Aviation gets on board with social value

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Social value and social investment are increasingly popular phrases within the aviation sector, as more and more organizations become aware that they need defined social, environmental and sustainability goals. Chris Farrell of Impact Reporting considers how airports best can harness social impact.

The list of social impact initiatives an organization can undertake is never-ending, so the challenge is prioritizing what is most important.

The frameworks and methodologies associated with social impact measurement differ between organizations and areas of business, but some key themes are pertinent across all sectors. For example, analyzing common inputs – money invested in charities, time spent volunteering or trees planted – is often balanced with common outputs, such as jobs created, lives saved and carbon emission prevented.

Social value is often calculated as a social return-on-investment (sROI), which relates to the perceived societal value of an organization’s impact. It is important to be aware of the qualitative data – the narratives and experiences – that also exist. These are often overlooked but are an effective way of contextualizing impact and humanizing reporting of corporate social responsibility (CSR.)

Capturing accurate data
CSR has a huge influence on business behavior in the transportation sector and is increasingly seen as an effective and responsible way to set organizations apart. This is reinforced by the expectations of consumers and employees and their ever-growing desire to engage in pro-social initiatives. However, to get to a point where you are truly trusted by prospective customers and seen as a desirable employer, clear measurement and reporting of impact is imperative.

Employees need to understand why they are engaging in a social or environmental project and whether the outcomes have contributed toward the business’s purpose. They expect transparency. It’s important to reflect on your current business behaviours to understand if all stakeholders are working toward a common goal and if your CSR budget is being allocated efficiently.

How social impact is recorded, analyzed and reported is just as important as how it is created – the information you get out is only as good as the data you put in.

Updating and quantifying data live is crucial. It’s already standard practice for HR, sales and financial data to be captured robustly and accurately in real time – and now the norms for social value data capture are catching up. Google Analytics, Xero, Salesforce and intranet systems are all updated live, and reports can be gathered at the click of a button. In short, having all social value data feeding into one central database is advantageous, as it enables regular updates.

The benefits to transportation businesses
It’s important to make the analysis of social responsibility an ongoing requirement. Modern software makes this practical and feasible, taking in feeds from CRMs and intranets and calculating social value in real time.

Aviation organizations must ensure their organizational purpose – rather than monetary metrics – drives their CSR strategy. All forms of CSR activity should be encouraged. Investing exclusively in activities that produce a high ROI places an organization at risk of ignoring projects that may be more valuable in the long run or provide a broader range of benefits to society.

It’s easy to pay lip-service to social value and not be truly committed, however eventually your stakeholders will see through this. The real and rewarding challenge comes when you take control of the agenda, using strong figures to support your decisions.

Reaching the right goals
Quantifying social value in an accurate and consistent way is key for all transportation organizations. Aligning to and supporting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – 17 global goals set by the UN in 2015 – is a straightforward and ethical way of benchmarking the impact of many value-based businesses. These are a blueprint to achieve a more sustainable future and address global challenges related to poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, prosperity, and peace and justice.

We encourage our aviation clients to align to the UN’s SDGs because of their worldwide and future-proofed applicability. Organizations track and report on their pro-social and pro-environmental activities according to which SDGs they contribute toward, to provide structure and help employees understand the greater goals they are helping to achieve.

Indeed, given the vast range of activities that aviation organizations can undertake, it is not surprising that many cannot be understood in simply monetary terms. To focus strictly on this approach, and to exclusively report on quantitative data, organizations are missing an opportunity to truly understand the scope of their impact. It’s about the long-term difference an organization is making to the lives of real people and environmental sustainability.

Aviation takes off
Manchester Airport Group (MAG), for example, is focusing on the measurement of its social and environmental impact. With over 60 million passengers flying through its airports every year and 40,000 staff on-site, keeping track of company-wide social value is firmly on the organization’s agenda. The CSR team at MAG standardized the way it captured social value work. It creates monthly overview summaries of social and environmental impact, to gauge month-on-month progress, to share with stakeholders.

The power of social investment
Social value aids aviation organizations by making them more efficient and leads to higher engagement among employees. Delivering social investment initiatives is key for aviation – we have an interesting journey ahead of us as CSR becomes increasingly central to the success of the sector.

Chris Farrell is managing director of Impact Reporting, a bespoke social impact reporting tool.

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