25 Mar 2024

What is social value and how can businesses contribute to it?

There has been lots of chatter in the social enterprise community about social value, with the recent Social Value Leaders Summit focused on local government in Manchester recently. But what is it?

Social value refers to the broader impact of an organisation’s actions on society as a whole, beyond its immediate stakeholders or the economic value it creates. It encompasses a wide range of outcomes including, but not limited to, environmental sustainability, social equity, community well-being, and economic development. And the good news is that social value is increasingly recognised as a critical component of a business’s overall performance and long-term sustainability.

It goes beyond corporate social responsibility (CSR) by integrating social and environmental considerations into every aspect of a business’s operations, decision-making processes, and value chain. The approach acknowledges that businesses are part of a larger social and environmental ecosystem and have a role to play in its health and sustainability.

Creating social value requires a strategic and comprehensive approach. Here are some ways businesses can do it:

Embedding social value in corporate strategy

Businesses should integrate social value objectives into their overall corporate strategy. This includes setting clear, measurable goals related to environmental sustainability, social equity, and community engagement. By conducting regular social and environmental impact assessments can help businesses understand their impact and identify areas for improvement.

Stakeholder engagement

Engaging with stakeholders including employees, customers, suppliers, local communities, and regulators can provide valuable insights into the social and environmental issues that matter most to them. This is especially important in local organisations who want to meet specific targets. It’s not a once and done job – this engagement should be ongoing and used to inform business strategies and practices.

Responsible supply chain management

Businesses can extend their social value through their supply chains by working with suppliers who also prioritise social and environmental responsibility. Working with social enterprises who have the same values as you is a simple way to do this.

Environmental sustainability initiatives

Reducing carbon footprints, increasing energy efficiency, and adopting sustainable resources are critical steps towards minimising environmental impact and creating social value. This can be as simple as waste reduction, or not printing every email.

Social equity

Businesses can contribute to social equity by promoting diversity and inclusion within their workforce and leadership teams. Investing in community development projects, offering meaningful volunteering opportunities for staff, supporting local economies, and engaging in philanthropy are direct ways to create social value.

Innovation for  social good

Businesses can leverage innovation to address social and environmental challenges. This might involve developing new products or services that contribute to sustainability or improve community wellbeing. Collaborating with startups, nonprofits, and academic institutions can enhance these efforts.

Creating social value is not just about fulfilling ethical obligations or enhancing corporate reputation but can drive long-term business success and sustainability. By proactively addressing the social and environmental impacts of their operations, organisations large and small can contribute to a more sustainable and equitable world while also achieving economic growth. Putting it front and centre of everything means that busineses not only thrive but also positively impact society and the environment. Which is a win for everyone.