As I was once again (I did it the year before too) stood in front of a couple of hundred University of Sheffield Business School students and talking to them about Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability (CR&S). It is part of a module that every student at the Business School has to take, regardless of what their course is and the direction their future career path will take them. This has great potential for the future. As this will be how CR & S will truly enter the fabric and DNA of a business; through individuals truly understanding it, wanting it and championing it in the business they work within – throughout every part of the business.

They all want to work for organisations that are successful (who doesn’t?), and this module helps them to understand that any organisation can and should aspire to sustainable growth and profits. That growth and profits should not be at the expense of any elements of society, the environment or the economy.

Once the presentations had finished the fun began with a Q&A session. This was when I noticed a difference from last year. The questions had stepped up a level and were all well thought out – testimony to the students, the module and also a fantastic peer-to-peer learning tool they use. They were inquisitive and we could tell they were looking to challenge how far CR&S was being adopted and utilised by businesses, and whether they were doing it for the ‘right reasons’ or just to enhance reputation. They are looking for the real story and behaviours behind the reports and public messages. Superb!

We got round to what I think is a vital part of creating positive change in terms of CR & S performance. People.

This is a vital ingredient for the success of any strategy and related programs. Engaging staff and stakeholders in a meaningful way will drive performance forwards. People want to work for and with companies they know are acting responsibly and are successful. Those companies that are making great strides in terms of creating sustainable growth and success are doing so because they have engaged with people and realising the benefits of doing so.

In my experience I have come across different barriers to success of CR&S related strategies and programs and the most common is people-related. Low uptake of initiatives (not because they are bad, although some are), a member of staff blocking progress and behaviours that go against the values and standards set and expected. For me, this often points at low levels of engagement and/or understanding – something we need to change for success.

We often hear that the current business behaviours that are driving negative reputations and perceptions will take a generation to change. Well that wait may be shorter than we think as more and more voices are joining those already championing CR&S and driving change. I for one am pleased about that.