Q&A: Setting a social value strategy

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As part of our ECI Unlocked program, connecting business leaders across the ECI Portfolio, Jamie Hall from Zenergi recently hosted sessions on Setting a Social Value Strategy. Jamie has led the internal social value strategy development at Zenergi and also helps external companies with effective strategy setting around ESG. We asked him some key questions about how to get this right:

Firstly, what is the difference between Social Value, CSR and ESG?

There is a lot of overlap between these terms. Historically people spoke about Corporate Social Responsibility and ESG, and traditionally that looked at activities being done and came from an angle on corporate reputation. It was less about what is integral to the purpose of the organisation. Social value is used as it is more aligned with that question. As a framework, it typically focusses on some core pillars: community, sustainability, wellbeing, and diversity. So, it puts people and the planet at the heart of the strategy and can be more inspiring to employees and customers than questions around processes or governance. These pillars underpinned Zenergi’s own social value strategy, which we called ‘Powering a Sustainable Future.’

What is the benefit of setting a social value strategy?

Each business varies, but all businesses will have stakeholders interested in this. At Zenergi we have a significant public sector customer base, and the government has built a social value model directly into their procurement advice, so we knew we needed to be able to demonstrate our impact in a credible way. So, operating transparently and providing evidence through case studies & reporting is important. Employees are also key stakeholders – people are increasingly looking to understand the impact of the business they work for, especially newer generations in the workforce. Setting a social value strategy also helps you to prioritise your efforts. Across the ESG space there is always so much you could do – defining your purpose and assessing where your business can have the biggest impact really helps you to focus your activities and create a proper roadmap.

Where can you start when planning a social value strategy?

The first thing to do is a discovery process. That might include understanding the practices and policies you already have. It should also mean finding out from people within the business what is important to them and what they would like the business to be known for. We did this for teams across the business at Zenergi in focus groups, and then also did Exec Interviews at Board Level. If you want people to own the strategy, you need to make them part of the process. We supported this with competitor analysis and a review of tender process questions, to understand where we sat in the market and trends around changing requirements.

Once you understand where you sit and what people find important, how do you start designing a strategy?

It’s important to frame potential initiatives within a materiality assessment, to understand what is going to have the biggest impact for your stakeholders. Those are the things that should form the pillars of your strategy. For example, at Zenergi, we help companies reduce their carbon impact, but our own emissions are quite low. So, we focus on helping our customers reduce as much carbon as possible as that is where we can have the most impact. If you are a manufacturing business that is likely to be a different story.

Once you have decided what is important, companies should set targets for the future, with a focus on truly understanding their baseline and setting realistic goals. Not everything needs to be immediate, and nothing ruins the credibility of a social value strategy quicker than unrealistic targets and no thought as to how to achieve them.

Competitor benchmarking was helpful so that we understood our position in the wider market. You can also track and benchmark over time to see where you are leading and where you are lagging.

Once you have a social strategy, how do you make sure it is embedded and has a real impact?

Each key pillar should be underpinned with commitments, values and policies. That meant each pillar had its own workstream and leadership internally. We made sure we were stretching ourselves, whilst balancing what’s also achievable for an organisation like ours. Communication and governance are also key, its important that the whole company understands what we are wanting to achieve, who was responsible for it, and what progress we’re making against objectives. We also feel that it’s important for the strategy to have an identity, so at Zenergi we made sure the strategy had a strong internal brand. Calling it Powering a Sustainable Future really helped, as did having its own brand look. It meant that it was brought together into something that people found they wanted to share and promote. It also meant there was a proper launch, supported by a marketing campaign which aimed to get people excited internally. Clearly its not all about the look & feel, we also made sure people understood why we were doing it and what it meant for our business.

If you would like help with setting your social value strategy, please reach out to Zenergi here.

Jamie Hall Zenergi

About the author

Jamie Hall

Jamie Hall is COO at Zenergi, having joined as Chief Sustainability Officer in 2021. Jamie led the launch of Zenergi’s social value strategy in 2022 to address the challenges that are collectively faced with commitments focused across four key pillars: planet, people, community and customers.

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