National CSR Awards to Spotlight U.K. Sustainable Businesses


Interview with Karen Sutton, CEO, National CSR Awards

With previous sponsors and supporters like Mercedes-Benz, Natwest and Carillion, the 2016 National CSR Awards will celebrate business excellence and innovation in Corporate Social Responsibility on May 12, 2016 at The Crystal in London. The Awards focus on the disciplines of leadership, sustainability, community development, worker rights, education, circular economy and clean energy.

Karen Sutton is the CEO of the National CSR Awards, and the Director of Limelight Design and Marketing as well as the Founder and Chair of Business@Brooklands.After spending three years as a Formula One photographer, she created Limelight Design & Marketing, an agency in the heart of the Brooklands Business Park on the perimeter of London. Ms. Sutton recognised opportunities to unite local businesses to work together towards their individual goals and CSR Policies. Out of a local idea came the drive and enthusiasm to transform the initiative into a national event— Kelly Eisenhardt.

What was your call-to-action in building the National CSR Awards in the UK?

The National CSR Awards started as a locally based idea to award organizations in my own business park for their accomplishments and efforts in the community.

However, I’m not known for doing things on a small scale, so I quickly realised that ‘National’ made sense, considering my natural passion for philanthropy. I researched other awards in the UK, but didn't find one that rewarded all aspects of CSR—they all concentrate on one area, such as sustainability, green or community.

Building a nationally recognized award system would also help us to promote sustainability amongst international companies who had headquarters or have offices in the UK.

Tell us more about the mission and vision for the program.

These Awards were created to recognize businesses that creatively approached sustainability, and reward those who are creating new standards, committing their organisation to make social responsibility an integral part of their business.

We see ourselves as helping push the boundaries of what companies can do. The standards we hold them to are stringent and are judged by a panel of high-profile CSR experts. Company size varies from major corporations to small and medium businesses, some just getting started.

By encouraging companies to increase their sustainability efforts and then manage and report the results, we’re hoping that the greater impact will be measurable.

The Awards also consist of three international categories. Can you tell us more about the categories and how that fits in with a national award program?

Sure. In our first year, we received many enquiries from overseas, asking us if they could participate as well.

After some consultation we decided to open up three additional categories for international participants. Of course, with our new partnership with 3BL Media, that now makes perfect sense, and gives us international exposure. We eventually hope to take the National CSR Awards model to other countries in the future. The categories added are: Best International Sustainability Community, International Conservation Project and Global Sustainable Transportation. If you check out the website and click on categories, you can see the details of all of the categories available.

I would like to share a story about a project that inspired my decision to add the International Sustainability Community category. Kenco, a popular coffee brand in the UK, has done a brilliant job of working in preventing gang violence in Honduras. They have a program called ‘Coffee vs Gangs’. In Honduras, being initiated into a gang is a way of life. There are few options for kids on the street and teens becoming adults. The Coffee vs. Gangs program enables adolescents to get trained as coffee farmers. They gain skills they can use to make a living and become business owners. All the while, providing hope and opportunity so that kids don’t turn to gangs. We consider this to be a perfect example of an entry for this category!

The National CSR Awards are a new endeavor. How are you getting the word out about your organisations and your important mission?

It’s not as hard as it sounds. Many companies focused on sustainability are looking for the awards that best fit the projects they are working on and I feel, combined with our strong brand (I run a design agency after all!), much of the feedback received has told us that companies find our Awards a great platform to showcase their good work.

We’ve made it easy to apply. If your company is interested, follow this link to our entry page and submit your application.

Success is usually enabled by partnering with those who want to help and who are seen as leaders in the field. Who are some of the partners involved in the awards?

You’re so right. Partnering with key and relevant organisations is important to us and we realise that it contributes to the expansion and success of the awards.

Our sponsors and partners are an integral part of the process. We are delighted to be supported by some of the UK's biggest charities, leading business institutions and local organisations.   The full list of partners is available on our website.  Of course, we’re excited that 3BL and Ethical Performance support our work through their media channels.

One of the key organisations that have partnered with us is WWF. They are working on the International Conservation category, identifying corporate partners and suitable projects for recognition.

In addition to helping find companies eligible for the Awards, we also have partners who help with the facilities work necessary to carry off a big awards ceremony. For example, The Crystal, a Sustainable Cities initiative by Siemens, will host our Awards Ceremony this year.

We’ve also partnered with the Institute of Business Ethicsthe Radisson-Edwardian Hotels and we have some other big global names to announce in the coming days!

What are you hoping the National CSR Awards achieves, and how will you know when the initiative is successful?

I can tell you that long before I knew the definition of social responsibility, I was already doing it. Very early on in my adult life I was committed to aspects of the CSR without even realizing it: mainly philanthropy and a general concern for the environment. Now, I’m re-modelling my career so will be doing something I love!

The success of the Awards will eventually be demonstrated by the scale and scope of the event with the intention of expanding the programme globally. Every organisation has to have a CSR strategy now, and I’d like to see lots more of them sharing their successes, demonstrating where they have ‘raised the bar’ in sustainability. I’ll know the National CSR Awards are successful when we have the capability to begin building several national programmes into one International CSR Awards.

Sounds fantastic. How can companies learn more and get involved?

First, decide what role is best for your company. Are you a future sponsor/partner or are you a future recipient based on the great sustainability work your company is doing? Would you like to be a judge? All the information is on the website and can direct you appropriately.

If you’re a potential award recipient, review the categories and determine which best fits the project you’d like to submit. You can then register to apply and download the form. The application process is very easy to follow, but we’re always on the phone or email if anyone needs any help.

You can apply online—entries close on 12th March. However, we are offering a 20% Early Bird Discount for those applying by 29th January 2016

People can also support our Thunderclap before 15th Jan. Just click on this link, login with your Twitter details and you’ll be spreading the word about the Awards at exactly the same time as hundreds of other twitter users and taking part in a trend! It only takes 60 seconds.

Finally, please take a moment to watch this video from the UK's Secretary of State Phillip Hammond MP supporting the National CSR Awards. We’re excited to have his endorsement!

Kelly Eisenhardt is Co-Founder and Managing Director at BlueCircle Advisors, an environmental compliance and sustainabiity consulting and training firm.