It is public knowledge that companies around the world have contributed significantly to the many changes, both positive and negative, that we are all experiencing. Through innovation and with the help of technology, companies are able to expand their presence and impact in the broader society. Countries have long debated the effects of carbon emissions on global warming as well as waste treatment and the pollution factor as a whole. One area, however, that gets little focus is that of a company’s social footprint.
A social footprint is a direct correlation between a company’s policies and mode of operation on the rest of the world. Unlike with the environmental footprint that speaks to the effects of a company on the environment and the economic footprint, which speaks to performance at the commercial level, social footprint looks at the way companies affect people.
These people may be employees, contractors and subcontractors, partners, residents in the surrounding area and society as a whole. Social footprint therefore is a human rights, and social reform issue. Whether you acknowledge it or not, by virtue of being in existence, a company will have a social footprint. The quality of the footprint, however, is determined by the level of awareness of key stakeholders as well as the ethical foundation of the company.
Internally, the Human Resources Department and the Legal Team would have direct contributions to social footprint. The policies that govern the daily operations of the company will affect the employees of that company. When negotiating deals and making financial decisions whether to reduce staff numbers or expand locations, companies are adding to their social footprint. When mega companies decide to create branches areas that will require demolition or deforestation, they may provide jobs for one group of people while significantly disrupting the quality of life for another set.
There are no strict guidelines or rules in place to measure social footprint outside of the Global Reporting Initiative’s reporting framework. It assesses the labour and human resources impact on communities, however, the expectation or standard for determining the result will vary from company to company.
There are a few foundational things that all companies share that will contribute to their social footprint. Internally, companies should assess and evaluate the following features of their operation:
- Sexual Harassment Policies
- Diversity of race and gender
- Inclusion and Discrimination policies
- Remuneration and Compensation packages
- Disciplinary Processes
- Termination Policies
Companies that rely heavily on the environment are expected to create a counterbalance by giving back to it with a view to creating improvement in another area. Some companies have undertaken to fund major water treatment projects, feeding programmes, educational programs, reforestation initiatives and waste reduction.
The general idea is that we are all a part of the same ecosystem and have a direct responsibility to ensure that the ecosystem flourishes. This is necessary for the continuation of the ecosystem but also for the long-term sustainability of the company itself. A company that has a negative social footprint will find itself in situations that can ultimately tarnish its reputation and lead to significant financial loss. To ignore the quality of the effect that a business can have on the lives of others is a very dangerous decision to make, as all business are reliant on people.
We have the shared responsibility to take care of our planet and each other. To thrive in any market space there must be a healthy relationship between the environmental, economic and social footprint. If you evaluate your company and find areas with room for improvement, it will be beneficial to all parties involved to improve those areas.