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Social Value and CSR: A zero sum game?

Can Social Value and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) come together to form a holistic strategy? Learn how Amazon, Jacobs, and Thames Tideway Tunnel are doing just that. 


With consumers, investors, and clients flocking to businesses that ‘give back’, it’s mission-critical to demonstrate your positive impact. Some businesses approach this through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Others prioritise quantifiable Social Value with frameworks like the Social Value TOM System™.

Are these approaches compatible, or a ‘zero-sum game’, competing for attention and hurting overall effectiveness?

Today we'll answer that question by spotlighting the strategies of Amazon Web Services, Jacobs, and Thames Tideway Tunnel, as presented in a panel discussion at the 2023 Social Value Conference:

  • Jodie Cross, Corporate Engagement and Impact Manager, Fair4All Finance (Chair)
  • Elizabeth Lane, Global Social Impact Proposal Manager, Amazon Web Services
  • Jo Jeffreys, Principle Social Value Consultant, Jacobs
  • Samantha Freelove, Legacy and Sustainability Lead, Thames Tideway Tunnel

Read on to learn how these market leaders are creating well-rounded strategies for conducting responsible business.

Social Value vs CSR: What’s the difference?

Let’s start by defining these distinct but overlapping concepts:

Corporate Social Responsibility: CSR is a largely internally focused and often unstructured and unmeasured strategy whereby a business integrates social and environmental impact considerations into its business operations.

Social Value: Social Value is a broader concept capturing the economic, community, and environmental benefits an organisation contributes beyond business as usual, internally or across the supply chain.

Now that we know the difference between these two approaches, let’s see how our experts are integrating them to deliver social, environmental, and economic value.

Social Value and sustainability strategies at Jacobs

At Jacobs, Jo Jeffreys has seen both sides of the coin, having initially served as sustainability manager and more recently transitioning to a Social Value focused role.

Jacobs’ global sustainability strategy is designed to tackle the challenges of a more socially conscious post-pandemic world. It contains six Sustainable Business Objectives rooted in United Nations Sustainable Development Goals:

  • Health: Advance the health, wellbeing, and safety of society.
  • Water: Deliver solutions for the global water and sanitation crisis.
  • Innovation: Foster a culture of technology and innovation important to the advancement of society.
  • Equality: Create a fair and inclusive future for all.
  • Legacy: Develop efficient and resilient solutions that deliver net environmental and societal gain.
  • Climate: Accelerate the solutions that address the climate emergency.

This model enables Jacobs to explain the impact it has on society, unites its workforce behind a common vision, and provides a key differentiator.

Jacobs’ approach to creating local Social Value

Jacob’s Social Value approach, meanwhile, is based around recognising and meeting community needs while robustly measuring outcomes. This comprises four key steps:

  • Articulate: Defining community priorities through local needs analysis and setting KPIs and targets.
  • Generate: Establishing a strategy to manage and deliver Social Value, including governance structures, action plans, and procurement mechanisms.
  • Measure: Developing measurement frameworks, tracking KPIs, and monetising Social Value delivery.
  • Evidence: Robustly and transparently reporting the Social Value and impact delivered.

Social Value and CSR are not a zero-sum game at all. One person's gain is definitely not another person's loss. They all strive to deliver positive outcomes; the differences are around who it's applied to, and the intent and purpose.

Jo Jeffreys, Principle Social Value Consultant, Jacobs

How Amazon Web Services UK creates positive impact

As a London-based Global Social Impact Proposal Manager at Amazon Web Services, Elizabeth Lane is focused on integrating Social Value and CSR into AWS’s business model.

On the Social Value front, Amazon has responded to PPN 06/20’s focus on digital skills by empowering people across the UK to enter STEM fields. Here are a few of its notable initiatives:

  • Amazon Future Engineer: A comprehensive childhood-to-career programme to inspire, educate and enable children and young adults from lower-income backgrounds to try computer science.
  • AWS GetIT: A fully funded education program and competition designed to inspire 12–14-year-old students, especially girls, to consider a future in STEM.
  • AWS Educate: Offers hundreds of hours of self-paced training and resources for new-to-cloud learners.
  • AWS re/start: A cohort-based workforce development training program that prepares individuals for careers in the cloud and connects them to potential employers.

Amazon has also dedicated considerable attention to apprenticeships, investing £8 million into a fund since 2021, with plans to support the creation of more than 750 apprenticeships in 250 SME organisations by 2024.

What can you do in your daily job, no matter how small your role or how tied you are to Social Value in your role, to expand the impact that your organisation has?

Elizabeth Lane, Global Social Impact Proposal Manager, Amazon Web Services

Going above and beyond with Thames Tideway Tunnel

The session concluded with a spotlight on the Thames Tideway Tunnel from Samantha Freelove, Legacy and Sustainability Manager. This 25-kilometre long ‘super sewer’ will stop millions of tons of raw sewage every year from entering the river and aim to reconnect London with the iconic River Thames.

Thames Tideway Tunnel has strived to create ‘additional’ Social Value during the project – Social Value delivered beyond legal and core contract requirements.

To accurately measure its ‘ripple effect’ of additional benefits, it defined 11 ‘valuation focus areas’ (VFAs) with monetisable social outcomes:

  1. Greenhouse gas emissions
  2. Health, safety, and wellbeing
  3. Taking lorries off the road
  4. Additional employment
  5. Apprenticeships
  6. Employment for people with convictions
  7. Supporting STEM
  8. London Living Wage
  9. Volunteering
  10. Employing locally
  11. River reconnection partnerships

Thames Tideway Tunnel has contributed across these areas by reducing carbon footprint, investing in health and safety, maximising proximity to the river to take lorries off the road, using the river to move materials, and numerous other initiatives.

Questions and Answers

The session concluded with an extended Q&A session where the audience put their top questions to the panel:

How is Social Value different to CSR?

Jo: CSR, ESG, and sustainability do very specific things at a corporate level: they try to unite everybody, attract the best talent, and enhance reputations. Social Value does all of that, but flips it on its head by always asking: how is this improving an individual's life?

How does volunteering fit into an effective strategy?

Jodie: If your employees are using their skills in the community to add value, then great – you’re answering a need with volunteering. But I don’t think it is strategically effective when it’s the only resource employed, and other resources within the business, like finance, infrastructure, procurement, or supply chain aren’t being integrated.

How can we be sure we're all united behind long-term KPIs that are truly meaningful and create change?

Elizabeth: It’s useful to share what's worked and create a reinforcement cycle. We won’t have the most perfect metrics out of the gate, but it's important to have conversations about where value is actually being felt, and vet that with communities where possible.

Creating real Social Value across your business 

Interested in learning more about how businesses can drive and demonstrate positive impact? Our new report, 'Creating real Social Value in the CSRD era', explains what makes Social Value different from approaches like ESG and CSR. Plus, our webinar with AWS and Vita Health Group explains how to embed Social Value into your operations and strategy. 

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About Social Value Portal

Since 2017 Social Value Portal has been at the forefront of the Social Value movement. As creators of the endorsed Social Value TOM SystemTM, hosts of the annual Social Value Conference and founding members of the independent National Social Value Taskforce – they set industry standards and lead the business agenda.

Their unique mix of consultancy, cloud platform and programmes offer organisations the complete solution to accurately measure, manage and report Social Value – and create lasting impact.

In 2022, SVP achieved B Corp status, scoring above average in all assessed. The company’s aim is to promote better business and community wellbeing through the integration of Social Value into day-to-day business activity across all sectors.

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