• Alastair Cooper
  • 4 minutes
  • 12/04/2022

WSP: Getting serious about social value

We’re delighted that WSP are one of the sponsors at the National Social Value Conference 2022. Rachel Skinner CBE, Executive Director at WSP, talks us though why social value is a vital part of any organisation working today, and highlights the work WSP have done in ensuring that it sits at the heart of their business. 

It’s time to take social value seriously as an integral part of ESG. The Government wants it, clients want it, and employees want it – at WSP, over a third of applicants for new roles ask in detail about our approach to ESG.

Focusing on social value as part of ESG can enable a business to make a measurable contribution to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and to set that business apart from its competitors. This is why at WSP we’ve committed to generating £120m of additional social value by 2024 as part of our new three-year strategy.

The key word here is ‘additional’. If you work in the built environment, you’re already likely to be generating social value by reshaping buildings, infrastructure, systems and cities in ways that benefit society, the environment and the economy. But we shouldn’t claim this as our own social value as we are paid to deliver it for clients. We must do more.

This additional activity can come from corporate activities, many of which – such as charitable giving and volunteering – are in place through existing CSR programmes. At WSP, our efforts in this area are measured and verified by Social Value Portal and have included donating 14,000 items of PPE for frontline workers during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic, and generating £217k of social value through 1,050 weeks of apprenticeships.

Our corporate programmes also include the wide-reaching efforts of employees, with two days of paid volunteering time available annually to support initiatives meaningful to their communities – from creating micro homes for the homeless in Cambridge, to building a community ‘hackspace’ for multi-generational STEM learning in Essex, to putting over 11,000 buildings and 40,000 people in the Bahamas, Barbados and Botswana on a digitised map for the first time through Missing Maps ‘mapathons’.

We have made great progress with our corporate programmes, but the more challenging area – and the one with the most potential – is at the project level. How can we, as consultants, drive more local skills and employment and support local businesses? How can we create healthier, safer and more resilient communities? How can we support decarbonisation and environmental protection as well as social innovation?

These are difficult questions but as designers and advisers we are ideally suited to tackling them. We can bring the supply chain together in a strategic process that involves local communities and focuses a project’s efforts on creating the social value they need most, not just what is easiest for us to do.

As part of our contracts for highways and transportation services with local authority clients, we work hard to engage with local SMEs and support them to become part of our supply chain. In Norfolk, for example, we typically put over £0.5m each year into the local economy via SMEs.

Just as importantly, if we are to avoid ‘social washing’ becoming the new greenwashing we must accurately measure the social value we generate using recognised frameworks and externally validated figures.

None of this is easy, but if we can get it right there is potential to make a huge and lasting difference.

Rachel sat on the panel for our Social Value Hackathon, along with other thought leaders in social value to help develop a manifesto for the next decade of social value.

You can also watch the hosted breakout session on ‘Powering and protecting Scottish heritage’, in which WSP’s Melody Saunders examines the provision of energy to some of the UK’s most remote island communities. 


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