13 October 2016 | Nick Martindale
Back in 2013, the introduction of the Social Value Act sought to mandate a degree of social responsibility into the awarding of public sector contracts, formalising the previously unwritten rule that those winning business from the public purse must, in some way, put something back into society and the community they serve.
"Even before it came into being there had been a lot of commissioners who have been progressing in this way to varying degrees," says Colin Braidwood, head of sustainability at Interserve Support Services. "But this provided a framework to hang their procurement on."
It also created more of a level playing field, he adds, by forcing all potential suppliers to think about "social sustainability", rather than just those who had already made it part of their business.
The process of honing down the impact of such initiatives, though, has been a difficult journey; something highlighted by Lord Young in his review of the act in 2015. One issue is just what counts as social sustainability. Andy Melia, head of community investment at Business in the Community, defines it as "the impact a business has and the long-term difference a business creates for the community in which it is operating".
This isn't just about the local community, he says, but could extend to other areas also affected by the business, including customer and supplier locations.
Organisations can broadly have an effect in three main areas under the social element of sustainability, he adds: people, place and economy.
"People is anything from skills to life chances, including health, education and well-being," he says. "From a place perspective it's more the traditional environmental elements, so access to green space but also the vitality of the high street, transport facilities and the health of the wider community. Then, from an economic perspective it's issues like access to jobs and the health of the local economy."
Measuring the value of any initiatives is even trickier. Greg Davies, head of service development at Assurity Consulting and a committee member of the BIFM sustainability special interest group, draws a parallel with social value today and where we were 10 years ago with environmental and energy reporting.
"Over the last 10 years we have become quite sophisticated around that, measuring from a normalised year-on-year metric, so against square foot or per capita or absolute figures, and most people do have some form of trend analysis within their data which they can then extrapolate and set objectives against," he says. "But if anything, it's going to be a little bit harder with social value, because with energy you have a direct metric and it's very much objective."
BIFM's recent sustainability survey, however, ranked the measurement of social value in fourth place as a priority area for the next 10 years, suggesting this is now something that is coming on to the radar for FM providers and their clients.
Correcting the focus
Organisations are already increasing their efforts to try and measure the impact of social sustainability, says Melia. But he warns that it is also important to ensure that they focus on the right areas, rather than just those that lend themselves to a tangible metric. "What often happens is that people get really into wanting to measure and then have to find things to measure rather than thinking it through from the start," he says.
"It's not about measuring for measurement's sake; it's about being clear on what you're doing and where you can add the biggest value. It's far more important for businesses to look at what they're trying to make a change to, and what issues are most relevant to them, and from that they can then start to put it into practice and set measures."
A recent report, Realising Social Value Within Facilities Management, produced by the consultancy Acclaro Advisory, also identified a lack of specific and measurable goals as a gap, particularly in social value. It suggests a number of metrics and ways in which organisations have attempted to measure the value they add in the areas of employment, education and stakeholder engagement, based on criteria such as the percentage of people hired from the local area, the training spend per employee and the proportion of spend from the project that benefits the local area, but acknowledges there is much room for improvement here.
"One of the key issues we found was who measures it," says David Johnston, a sustainability analyst at Acclaro Advisory, who helped to write the report. "Whenever we discussed it with project commissioners, they said they found it difficult to resource or find the time or finances to check what is being done. That means the burden of proof is on the company that is delivering it, which is never an ideal situation."
The report did find individual examples where organisations from the sector have started to measure their impact. Babcock, BAM, Kier, Skanska and Mace, for instance, have joined the 5% Club, where organisations pledge to ensure 5 per cent of their workforce is on a structured training scheme over the next five years. Engie is a founding member of a social enterprise on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, which aims to provide employment for 50 people who were previously out of work, while ISS is part of the 'Movement to Work' collaborative employer scheme, which targets vocational training and work experience to combat youth unemployment.
"The projects where it seems to be working better tend to be very large and high-profile," says Briony Fitzsimons, principal consultant at Acclaro Advisory.
"For the rank-and-file FM projects - the large lighting projects in a town centre - we're struggling to find a really good example." Some providers have attempted to measure social value through existing models such as the London Benchmarking Group's, she adds, but these have run into difficulty as they are not tailored to the specific requirements of the FM sector.
The triple bottom line
Interserve has also attempted to measure the impact of its SustainAbilities Plan, an initiative it has been running since 2013. "We look at the triple bottom line, so social, environment and financial capital," says Braidwood. "We have definitive targets around skills, so that could be disadvantaged groups such as those not in education or training through to ex-servicemen, lone parents, those who are disabled or ex-offenders. Then we work with agencies who support us in those areas and think about how we can get this through to employment. That's not necessarily employment with us, but could be helping them to write CVs or giving them financial advice, through to bringing them into the organisation."
The business also has a volunteering programme called Give a Day of Your Time, where employees spend two days a year with a registered charity or community project.
"On some of those you could attach a value, but you don't want to get too sidelined, and measuring some of the other social benefits to communities is a lot harder to do," he says. "Some things you can't put a pounds and pence behind, but it's inevitable that you can have an intangible value on the community."
Landmarc Support Services, a joint venture between Interserve and US firm PAE, which manages facilities across the Ministry of Defence's National Training Estate, has also been able to calculate the social value it delivers, he adds, including the number of tier-one suppliers which are local businesses.
"At the last count 51 per cent were either SMEs or social enterprises so you can put a value on that spend with the local community, and that money then goes out to the local economy," he says.
Yet there is undoubtedly a need for more formal measurements, which can take in the overall value delivered by a supplier or contract, rather than honing on isolated initiatives.
"The big issue at the moment is the project commissioners being somewhat unaware of what they should be asking for on different kinds of projects," suggests Fitzsimons. "At the moment it's almost like the project commissioner asks them what they can do, rather than saying 'we have particular aims and ambitions'. That's about confidence and awareness."
But any framework needs to avoid being too prescriptive, warns Braidwood. "In our communities part of the business I get to see the tenders that come out and to really see a clear articulation of what they're looking for," he says. "But they do then allow their supply chain to illustrate how they respond to it. When it's a bit more open like that it allows the social value to cover a wide spectrum of skills and for suppliers to outline how they will have an impact. That is where you have the real value; where you're allowed to have that openness."
Anthony Bennett, co-founder and director of Bennett Hay, meanwhile, believes FM firms need to be more willing to talk about the benefits they do deliver.
"The FM sector is already adding value into the social realm, although this positive influence isn't always recognised or celebrated," he says. "For instance, as an industry, there is a real focus on people. Companies nationwide have implemented various learning and development programmes. This has positive repercussions in terms of finding, nurturing and retaining talent, succession planning and future-proofing the industry in its entirety."
In time, reporting on such initiatives will become commonplace, believes Braidwood, and providers can help to push this into the private sector as well.
"You don't select to have more social value from one contract to another," he points out. "We deploy it completely through all our responses. But I have worked in other organisations where they're not used to this and the procurement teams don't know the questions to ask. There's a lot of lost value in the private sector and sometimes it's actually being delivered by the supply chain and they're not asking for it. That's an area I would hope will evolve over time."