The Challenge:

Today’s public expects higher standards of moral behaviour from corporations and for them to perform as good corporate citizens.  This is nothing new for NYK’s Japanese top management, with their traditional long-term Asian outlook.  The very function of a company is seen as being corporately and socially responsible, providing good employment, protecting the environment within which the company operates, supporting global growth and improving conditions for humankind generally. 

However, there is no set definition for this corporate social responsibility (CSR).  ISO 26000 provides guidance rather than requirements so it cannot be certified, unlike other well-known ISO standards.  However there are several key socially responsible indices which seek to evaluate corporations based upon CSR credentials.

NYK supports the United Nations Global Compact (GC) and incorporates the 10 GC principles into its CSR guidelines. For most staff, CSR means charitable activities and raising money for good causes.  However, whilst many such NYK activities contained a CSR component by default, there was no effective management of CSR activities. Therefore, NYK’s global president established a Global CSR Coordination Group for all NYK CSR activities and I was asked to manage CSR activities throughout Europe and Africa.

The Solution:

My initial actions were to seek examples of best practice, looking beyond the maritime industry to other multinational companies including discussions with some of the world’s largest banks who, despite questions about their core operating practices, had extensive and very generously funded CSR programmes.

Having established what was considered best practice, I evaluated what was feasible given NYK’s staffing and financial resources and developed a matrix framework to coordinate all NYK’s CSR related activity in Europe and Africa within the annual business plan cycle. These activities were designed to fit NYK’s core values of innovation, integrity and intensity as well as the global subject headings set in Tokyo: workplaces that instil pride; sound and highly transparent management; and safe, environmentally friendly operations.

Given NYK’s scale in Europe - $2Bn turnover, 6,000 staff and 30 different Group companies - the matrix structure devised had to be comprehensive and multi-dimensional to take account of all the different divisions within NYK, from containers to LNG tankers, to national cultures across Europe and Africa.  It also had to be simple enough to be understood and so ensure that all stakeholders supported it. These stakeholders included: customers, suppliers, financial institutions, shareholders/investors, media, government, non-government organisations, local communities, business partners and industry representative bodies as well as staff across the globe with different local cultural expectations.

By coordinating all regional CSR activities, the Group Communications team I led ensured consistency across stakeholders and support towards NYK’s global goals.  CSR Activities were also integrated with wider corporate communications, sales and marketing and customer service to improve visibility of NYK management decisions.  This was designed to assist both staff internally as well as provide support to customers.

Close cooperation with regional HR established a base level to build upon workplace satisfaction amongst staff across Europe.  The Great Place to Work survey results were used to identify best practice within Europe and encourage peer-to-peer improvement.

NYK’s environmental activities were better promoted as part of wider CSR activities highlighting the ethical, ecological and economic reasons why NYK takes a global leading role in implementing innovative environmental technology across its fleet – one of the world’s largest.  These activities were demonstrably part of NYK’s core operations, rather than seen as the “green-wash” many other multi-nationals were accused of generating.

Within the CSR framework, charitable activities were split.  Smaller gifts of financial support remained available to community projects, as requested by staff who had a direct link to their chosen charity, educational or sporting organisation.  For global natural disasters responded to by NYK, we facilitated the matching of funds raised by staff globally to support relief efforts and those most affected, whether due to tsunamis, earthquakes or typhoons. 

Larger regional projects were reviewed centrally by the Group Communications team against NYK Board approved criteria which included consideration of NYK’s maritime activities, heritage and Group Values.  The resulting short list was presented to staff internally, with the winning projects decided by popular vote.  The three or four key projects then chosen were not just backed by NYK’s financial resources, but also by NYK staff time and skills.  In addition, Group Communications sought to generate the maximum possible publicity for these projects to the mutual benefit of NYK and the partnered organisations.

The Achievements:

As a result of the structure implemented in Europe and Africa, NYK Group Europe was able to successfully demonstrate the high standard of NYK CSR and support Tokyo colleagues to retain NYK’s status in the top socially responsible indices including the FTSE4Good and Dow Jones sustainability indices.  Yet the framework was flexible enough to encourage innovation so that local project ideas were developed and implemented in support of individual offices and specific stakeholders – whether charities, community groups or staff.

Although different activities targeted various combinations of stakeholders, each activity fitted a single corporate narrative with consistent messaging and helped to generate increasing support for NYK’s CSR activities generally, as recognised by internal surveys, global indices and through requests for NYK speakers at major CSR events and conferences.

Aside from increasing stakeholder engagement in NYK’s CSR activities, we were also able to leverage our support to achieve more with our chosen charities.  A good example is the BBC Box (see here), transported to South Africa for NYK-supported charity Breadline Africa who converted it into a classroom as part of their work with the Nelson Mandela Foundation.  As a result of NYK’s involvement, Breadline Africa attracted additional sponsors and so multiplied the number of containers converted into classrooms and libraries.

By concentrating our efforts on key projects, we achieved tangible results for our support.  As key benefactors of the UK Sea Cadets, we were one of the top sponsors of their new training vessel the Jack Petchey – designed to encourage an interest in the sea and provide a teaching platform for essential navigational skills.  NYK’s support is therefore not simply recognised by a plaque on the ship’s bridge, but in the generation of future navigators: safe navigation being essential to NYK’s profitability.

Key Lesson Learnt:

By thoroughly researching and observing the best practice examples across other industry sectors, I was able to implement a framework that provided structure where there had previously been none. By setting out a clear strategy and simple message, even the most complex and abstract of activities can be made understandable and thus they can be supported.