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It is relatively easy for companies, businesses and other organisations to make promises about their ethical and environmental commitments. Yet all too often, the routes to ensuring such promises are realised are both disparate and limited. In the same way that the Fairtrade mark has transformed the lives of farmers in developing countries, an ethical workplace accreditation scheme would create a domino effect of positive benefits for workers, employers and communities.

The RSA’s purpose is to enrich society through ideas and action. I have been a Fellow on and off since the 1990s, and over the years I have seen the how the Society vanquished both myths and dragons with Fellows’ collective flair, expertise and thoroughness. I am therefore keen to share with you news about the Fairplace Award – a brand new ethical workplace accreditation, which is creating real excitement among Directors of corporate responsibility and sustainability across commercial firms,  local councils, SMEs and the investment community.

The Award was recently launched by my organisation, the Ethical Property Foundation. We’re a small UK property charity founded just over ten years ago and we are powered by the vision that buildings should be managed for the benefit of people and planet. Ours is an unashamed desire to create real lasting change in the UK’s 1.85m workplaces. Over the last 5 years’ research & development, we have been supported with the in kind expertise of over 50 commercial and non-profit organisations, steered by RSA Fellow and Foundation Chair John Whitaker, who in a previous life as Oxfam’s Deputy Director, was a key driver of the Fairtrade Mark.

Fairplace allows organisations to evidence their commitment to staff, the community outside its front doors, and the environment in a single accreditation which gives detailed recommendations for future improvement. The first fairplace awards have been awarded to Sodexo, Foundation Property & Capital, Kingston University and CAFOD. A major UK high street bank is currently piloting fairplace across 8 of its London branches, and we have applications pending from leading law firms and property businesses.       

As an accreditation which demands rigour and practical evidence, fairplace has marketing advantages in mature markets – not least for attracting the best staff, starriest graduates, and differentiating the brand to potential clients. Corporates currently approaching the Foundation are also interested in fairplace because of its effectiveness as a business improvement tool – gathering connected knowledge from Finance, Procurement, Facilities Management and HR – which feeds into business planning and provides a clear picture of strengths and weaknesses when resources including money, are being wasted through duplication.

"We believe that the fairplace award could become like the Living Wage Accreditation or the Fairtrade mark – something that businesses aspire to as a symbol of best practice and a demonstration of their authentic CSR commitment." Al Lewis, Facilities Manager, CAFOD

There are also clear wins in terms of reducing reputational risk through ethical supply chain management – ask your suppliers to apply for fairplace and it is soon possible to see who is walking the ethical talk and who is not. Useful to know, for those keen to benchmark their social value to public sector commissioners looking to deliver social value outcomes, and also to analysts looking to benchmark best practice to  the green/socially responsible investment community, including pension funds.

"Sustainability goes much deeper than 'green credentials' and must include how you treat your staff, your suppliers and engage with your local community. The fairplace award is a fantastic benchmark for organisations and should be the aspirational aim we all strive for." Gareth Tancred, CEO, British Institute of Facilities Management

 

How it works

Fairplace measures a wide variety of criteria including: pay (those not paying the Living Wage or recognising unions need not apply), wellbeing and accessibility; local hiring and purchasing, and measuring the environmental footprint - carbon, travel, water and waste. Both landlords and tenants may apply. Marks are out of 100 with a 50 needed to pass. Each award lasts 3 years and fees are based on the number of people employed in the workplace. Fairplace Assessors are all volunteer senior property professionals who believe in our work.

The best news is that every penny earned from Fairplace Award supports the core charitable work of the Ethical Property Foundation: providing advice and support to small charities and community groups (3000+ since we opened our doors in 2004).  In February of this year, the Foundation became the supplier of choice for property advice to the Charity Commission, and the need for good property advice has never been greater. Our recent research suggests that charities’ property worries are the biggest threat to their future sustainability. In the past year alone, indirectly, our work supported 400,000 people, young and old, with every kind of human need. 

Fairplace therefore evidences best practice in property management while supporting local communities in a fascinating exercise of innovation and connection – surely the stock in trade of the RSA. I look forward to connecting with Fellows and discussing these ideas further.

Writer and campaigner Antonia Swinson is a Director at the Ethical Property Foundation.    

 

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