CSR, ESG and DEI – are they worth the investment?

April 2022

Businesses increasingly feel driven to include corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities in their business plans, while also showing good environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices; and supporting diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace.

But is this easy to do and is it worth the investment? In the first of two articles, Business World asks Russell Bedford members about what part CSR plays in their businesses and how easy or difficult it is to incorporate ESG and DEI into daily business life.

Can you tell us about the environmental, social or governance matters that mean most to your business and why?

Bruce Saward, Principal at Saward Dawson, Russell Bedford’s member firm in Melbourne, Australia

‘ESG matters are about following your instincts and doing the right thing while putting aside financial interests. Whether it’s the environment, how we treat people, or our privileged position in business, it is about doing what is right. Rather than focusing on one aspect of ESG, we believe all our actions should meet a fair-and-responsible test.’

Tom May, Client Director at Jerroms – Russell Bedford’s West Midlands, UK member

‘We consider all ESG matters equally to achieve the best outcome. Environmentally, last year we began our journey towards net zero by launching our Going Green project to reduce our carbon footprint. Socially, it’s about making a difference by investing in our connections, whether that’s our employees, our local community, or even globally through our Russell Bedford network. As for governance, to us this means setting examples by demonstrating leadership, transparency, consistency and a steadfast belief in our core values.’

From a business perspective, why do you engage in these activities? Is it to attract new clients or employees, or is it just to tick a box?

John Hannaway, Principal at HCA Chartered Accountants – Russell Bedford’s Belfast member ‘We have not advertised our charitable giving as we first wanted to establish a credible history. I believe we’ve now achieved this. How? Every time we raise a fee, we make a charitable donation. Our motivation is simply one of believing good things happen to good people and I think our growth and profitability testifies to this.’

Bruce Saward

‘Organisational culture is central to our success. This starts with the partners who must set the tone of our culture. Our positive culture and strong values, such as our keen commitment to charities, has been important in attracting both staff and clients. Further, our people know the work they do makes a difference and can see how their actions contribute to building a better world.’

What is your firm doing to support diversity and inclusion in the workplace? Are there areas where you’re trying to improve?

John Geraci, Managing Partner at LGA, LLP – Russell Bedford’s Boston, US member

‘We signed the CEO Action pledge to take a proactive step in increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the accounting industry. We have received training, made donations to diverse businesses, promoted DEI on our website and social media, and supported efforts at the state level through our work with the Massachusetts Society of CPAs.

We also rethought our recruiting practices, engaging with schools and organisations with diverse student populations. We also promote the importance of evolving our DEI thinking and actions by participating on panels and presenting to students and business professionals.’

Bruce Saward

‘We’ve always had a diverse workplace and have always been willing to give someone an opportunity regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, or experience. We haven’t actively pursued diversity, it’s more about our willingness to embrace it whenever the opportunity presents itself.’

What advice can you give to businesses yet to build CSR, ESG, and DEI into their business plans?

Tom May

‘Start small and look at what other businesses are doing. You will find there are activities you can easily replicate and weave into your own business plans. Motivate your employees to volunteer and create a CSR, ESG, DEI team to think up ideas and activities that you can all work together to achieve.’

Bruce Saward

‘Start with something you and your team are passionate about. This might be a small fundraising event, some local community or charity involvement, an activity that benefits the local environment, or pro-bono work. Above all, empower your team. Consider offering your staff leave to volunteer their time to community projects. Measure the outcomes, celebrate together, and promote your achievements both internally and among your clients.’

Some businesses may feel they are too small or lack the resource to implement CSR, ESG, and DEI. How would you convince them otherwise?

John Geraci

‘It’s not about doing something nobody else is doing or hasn’t thought of, it’s about inspiring others no matter how small that action may seem. Education is a great place to start as unconscious bias can blind some to the challenges others face. Adopt an open mind and listen to the stories of those who have struggled for equality and inclusion.’

John Hannaway

‘Observe the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals. They are important and represent the global community’s next step to ending poverty, fighting inequality and injustice, and tackling climate change. Meeting them is about making an impact – however small – not the amount of investment. Finally, I would say check out B1G1 and the work it’s doing.’

Bruce Saward

‘We started with our not-for-profit service to a few charities. This demonstrates our partners’ desire to give back to the community, while acting as corporate citizens and role models. This service now represents 20% of our total revenue. It may not be as profitable as other work, but it makes a big impact, and our people see a greater purpose behind what they do.’

About the authors

Bruce Saward
Melbourne, Australia

Bruce Saward is chair of Russell Bedford International and principal at Saward Dawson Chartered Accountants, Russell Bedford’s Melbourne firm.

Over the years Bruce has assumed audit, taxation, business services and IT roles and is a true all-rounder. Much of his time is committed to consulting and strategic business planning which builds upon his diverse experience.

Tom May
West Midlands, UK

Tom is a Client Director at Russell Bedford’s UK member firm Jerroms, based in the West Midlands. He joined their Bromsgrove office in 2020 with over 12 years of experience of working with owner managed SMEs and large organisations and has particular expertise in supporting start-ups and small businesses with growth strategies.

Passionate about creating a greener and sustainable future, Tom has hit the ground running, launching the Jerroms “Going Green” project last year with the aim of reaching net zero by 2025.

John Hannaway
Belfast, UK

John is Company Principal at HCA Chartered Accountants, Russell Bedford’s Belfast, UK member. A Big Four partner for 25 years, John is a former Ulster Society chairman and past president of Chartered Accountants Ireland (CAI).

John specialises in providing strategic, financial and taxation advice to owner managed and entrepreneurial businesses. He is passionate about providing professional, practical and personal financial advice to businesses with a growth mindset.

John D. Geraci
Boston, USA

John Geraci is the managing partner at LGA, LLP, Russell Bedford’s Boston member. He is responsible for the direction of the firm, its growth, both organic and through M&A, and its move toward providing more consulting and advisory services.

Under his leadership, LGA has risen in the ranks of the Boston Business Journal’s Largest Accounting Firms from 45th in 2013 to 18th in 2022, a move of 24 positions in eight short years.

John leverages his extensive experience to advise clients with the financial, operational and cultural aspects of running a successful business and provides coaching and leadership training and consulting.

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