Monday, March 7, 2011

SR is PC

Social Responsibility, that is, is now Politically Correct.  ISO has a new standard, ISO 26000: Guidance on Social Responsibility, that defines what it means for a company to be “socially responsible.” The standard strives to make social and environmental considerations part of decision making, and sustainability is a big part of this. 

To accomplish this, the standard identifies seven principles that should be applied to seven core subject areas within the organization.  The principles are: accountability, transparency, ethical behavior, respect for stakeholders, respect for the law, respect for norms of behavior, and respect for human rights. 

The seven areas of the organization where these principles might apply are: governance, human rights, labor practices, the environment, fair operating practices, consumer issues, and community involvement. 

I’m sure motherhood and apple pie are in there someplace.  Much of this was written from a Western cultural point of view. 

The first question is, will it sell?  Altruism goes just so far, and without some regulation or competitive advantage, SR will have limited penetration.  There is, indeed some evidence for a financial advantage.  First, there is a correlation between “admired companies” and SR.  Most admired companies (e.g. Apple) have an easier time hiring good employees, and, whether cause or effect, their employees tend to be more productive and more loyal. 

A study done for BITC in 2010 showed that SR friendly companies outperformed their peers in the FTSE 350 index and recovered faster after the financial downturn.  It stands to reason that companies with more efficient resource utilization will do better when resources become more expensive. 

But it isn’t always so obvious.  Take farming.  You’d think that a farmer would not want 25% of the fertilizer he buys to get washed out into the Chesapeake bay.  However, the American Farm Bureau Federation (“The Voice of Agriculture”) is suing the EPA so farmers can continue to do exactly that.  A 2003 report on the bay said the nation’s largest estuary continues to decline because of over-fishing and pollution.  (Much of that pollution is due to farm run-off.)

But what about healthcare?   What does SR mean for healthcare?  What about your carbon footprint?  Is your building LEED certified?  OK, how about Energy star certified--that’s feasible.  Are alll the light bulbs LED?  (CF’s are old hat now.)
How do patients get there? Employees?  I worked in a hospital once where all employees were required to pay commercial rates for parking at work.  Once visited a hospital that started its own bus line to bring in patients.  The more you think about this, the more ideas come to mind.  Perhaps that’s the real value of a new standard.

And patient care processes.  Applying LEAN principles can help with more efficient use of resources which reduces the carbon footprint as well as costs, while pleasing patients at the same time.  Here’s one place where a quality professional can help--what tools to use where, and help getting started.  Another, of course, is conformance to the ISO 26000 standard.

The ancient oath of Primo non nocere, or First do no harm, was intended to apply to harming patients.  It could be expanded conceptually to include society in general.  Genichi Taguchi is quoted as suggesting that a “service demonstrated good quality if its production and use caused little to no harm to society.”  Read that again and think broadly of the environment. 

First you have to care.  The rest is easy.

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