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The Social part of CSR

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become an integral part of business operations in the Nordic region, with companies prioritizing sustainable practices and demonstrating a commitment to social and environmental responsibility.

Nordic companies have been at the forefront of CSR practices, setting the benchmark for other regions to follow, with many companies making significant investments in sustainable technology and integrated social and environmental considerations as part of their business operations. This makes sense according to Bengt Mattson, Policy Manager at the Swedish pharmaceutical industry association Läkemedelsindustriföreningen (Lif).

We see Scandinavia, Germany, and the Netherlands, moving faster than the rest of the world for the time being.”

“If we speak about corporate sustainability in general, the Nordics are leaders in my view. We see Scandinavia, Germany, and the Netherlands, moving faster than the rest of the world for the time being,” he says.

For example, pharma giant Novo Nordisk has long been committed to CSR and has implemented a range of initiatives to promote sustainable practices. The company has invested in sustainable technologies, including a zero-emission production plant, has set ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and has established a stakeholder engagement process to understand the needs and expectations of its stakeholders.

“It has become crucial to have stakeholder dialogue and listen to your different stakeholder groups, including consumers and end users,” explains Leena Delestre, Principal Sustainability Consultant at AFRY.

For Novo Nordisk, there is wide recognition of this importance to ensure that its products and services meet the needs of patients and healthcare providers and that its operations are socially responsible and sustainable.

 

Bengt Mattson, Policy Manager, Lif. Photo: Gunilla Lundström. Leena Delestre, Principle Sustainability Consultant, AFRY. Photo: Peter Knutson

 

Policies and Regulations

Governments play an important role in promoting CSR, and many Nordic countries have implemented policies and regulations that require companies to report on their sustainability performance and how it is integrated into their business operations. There is a general alignment in CSR practices in the region, with a focus on transparency, accountability, and mandatory reporting. Denmark and Norway have mandatory reporting requirements for CSR, while Sweden has guidelines in place for voluntary CSR reporting.

“Additionally, in Norway, they have developed legislation on social responsibility through the Transparency Act which means for companies to identify the human rights risks and impacts in their supply chains. There are also national action plans for business and human rights in Sweden and Finland. There may be some differences depending on sector-specific regulations or guidelines, but overall, the requirements are quite similar between the Nordic countries,” says Delestre.

In Sweden, the Environmental Code requires companies to conduct environmental impact assessments and to take measures to minimize their environmental impact, and a national system for environmental management, which provides companies with guidance on how to integrate environmental and social responsibility into their operations.

 

“Consumers have an enormous role because at the end of the day, for, a company, things has to be commercially viable. Companies that prioritize sustainable practices and CSR are more likely to attract and retain customers in the region,” says Bengt Mattson, Lif.

 

A love for nature

For the most part, people are very close to nature in the Nordics. It has really a high value for people and their well-being. It’s almost like a human right to have access to nature. Having an environment that is good for your life is very important.

“We are expected to respect nature,” says Delestre, “and this might be why the environment plays a large role in CSR in the Nordic region, though there are still blind spots.”

But in general, the Nordics are always ranked very high and probably because we just love nature.”

Mattson backs this idea as well. “Some water-related sustainability initiatives might have been less rapidly implemented in the Nordic region for the simple reason that we have so much water and small populations. Whereas in the more southern parts of Europe, and also parts of the US, there is water scarcity in some very heavily populated areas, and they’ve been more rapid in implementing initiatives and legislative measures to secure the quality of groundwater. But in general, the Nordics are always ranked very high and probably because we just love nature,” he says.

Nordic consumers are known for being environmentally conscious and willing to pay more for sustainable products, something which Mattson highlights, saying, “Consumers have an enormous role because at the end of the day, for, a company, things has to be commercially viable. Companies that prioritize sustainable practices and CSR are more likely to attract and retain customers in the region.”

Raising the S on their sustainability agenda

One trend is a shift towards more holistic and integrated CSR strategies that go beyond environmental concerns and address social issues such as diversity and inclusion. Indeed, Mattson suggests that we have been strong in terms of environmental sustainability. “But I would say that the full integration of social responsibility and financial responsibility or sustainability is becoming more and more important,” he says.

The steadily growing interest for ESG (environmental, social, governance), has pushed companies to raise also the S on their sustainability agendas today.”

Delestre agrees, adding that, in the Nordics, the ‘social’ part of CSR has been something that has been considered the state’s responsibility, from a company perspective. “Now we can see that social responsibility is really something expected by many stakeholders as investors, regulators, and customers. The steadily growing interest for ESG (environmental, social, governance), has pushed companies to raise also the S on their sustainability agendas today,” she explains.

The growing focus on social impacts and the need to address social issues, such as inequality, poverty, and access to education and healthcare, is reflected in the increasing number of Nordic companies that are incorporating social impact goals into their sustainability strategies.

Once again, I believe that the Nordic region will be one of the leaders because our governments and our authorities are committed to Agenda 2030 and the global sustainability goals.”

“For the pharmaceutical industry, and many other industries, if you ask them how they describe their work in implementing Agenda 2030 on the global sustainability goals, you would have probably a lot of examples of environmental sustainability, but when it comes to social sustainability development goals and perhaps financial sustainability in the long term, these are not as concrete. Once again, I believe that the Nordic region will be one of the leaders because our governments and our authorities are committed to Agenda 2030 and the global sustainability goals,” Mattson points out.

 

The growing focus on social impacts and the need to address social issues, such as inequality, poverty, and access to education and healthcare, is reflected in the increasing number of Nordic companies that are incorporating social impact goals into their sustainability strategies.

 

Measuring impact

Delestre believes that, depending on the company’s size, strategy, or the maturity of its sustainability work, there can be other topics like community engagement, or supply chain responsibility and human rights. This community engagement can help when measuring and reporting on the social and environmental impact of companies’ operations and products is slightly more complicated, she believes.

Many Nordic companies are exploring the use of impact investing and other innovative financing models to support their sustainability initiatives and generate positive social and environmental outcomes.”

“You can measure the inputs which are very, very simple. You can measure spending and investments, but what would be much more interesting is to measure the outputs. How many people are you reaching with this program? What is the best way you can measure the impact? How has the situation improved? Impact measuring will show the true value of your social program. Many Nordic companies are exploring the use of impact investing and other innovative financing models to support their sustainability initiatives and generate positive social and environmental outcomes,” she says.

“In the life science sector, there are companies whose products or services may have significant benefits on people’s health and well-being, and that is a great opportunity for the company to communicate about those positive impacts,” Delestre adds.

CSR is an integral part of the business strategies for many Nordic companies as they recognize its importance in creating long-term value for stakeholders, with many setting the standard for sustainability and CSR practices globally. According to Mattson, this is a good thing.

“Some of the leading companies, will take the lead, [and] will hopefully inspire and influence the others to move along too,” he suggests.

Drive progress

Despite challenges in implementing some CSR strategies, such as the need for increased stakeholder engagement and the ongoing pressure to balance profitability with sustainability, Nordic companies continue to innovate and drive progress in the CSR space.

With a growing focus on social impact and a commitment to transparency and accountability, the future of CSR in the Nordic region looks bright.

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