suggest that SMEs are lagging behind their larger counterparts.

It is clear that there is a need to ensure contractors, and in particular, SMEs have access to the right support to develop their organisational competence and the skills of their staff.

Karen Dawes, training manager of the National Federation of Builders says “The construction industry recognises the importance of CSR and there is some excellent work being undertaken to deliver the benefits of a more responsible approach to business. We know clients are now legally required to consider issues of social value and community benefits alongside more traditional environmental compliance issues. What stands out most, however, is the needs of SMEs in comparison to larger companies. The industry is telling us it lacks the skills, the time and the resources to fully realise all the benefits of CSR.

The results of the survey indicate that the focus for CSR is still on the environmental aspects although the focus is shifting to the social aspects and workforce issues, including employee health and wellbeing initiatives.

Environmental impacts have been high profile for some time, although the survey indicates that there is more the sector can do. The majority focus on waste recycling yet a quarter still don’t do anything in this area and less than three quarters have implemented carbon reduction initiatives.

Tackling climate change by reducing global carbon emissions is probably the greatest challenge facing humanity. While CSR is much greater than environmental issues alone, the industry needs to do more to address its environmental impact” says Dr Andy Ainsworth, Project Five's lead expert on sustainability.

What is perhaps more important in the context of this survey is that companies are telling us that they don’t have the skills, time and resource to implement CSR activities.

The main reason companies gave for not reporting was that they simply don’t know how to. While larger organisations report having a department to deal with CSR, SMEs tended to allocate responsibility to an individual. So, while the data suggest larger organisations are better equipped to address CSR, over two thirds stated that it could be improved.

This should all be taken in the context of 82% of companies telling us that CSR is very or quite important to their company and that more than 50% would benefit from an increased understanding of CSR.

In summary, the National Federation of Builders’ Karen Dawes said, “We know clients want CSR and we know the industry believes it’s a good thing to do. We also know the industry needs some help, particularly SMEs. This survey provides some indication of where we need to put our efforts in developing our CSR capability.