Originally published in Society Matters magazine
By Stacey Stothard, Head of Corporate Communications & Sustainability, Skipton Building Society
By literal definition, purpose means having focus. And while building societies share a common founding purpose - enabling ordinary people to buy homes and save money - the different ways we go about this is what makes our sector remarkable.
Established in 1853, Skipton is among the oldest UK building societies. The major employer of the North Yorkshire market town whose name we share, Skipton has developed from humble beginnings to grow tenfold and become the nation’s fourth largest building society.
As Skipton has grown, so too has the responsibility we place upon ourselves to others. And this is no less evident when it comes to the one thing we all have in common, society.
All mutuals, Skipton included, have always given back to their communities. From fundraising to volunteering, charitable donations to community partnerships, it’s a treasured part of our DNA. But in early 2020 we reflected and challenged ourselves to look holistically at Skipton’s contribution beyond this. We stripped everything down from our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities, our environmental commitments, our colleague and our customer pledges, and much more. We considered in depth the social issues of today and tomorrow, and we sat down to more clearly understand where we can and where we do contribute positive social value, for everyone.
Put simply, we asked ourselves how we could help build a better society, purposefully and sustainably.
Pandemic notwithstanding, this has not been a quick or easy process. It's involved extensive analysis of our external operating environment, in-depth customer and colleague research, we've opened our doors to industry experts, and we've considered sustainability through our own ESG standards (Environmental, Social, Governance) as a central thread to Skipton's values, purpose and strategy.
At every stage we’ve been positively challenged by our board and executive, asking where can we add more value, where can we innovate, where can we be more ambitious. And in doing so, we’ve all recognised that far from being the accountability of a small team, purposeful sustainability touches every single role at the Society.
We also know it requires a great deal of investment and can never lose pace with our own and others expectations of us. But reinvesting our members money in sustainability efforts is something our customers not only support, they now expect. Above all else, it’s a powerful reminder of mutuality in practice.
In deconstructing and scrutinishing our social contribution we've rebuilt as ESG approach laden with determination and collaboration. But having a living strategy and ambitious roadmap is arguably the easy bit. What lies ahead will be our real test.
Purpose is about focus. And purposeful contribution is about authenticity. To succeed and deliver on our sustainability endeavours, to contribute tangible positive value to society, our attention now sees us developing the transparent governance of our efforts. We’re gradually making improvements across the business to ensure we can make decisions, monitor and capture our progress, and communicate clearly with all our stakeholders. In doing so we hope we can further build sustainability engagement and dialogue inside Skipton and beyond.
And as the UK embarks on the long road to recovery following the pandemic - together with Glasgow hosting the most significant climate change conference in recent memory, with COP26 taking place in November - purposeful sustainability has never been so important to us all.
You can read Skipton's latest sustainability report here