Corporate social responsibility (CSR) in a construction context was the topic for a session at the annual Canadian Construction Association (CCA) conference in San Antonio, Texas.
The CCA created a task force on the subject last year, which organized the session. The task force intends to use the discussion to assist its experts in its next steps in drafting a guide.
On the panel was David Parker, who recently joined the Norman B. Keevil Institute of Mining Engineering at the University of British Columbia. Before that Parker spent 21 years with Teck Resources Limited launching various CSR-related initiatives.
He said CSR is about what they did beyond compliance with the law. It's about codes of ethics and expanding it to create benefits for your stakeholders and affected parties.
Also on the panel was Signi Schneider who works for Export Development Canada. She previously spent a decade doing emerging market risk assessment. Schneider said CSR is very broad, involving many things, including community investment, reviewing projects and reputation risk.
"(It's) everything that's non-financial and non legal that affects how you are perceived by the public," she said.
She said companies need to find creative ways to to add value to the communities and parties that a project affects.
Companies are having to bring more value to be more competitive, said Parker. Things are leveraged off resource extraction. There are trickle down expectations.
Schneider said that some of the great CSR work being done has capitalized on a company's niche. Banking being done through mobile phones is an example. Sub Saharan residents in Africa are under utilized because banks are far away or lacked legal papers. Phone companies recognized this and gave an opportunity for them to bank. CSR can bring a social good. It's about being open to options.
"They have a niche that nobody else has," Schneider said.
It's tough to communicate investment versus cost in terms of CSR. Parker said you can see this in the value of relationships. You have to build those early on. Those connections and the communication can pay dividends later on.
He cited several examples where projects were able to go from exploration to production in less than five years, with much of the credit given to community engagement. In one case, the project's neighbours took notice and gave Teck exclusive rights to mineral projects on their land.
"We really invest in our people to engage local communities at an early stage," Parker said. "You really need to earn consent to operate in most settings now in terms of a mine now."
Schneider encouraged companies to commit to developing a code of conduct for employees, regardless of company size. She also advised companies to not hold that code over them like a sword, but instead use it to encourage them to vocalize ethical issues they are encountering.
"You never want your employees to feel like they have to choose between their job and their ethics," she said.