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Millennials and Technology Drive Social Responsibility Trends


By Annalisa Enrile and Oliver Ritchie, Construction Executive

The movement of business from charitable giving to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has been part of the corporate landscape. However, in the last 10 years, there has been a move from businesses supporting good causes to initiating those causes themselves. This move from merely being philanthropic to a more action-oriented paradigm is happening in a variety of industries—from technology to clothing. “One-for-one” business programs have become a popular way to create social impact, whether it be about products or employee engagement.

This shift to social impact is not happening because companies are spontaneously deciding to do good and make a difference. Rather, there is a confluence of changes in social ecosystems that are supporting this move toward social impact. The main reasons include world politics, which have created a greater political divide now more than ever. This political polarization coupled with extreme events have made corporate leadership more apt to take a stand. The Harvard Business Review reported the new movement of CEO activists are willing to put their politics before their profits. For instance, there have been CEOs who have taken stands against firearms after the school shootings in Parkland, Fla. Similarly, grocery stores are opting to carry seafood, especially shrimp, that are certified to be slave-free in their catch and production.

The rise of social media has also been instrumental in the push to social impact, in the transparency that social media provides and the ease at which the public can use social media to find out information used to select companies with which they do business. Finally, the largest reason that corporations are moving to social impact is millennials are changing the environment. Millennials in the workforce expect leadership’s values to be infused into the organization and also expect leadership to represent the values of the organization. On the other side, millennials influence the marketplace by putting their spending where their values are, making it important for businesses to be clear about their priorities. Global Strategy Group found that the public expected companies to respond to current events in 24 hours.

By 2050, 70 percent of the global population is expected to live in cities. To prepare for this influx of people, the construction industry must plan for development and design of infrastructure, housing and community building with intentionality toward sustainability and justice. Thus, construction can no longer be content with supporting charities or CSR, it must take an active part in putting the organization’s values into literal building they are influencing because each decision has the potential for tremendous social impact. The construction industry’ social impact initiatives have mirrored the construction landscape—from architects that take impact into account in their designs to planners that listen to community needs and tradesmen who select environmentally friendly materials. For example:

  • Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc. (ABC) Baltimore created Project JumpStart, a pre-apprenticeship program including at-risk groups such as non-violent offenders that have placed nearly 1,000 people.
  • DPR Construction in Arizona worked with ASU students to help build G3Box, a student innovation that repurposed shipping containers into portable maternity clinics. The construction industry is unique in that it can create change in what they support and produce, but also in how projects are run especially regarding labor practice and design.
  • The United Kingdom has launched a partnership between higher education construction programs and corporate social impact projects to expand student understanding of community needs and how to build empowerment and access.

With the growth of the construction industry, the need and the developm ent of construction technology (con-tech) has expanded. As con-tech becomes more sophisticated, users are applying it for social good. For instance, cities are using GIS-BIM partnerships to create smart, sustainable communities that are also sensitive to sociopolitical contexts. In the Netherlands, the combination of these instruments has been used when planning for refugee housing and services.

In Asia, survey drones that are used to inspect construction sites also provide valuable information for public planners. This is being used in several public transportation projects involving companies concerned with how their development will impact low-income communities and general access. Software developer CMiC will be launching a Subcontractor Global Registry, aimed at creating transparency that will help disrupt vulnerabilities to labor trafficking. These are just a few examples of how technology created to address construction needs are being used to address social needs.

As communities and people around the world call for not just places to live and work, but new ways of doing so, more companies and their leadership will be expected to have genuine social impact programs. Companies can achieve this by working with other corporate leaders (building a supportive peer network), engaging their boards to actively participate, speaking to their employees and understanding their interests and value systems, and conducting public outreach in spaces other than their industry. The larger the needs of society become, the more the construction industry is in the position to literally build a better world.

Reprinted from Construction Executive, May 11, 2018, a publication of Associated Builders and Contractors. Copyright 2018. All rights reserved. 

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