· 5 min read · Features

Make a Difference: Aviva - Perfect match

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Global CSR director at Aviva Louella Eastman is proof that CSR's natural home is HR.

EDITOR'S OPINION

When HR launched its Make a Difference campaign back in January we discovered that, while eight out of 10 HR professionals believed CSR would become a more important part of their job in the next five years, only one in 10 actually had responsibility for the area.

Recently, we have begun to see signs of change. McDonald's senior VP and chief people officer, David Fairhurst, is the latest in a line of HR directors now heading up CSR in their businesses.

In the public sector, the Environment Agency has seen many benefits since bringing environmental management into its HR directorate under director Graham Ledwood (HR, August 2008).

Insurance company Aviva has also brought CSR and HR together and, as our feature shows, a passionate and engaged workforce has resulted.

We applaud such organisations. It is vital that HR is at the heart of the CSR agenda. Engaging staff is key to the successful implementation of CSR policies, by ensuring they do not just exist for PR purposes. We would love to hear other HR directors' experiences in this area and invite you to join our Forum discussion on www.hrmagazine.co.uk.

- Corporate and social responsibility (CSR), sometimes has a strange way of making itself a priority within businesses. For insurance firm Aviva - owner of the soon-to-be defunct Norwich Insurance brand - it has been the recent weather that brought the subject closer to the board's mind. After last year's calamitous summer, when the UK suffered the wettest weather ever recorded during the months May to July, the insurance industry had to dish out more than £3 billion to thousands of flood victims who had lost their homes and possessions. "If you're in this business, and there is the prospect of more floods happening like the ones last summer, climate change hits you right on the bottom line," says Louella Eastman, global CSR director at Aviva.

With this in mind, it is Eastman - who first joined Aviva's HR department, but soon found herself navigating towards CSR - who is leading the company's CSR strategy. And she is actively engaging her HR colleagues.

"My job spans HR and CSR. They fit quite nicely together," she says. "If you want to implement sustainability in an organisation, it has to be at the heart of the employees. They have to be engaged in the agenda."

Although Eastman has held her latest position for less than two years, she has spent the past nine years working at Aviva, four of which has been in the UK. With her appointment the CSR agenda very much became HR's responsibility - she reports to David Hope, group HR strategy director - and Eastman says she has already noticed the difference it has made. "Now that CSR and HR have joined forces, it has changed things in a big way. It's our people who come up with the ideas, so they need to know what CSR is all about," says Eastman. "And they are committed to the environmental issues too, which are really in their hands - they're the ones that have to turn off the lights at night."

It is HR's skill in being able to engage with employees, as well as providing volunteering opportunities, that has helped Aviva staff get so passionate about CSR. Many of the ideas have come from employees, including ensuring that all paper Aviva uses is double-sided, everywhere from the postroom to the boardroom.

Not just turning off lights

Aviva's CSR initiatives are far more innovative than simply encouraging staff to turn lights off. Each employee, in all of its 27 global offices, is allowed three paid days' worth of volunteering each year. Its annual Energy Week encourages staff to get to grips with carbon calculators so they can determine their own individual carbon footprint, and CSR packs, provided in association with the Carbon Trust, are distributed. And routinely, the cleaners work during the day, so as not to use extra electricity at night to light the whole building. "These are just simple things," says Eastman, modestly.

All these "simple things" have ensured Aviva has an impressive international record, having recently been awarded a bronze in the Sustainable Asset Management rankings as well as being the only UK-listed insurer included in the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index. It is also continually in the FTSE4Good Index Series.

Its investment in the CSR agenda may have gone some way to securing these accolades, but last year the firm spent £6.9 million on community projects as part of its volunteering offering. It supports Oxfam and environmental charity BCTV, choosing them as partners if it thinks they could offer its employees something they can easily get involved in.

CSR does not stop with its employees though. It works hard to build sustainability into its supply chain too, as well as trying to influence other organisations, including companies in which it invests. It was the first insurer to carbon offset and has seen a 7.8% global reduction in its carbon footprint.

But how has Aviva become something of an expert at CSR - an area many firms are still struggling to get to grips with? Top management is playing a vital role, says Eastman. "It's critical to get buy in from the CEO," she says. "We have a board-level CSR committee, so the agenda is talked about regularly at the highest level. They're very engaged in the whole thing."

The importance of this can not be overstated. Eastman sits on this committee, with the non-executive director, CEO, board chairman and two other directors.

The firm is so committed to making a difference in fact, that its recently- departed former CEO Richard Hawley is spending his first year of retirement on a volunteer project in Africa.

Among Aviva workers in general, this sense of social responsibility is becoming widespread and deep rooted. But it wasn't easy getting to that point. "Embedding CSR is always a challenge," she says, suggesting firms should settle on a CSR definition and then integrate it into the business. "Sustainability has to be tailored to each organisation, although community and environment fit almost anywhere."

Information about Aviva's CSR agenda, and how it fits in with the firm's overall strategy, is distributed to its global workforce. "The whole idea is to turn 59,000 people into CSR zealots," she explains. At each Aviva annual CSR conference, nominated managers from around the world congregate to discuss objectives and to set targets. But, crucially, the company realises that employees in some countries need more hand-holding than others. "In Taiwan, the first thing we did for new starters was to work on values, culture and ethics," says Eastman. In each global office, managers are given a sustainability toolkit. "In Asia, they can't go out and easily hire a CSR professional," she points out. "This is when the kit comes in handy."

So with global buy-in, international recognition and industry-leading initiatives, what next for CSR at Aviva? There will be no slowing down, that is for sure, even amid the current economic downturn.

"I don't see CSR budgets being slashed," says Eastman. "The war for talent will continue no matter what, and people won't stop being concerned about climate change. More companies should get behind this, not fewer."

HR MAGAZINE CSR SURVEY

HR magazine wants to know how you feel about issues of corporate responsibility and sustainability.

Next month we will be conducting research in association with Ashridge Business School to understand HR practitioners' perspectives on how significant these issues are for both organisations and for HR generally.

Readers of HR magazine will be invited to complete an online survey confidentially. The findings will be unveiled in the January 2009 issue of HR to mark the first anniversary of our Make a Difference campaign, which aims to encourage HR directors to take a leadership role in CSR and close the gap between what organisations say about CSR and their actual behaviour.

Everyone who completes the survey will be eligible to participate in a prize draw for a free place on Ashridge Business School's three-day Integrating Corporate Responsibility programme - see http://www.ashridge.org.uk/icr

Ashridge is ranked number one in the UK for tailored executive education in the Financial Times rankings and recently launched Ashridge InterfaceRAISE, a joint consultancy service designed to find practical ways of placing sustainability at the heart of business.

For more information go to www.hrmagazine.co.uk and don't forget to look out for the survey in your inbox next month.