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Why Contractors Need a Social Impact Strategy

Economic

Reposted with permission from constructionexec.com, January 27, 2019, all rights reserved. Copyright 2019

Social impact sounds simple enough: creating a significant positive change or disruption to a wicked social problem, usually through collaboration or innovation. In the past, social impact has primarily been associated with social entrepreneurship and hybrid business models that benefit the non-profit sector. However, there is an increase in corporate businesses shifting from corporate social responsibility to activities that create direct solutions to social problems or strengthen the communities they are located in.

In its 2018 Capital Trends Report, Forbes found 77 percent of the businesses it interviewed felt that social impact was critical or important. Businesses are now considering not just risk and return on their ventures but also social impact. Deloitte research found that stakeholders are frustrated with waiting for political solutions to social problems and feel they can make moves to become part of the solution, making social impact “CEO-level business strategy defining the organization’s very identity.”

SOCIAL IMPACT AND CONSTRUCTION

How does this effect the construction industry? One of the most influential industries in the world, the construction industry was engaged in social impact before it was called such. For example, one of the greatest victories of social impact work is through environmental considerations. The largest environmental impacts for communities was the move to green and sustainable development, which helped shift how people thought about energy, recycling and building materials. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, green construction such as LEED and WELL certifications will grow to a $145 billion opportunity. With the current use and future planning, construction companies will continue to greatly impact communities.

Another way that construction has created social impact for communities is indirectly tied to the actual building of a neighborhood—and has more to do with its people. Workforce development programs, for instance, are one way to create genuine alternatives to poverty. The construction industry, poised to experience a shortage in labor may find a win-win solution in creating social impact programs such as apprenticeships, internship programs and other opportunities. General contractors, engineers, software companies and organizations, as well as other stakeholders, are leading these efforts. For instance, the American Building Association works with the U.S. Department of Labor to provide apprenticeships for those wanting to go through training in exchange for the possibility of work.

Design is also a way to address the issues or instigate change. Architects around the world are involving communities to help them design the way housing, commercial and green spaces will look. With critical issues, these methods of inclusion and collaboration are ways that owners, developers and architects can address community needs throughout the construction lifecycle. These practices are spreading far and wide – from Berlin to Massachusetts to Brazil. For instance, architects for social impact support Social Economic Environmental Design Evaluation, which considers indicators such as contextual relevance, inclusivity, social equity and culture.

EXECUTING A SOCIAL IMPACT STRATEGY

Following are five ways construction contractors can implement a social impact strategy.

  1. Invite partners such as stakeholder networks, community members, businesses, schools and other entities who will help identify needs, challenges and possible solutions.
  2. Technology such as proper construction management software can also increase collaboration and sharing of information, while making sure there are fewer mistakes, more efficiency and greater control over possible challenges.
  3. Initiate social impact projects in areas where the company has an interest, such as expanding passion projects.
  4. Don’t wait for legislation to mandate behavior. Instead, begin to engage in behaviors that will influence the need for legislation to be passed.
  5. Focus on the audacious such as building smart cities.

The construction industry is literally responsible for building the future. Its large scope and scale mean that it can be considered a source of social safety. There has been a trend toward moving beyond safety and instead solving seemingly intractable problems. This type of social impact is worlds away from the old type of corporate social responsibility that companies used to do, giving true meaning to the saying: “change, not charity.”

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