Tuesday, May 10, 2011

CSR and uninvited guests

Preventing the unwanted visits of bugs, insects, rodents, ants, cockroaches and other uninvited guests in our homes, offices, factories, schools and museums is the backbone of  Rentokil Initial plc's business. In addition to declaring war on these offen irritating phenomena of the earth's biodiversity and their interference with our modern-day living, the company also offers a wide range of cleaning and other services associated with the inhabiting and maintaining of buildings. Overall, it's not a small business, with over 66,000 people generating over $4 billion in revenue in 50 or more countries. Rentokil has been reporting on sustainability for 10 years now, and their CSR report is an interesting look at an industry which most of us have regretted having to experience at some point in time.

I recently reviewed  2010 Rentokil's CSR Report.

At the outset, the Rentokil report looks and feels like an authentic report on performance, without understating challenges and setbacks, but devoid of a broader contextual link to sustainability and material issues. The page which lists the "potential corporate responsibility impact areas" is generic (waste management, water management, emissions, health and safety, customer satisfaction, community activity etc.) though in the section on environment, there is a brief discussion on what I would consider to be one of the most material issues for Rentokil: the environmental impacts of the use of pesticides and rodenticides (toxic chemicals, biodiversity, safety). Rentokil has reduced its Authorised Product List (APL) from 2,286 SKU's in 2007 to 96 in 2010, a massive achievement which ensures that pest control procedures avoid use of unacceptable toxic products, chemicals usage is controlled in line with regulations and excessive dosage (with the risk of leaving residue which may damage other species) is minimised. Rentokil supports the CRRU (the Campaign for Responsible Rodenticide Use), to ensure responsible and effective rodent pest control while minimising negative impacts on wildlife, and the RRAC (Rodenticide Resistant Action Committee), which promotes using smaller quantities of higher toxic materials instead of larger quantities of lower toxic materials whose large volumes are likely to leave behind a resistant population of the target pests. This is the most fascinating aspect of Rentokil's sustainability impact. In the Product Stewardship subsection of the report, Rentokil mentions the development of new pesticide technologies such as a new chemical-free pest control process and Contained Atmosphere Technology (CAT), using high concentrations of nitrogen and carbon dioxide to kill insects.

Rentokil presents an authentic picture, albeit somewhat selective, of managing corporate responsibility and accounting for direct impacts and indeed, the Company should be commended for maintaining a commitment to high quality annual sustainability reporting over many years. The report itself presents a rather inside-out view, focusing on responsible practices, often strong on details but not on the overall picture. The explanation for this can perhaps be found in Rentokil's approach to Corporate Responsibility which "emphasises action to match the needs of individual businesses, while ensuring compliance with group wide policies in areas such as health & safety, conduct, environment and product management." This perhaps helps us to understand why the report is populated with isolated examples of practice from individual business units rather than overall coverage of the key material issues that Rentokil faces. Aspects relating to broader quality of life and sustainability impacts of services on customers and the general public, for example, are not addressed. I feel this makes the sustainability communication rather fragmented, often jumping between issues which have been addressed through only one brief practice example, making it difficult to gain a fuller perspective of the scale and scope of specific topics across the entire business.

Anyway, having learned much more about bugs and rodents than I thought I wanted to know, I leave you to form your own opinions about the Rentokil report and the business of pest control and its contribution to sustainability. I don't want to bug you about it, but don't forget to send Rentokil your feedback. And now I have ants in my pants which means it's time for yes, you guessed it, ice cream. Wonder if bugs like ice cream.....

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices Contact me via www.twitter.com/elainecohen  on Twitter or via my business website www.b-yond.biz/en  (BeyondBusiness, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

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