Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Delivering sustainability to 29 million addresses

Henry VIII ordered the creation of the first national postal service in the UK, which began in 1516 and was called 'The King’s Posts'. A few things have changed since then, including the name of the UK postal service as well as the number of people using it. Today, Royal Mail is the UK’s designated Universal Postal Service Provider and the only company that has the capability to deliver a ‘one-price-goes-anywhere’, six-days-a-week service for a range of letters and parcels to more than 29 million addresses across the UK. General Logistics Systems (GLS) is the Royal Mail's European parcels business with one of the largest parcel delivery networks in Europe handling more than 404 million parcels in 2013-2014.  In October 2013, Royal Mail successfully floated on the London Stock Exchange and was subsequently admitted into the FTSE 100. More than 700,000 members of the public bought shares in Royal Mail. Royal Mail employs more than 160,000 people across the group, making it one of Britain's largest employers. One in every 200 people working in the UK is employed by Royal Mail.

Royal Mail's (GRI B+) twelfth annual Corporate Responsibility Report for 2013-2014 is 94 pages short, and follows a stakeholder-centric format demonstrating responsibility to different stakeholder groups in turn. At the heart of this is a materiality assessment that was concluded with a range of stakeholders in a process that is nicely detailed in the report.

The report includes a clearly presented summary of key achievements in the reporting year, "areas to strengthen", and objectives for the coming year. Achievements include improvement in customer satisfaction, stronger employee safety performance, employing people with disabilities, raising £2 million for Prostate Cancer UK charity and reducing GHG emissions, water consumption and waste to landfill. A small but significant example of environmental culture change for resource conservation is the fact that Royal Mail uses 15% fewer rubber bands than in 2010-2011. Sounds like a small detail, but it's all about the daily practice of thousands of people every day.

At the fourth annual Smarter Sustainability Reporting Conference in London on 24th February 2015, we will be hearing from the Group Director of Safety, Health, Wellbeing & Sustainability at Royal Mail Group, Shaun Davis. Shaun joined Royal Mail in 2012, and prior to that, he worked in the construction and waste management sectors. I took the opportunity to have a little chat with Shaun ahead of the conference.

ME: How did you get started at the Royal Mail?
SHAUN: Originally, I went to university in order to become a teacher. Later, I realized didn't want to teach, it didn't really feel like my vocation. I was happy to have an opportunity to use my teaching qualifications in a safety and health consultancy and it was there that I got involved in the environmental and sustainability world. As part of my ongoing learning in this field, I enrolled for the WWF ‘One Planet' sustainability-focused Master Degree in Business Administration (MBA). I felt this would give me a stronger basis to have conversations with business leaders in a way they would understand. It was really, really useful. I have been with Royal Mail for 2.5 years now and it's a truly exciting place to be.

ME: What have you achieved in 2.5 years? 
SHAUN: The Royal Mail is a really large organization, it takes several months just to find your way around and get to know what the key issues are. But I think the main thing I can be proud of so far is making the safety team a multi-disciplined team. We have to understand that each business has many different elements, and there's a lot of mileage in integration. Upskilling my team in the area of health and environment and interacting with all parts of the business has been significant progress. We have a service-oriented approach. Our roles only exists as long as there is a business to support, and the service we provide must support the business and not hinder it.

ME: Got an example? 
SHAUN: One of the biggest areas of impact, risk and opportunity is energy efficiency. We operate many processing plants for letters and parcels, and we are delivering mail to 29 million addresses six days a week. We have a massive transportation infrastructure and one of the biggest fleet operations in the UK. We have focused on energy and fuel efficiency as a key priority. Our vehicles have in-cab enhancements using new technologies to ensure efficient fuel consumption and we have provided drivers with fuel-efficiency driving training. Because, in such a large organization, things take time, you have to realize you can't do everything at once. You have to focus on the things that make a difference in different areas of work. We do not design broad scale programs for the entire organization. We prefer to work on an issue by issue basis, addressing the needs as and where they are identified. It means we have to be very clear about both the business and the sustainability connection in order to make the right selection of priorities and allocate resources appropriately. 

ME: What are your views on sustainability reporting?
SHAUN: Our CSR team pulls the report together. I provide relevant input from my area. I think reporting should be forward looking as well as providing historical information. A report should be easy to read and you should be able to get an overview of what the organization does as a whole – a sort of a dashboard view of a company. An interesting point, for example, if you look at Royal Mail and its business value proposition, is that we have a challenging few years ahead. The letter market is declining. Online interactions have taken over the traditional letter market. We need to be considering how our value proposition is changing and how our business will look in the next ten years. We employ around 150,000 people in the UK so we need to have answers to these questions. It's a big responsibility.

ME: Are consumers interested?
SHAUN: We have some brilliant customers, including large scale corporate customers. Some members of the public take an interest, but mainly, it is our shareholders who need our report to review our performance and inform their stakeholders about their own performance and make business decisions. We are a recognizable, respected brand in the community, people look to us to give them a sense of security. They want us to be looking after their interests. In general, they are not looking for our sustainability report, but for the way we deal with them on a daily basis. We are seen as an iconic brand that has a big impact in the community. For some elderly people, the postman might be only the personal interaction they have on a daily basis. For others, a postman in the area might have a broader safety and security benefits, for example, when there are floods or snow, or other reasons that people are housebound in rural areas, the postman may be the one who comes around every day and keeps an eye on things, making sure that people are ok. This may not be in their job description, but there is a natural relationship that builds up in different local communities that prevents people from becoming totally isolated. This is part of the social value we bring, in addition to the major economic contribution we make to the UK economy, and it's what our consumers notice and appreciate.


I hope you'll consider joining us in London in February, to engage with, in addition to Shaun, a fabulous line-up, including: 
  • Mardi McBrien, Climate Disclosure Standards Board (CDSB)
  • Crystal Crawford, Liberty Global
  • Paul Toyne, Balfour Beatty (see my chat with Paul here)
  • Simon Howard, UK Sustainable Investment & Finance Association (UKSIF)
  • Nelmara Arbex, Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)
  • Katie Buchanan, Virgin Media 
  • Irene Jakobi, Sustainability Manager, Telekom Austria
  • Neil Barrett, Sodexo  (see my chat with Neil here)
  • Louise Tyson,  BP 
  • Sarah Grey, International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC)
  • Megan Mitrevski Dale, Coca-Cola Enterprises
See you there? 

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainability Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of Understanding G4: the Concise guide to Next Generation Sustainability Reporting  AND  Sustainability Reporting for SMEs: Competitive Advantage Through Transparency AND CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices . Contact me via Twitter (@elainecohen)  or via my business website www.b-yond.biz   (Beyond Business Ltd, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm).  Check out our G4 Report Expert Analysis Service - for published G4 reports or pre-publication - write to Elaine at info@b-yond.biz to help make your G4 reporting  even better. 

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