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Putting Energy Into Social Responsibility

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“You only get out what you put in.” That sounds like a cliché, but, like with many of your mom and dad’s old sayings, there is a core of truth in it. This applies to individuals, whether it’s a career, hobby, or family situation, but it also factors into corporate practices and culture, including social responsibility and charitable giving.

Engaging employees in corporate charitable efforts and community projects can have a positive internal impact; that’s on top of the positive social impact on the community.

A good example in the Greater Saint John region is Saint John Energy and its efforts towards sustainable growth, including the much talked about proposed Burchill Wind Project and their NRCAN (Natural Resources Canada) Smart Grid.

“We do know from customer surveys and customer focus groups that customers are looking for products and services that will help them use energy more efficiently,” says Jessica DeLong from SJ Energy, “and they want their energy to come from cleaner and more renewable sources.”

SJ Energy applies a similarly focused approach when it comes to social responsibility, and are working with The United Way of Saint John, Kings & Charlotte.

“We want our corporate donations program to have a measurable and lasting impact,” says DeLong. “SJ Energy focuses its support on the most pressing area of social need in our city: reducing generational poverty. We do that by fulfilling immediate needs through the provision of food and warmth to those in need, and by building a stronger future for Saint John by supporting our youth through education.”

SJ Energy focuses its support on the most pressing area of social need in our city: reducing generational poverty.”

Saint John Energy includes its employees in the process of deciding how to address social needs in the community.

“We provide SJ Energy with a short list of potential projects that align with their strategic focus of generational poverty,” explains Wendy MacDermott, Executive Director of the United Way, “and they invite employees to vote on how to distribute their corporate gift.”

In addition to their corporate gift, SJ Energy invites employees to donate and matches their donations. They even invite retirees to donate via pension, and board members to donate their honoraria.

“We use the United Way’s experience to help us focus those donations to needed areas within the City,” DeLong says. “The United Way has a pulse on where our donations and in-kind contributions can make the most impact. They provide us with all the information we need, and help us survey our employees to help connect them with what they care about.”

As a result of being more focused, and by helping workers learn about what is most needed and then letting them know about the difference their generosity makes, employee donations have increased 400 per cent over the last four years.

The United Way and SJ Energy have also co-created special projects. For example, two summer student positions were reserved for youth from the Teen Resource Centre (TRC) to introduce them to SJ Energy as an employer.

They will also be working with a charity to improve their energy efficiency. It’s truly a win-win relationship. For charities who own their own buildings, utility costs can be very high. What better way for the local utility company to give the gift that keeps on giving than to help a charity reduce their energy consumption by making inexpensive improvements to their buildings?

“What is really cool here,” says MacDermott, “is how customized these projects are to the interests and even business needs of SJE. They are going to need workers as a result of retirements in upcoming years, and we’ve matched them with the TRC to help identify young people who lack the networks to get great Summer jobs. What is more, TRC keeps in touch with them to make sure they are successful.”

These types of efforts pay off, and not just for the community.

“All our employees are responsible for our high level of effort to help our city,” says DeLong. “We have a huge level of engagement from our employees, from the Lineworkers to our CEO.”

“Employees are proud to work at SJE and offer back to the community volunteer time, sponsorship, donations from not only corporate donations but also employee-chosen donations.  We are proud to help; Saint John is our home too!”

Maybe you only get out what you put in, but in this case, SJ Energy is getting back a lot more.