Discussing Sustainable Development in the UK with British Study Centres

Sustainable development and corporate social responsibility (CSR) are topics that are very close to our hearts at ESL. Krister Weidenhielm, our head of product development and purchase, spoke at the recent English UK marketing conference about the growing importance of CSR in the field of education.

Part of our commitment is sharing the knowledge we have gained so far on our own journey and encouraging others to formalize their CSR policies. To help achieve this, we developed a CSR self-assessment tool for language schools. Schools’ results are published on our websites.

One group of schools that has made great use of the tool to develop their own strategies is British Study Centres (BSC), one of our key partners in the UK. We caught up with BSC’s managing director Andrew Roper to find out more about how sustainable development is being addressed at BSC and in Britain.

ESL: Why is BSC tackling the issue of sustainable development?

BSC: Going ‘green,’ it’s the obvious choice, isn’t it? And once a company decides to go ‘green,’ surely it’s plain sailing all the way, everyone believes it’s a good thing, jumps on board and is willing to help?

Well in our experience this is not quite the case and even in 2012 it’s sometimes a real challenge to get people on board. Having said that, we have made some significant changes at BSC over the last 12 months and we are going in a very positive direction.

ESL: So what actions have British Study Centres taken towards CSR and what have you achieved in particular?

BSC: In April 2011, with support from ESL, British Study Centres committed to a CSR charter.

High points of the year have included all the BSC schools competing in the ‘most improved green school’ competition last year. The competition was won by our London school which made significant changes to the way it operates, including:

  • reducing water consumption by 3000 litres per day by installing water saving devices
  • fitting vending machines, water coolers and photocopiers with electronic timers so energy is not consumed overnight
  • switching off air-conditioning and PCs at the mains at the end of each day
  • installing clearly-labelled recycling bins for staff and students for paper, cardboard, plastic and tin cans
  • using recycled ink toners and recycling them in turn
  • encouraging more staff to cycle to work through the ‘cycle to work’ scheme where the company subsidies the cost of a bicycle

ESL: How has being a group of four schools affected the process?

BSC: As a group we have the advantage of having several sites and buildings. Our aim over the past year has been to share best practice. If one school has been efficient in energy saving, for example, or has run a successful recycling campaign, we have tried to share this amongst the other schools and try to raise all schools to the same level. ESL’s CSR self-assessment tool encourages us to share ideas and has certainly got us talking about the idea of sustainability. We are getting everyone within the group engaged in CSR best practise and a continuing dialogue about sustainability.

One significant area of CSR where everyone in the company has played a part over the last year has been in charity fund-raising activities which have made a positive impact on our local and wider community. Over the last year we have been involved in nine different charitable campaigns and raised over £3000 through the following initiatives:  Comic Relief, Red Nose Day, Speak English Red and Yellow Card, Families in Africa, East Africa Appeal, Easter Raffle, Bike Ride for Japan, I love Japan Day, Japan Relief Fundraiser.

In addition, the company makes a significant annual contribution to its permanent chosen charity, the Hotcourses Foundation, which helps fund the education of HIV positive children in the developing world.

ESL: How does the ESL self-assessment tool help in your process?

BSC: ESL’s support has been very important in getting our CSR charter in place.

Before, each school was working individually towards sustainable goals but without an overall direction; it was often ad-hoc. We were already doing many of the things that we now have on our charter, but inconsistently. The strategy we developed with the aid of ESL’s CSR self-assessment tool has helped our schools develop individually and as a group.

The tool has also been a good motivator to get us moving towards where we want to be. It has been very rewarding to see our results on the ESL website and has motivated us to keep improving. The schools compete among each other to get good results on the test!

Did you find the forums attached to the tool useful?

BSC: The tool encourages schools to share information and ideas both within our group and with other schools internationally. For example, we have been exchanging ideas with a group of schools in Canada. It also encourages dialogue between our own schools.

ESL: What are you planning to do next?

BSC: Sometimes it is hard to keep CSR at the top of the agenda and, certainly in Britain, it has taken second place to growth in the last couple of years. But long term growth and sustainability are closely related and many elements of CSR also lead to cost savings.

The next challenges are getting senior management on board and maintaining staff interest. Monitoring improvements in an objective way has so far not been achieved for our energy, water and resources consumption.

ESL: How is the UK favourable and/or challenging in terms of support for CSR policies and action plans?

BSC: In the UK there are very few regulations which force a business such as BSC to become greener and more responsible. Without this ‘push’ one needs to look for a cost-benefit way of implementing CSR. This means at every level it can be quite difficult to get a company to commit to CSR.

The UK could not be considered a CSR-friendly country. Whilst there is plenty of awareness of the need to be greener, this is frequently not put into practice. For example, an Englishman likes to use a hose-pipe to water his garden and cannot understand that this is no longer desirable, affordable or sustainable. Similarly, recycling resources have come late to the UK. Whilst most households now recycle and will have one bin for waste and one bin for paper/plastic and other recyclable materials, in industry, especially in medium and small size companies, effective recycling is not commonplace. If you visit a company or a town centre or a tourist attraction in the UK, you will usually see just one catch-all type of bin and nothing for recycling. In this respect the UK offers a challenging environment for CSR-aware companies and this is something which we as an organisation in the educational sector are determined to change by having a positive impact on the different people we associate with – our staff, students, owners, representatives, suppliers and the local and wider community. It is a challenge which we relish.

ESL: Thanks Andrew!

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