As the largest gas distribution business in Northern Ireland, Phoenix Natural Gas has evolved its approach to corporate social responsibility (CSR) from simply being ‘the right thing to do’ to being intrinsically entwined with the business strategy, seeking to build a long-term, sustainable business that creates real economic, social and environmental value.
Phoenix embraces its corporate social responsibility and embeds it at every level in the organisation. Driven from the top, it’s this transformational thinking that identifies Phoenix as an organisation that embodies responsible business, as evidenced by the company having received the Business In The Community’s ‘Big Tick’ award for corporate responsibility excellence on 10 occasions.
In particular, the Energy for Children Charitable Trust has been the backbone of Phoenix’s commitment to CSR. The Trust aims to reach deeper into the heart of local communities and provide financial support to those in need and has helped over 6,000 children to date.
In more recent years, Phoenix has developed a corporate responsibility staff-driven programme known as LIFE (Leadership in the marketplace; Investing in our people; Fostering our community; and Environmental responsibility).
The focus Phoenix puts on CSR as a business is linked to the nature of its product. By its very make-up, natural gas is a fuel with inherent environmental benefits and, since becoming available in Northern Ireland in 1996, has helped contribute significantly to the environmental objectives of the Executive.
The company is proud of its environmental credentials, having been the only company in Northern Ireland to be awarded three Swords of Honour by the British Safety Council and, more recently, achieving gold status in the 2017 Business in the Community Northern Ireland Sustainability Survey for its commitment to environmental excellence.
By extension, Phoenix is firmly focused on ‘doing good’ not only in the wider environment, but in the communities that it serves. This includes around 300,000 consumers in its original licence area of greater Belfast, and an additional 28,000 in 13 towns in east Down, where the company is currently working to extend the natural gas pipeline.
With the company now one year into the east Down build programme, Phoenix has made great headway on its target to build 90km of bulk network and 260km of distribution network over the next few years.
From a CSR perspective, however, the project presents its own unique set of challenges for the company.
Public acceptability is a key factor in the effective delivery of new infrastructure projects. For Phoenix, it is important to communicate not only the Phoenix brand and reasons why ‘gas is good’ to a new audience, but also to communicate key construction messages to ensure the delivery of a smooth and efficient programme of works with minimal disruption to the local community.
From the outset, a clear strategy was established – with a strong focus on CSR, Phoenix would seek to embed itself in these new towns through establishing personal relationships with local communities.
Stakeholder engagement has been a key driver in delivering this strategy. To date, Phoenix has made natural gas available in the new towns of Ballygowan, Hillsborough, and Ballynahinch. Before beginning construction in these areas, Phoenix engaged local councils, political representatives, businesses and community groups to understand community needs and mitigate the impact of construction works, particularly in town centres.
Phoenix sought to embed itself in the community through supporting local events and initiatives, such as a family fun day in Ballygowan, Spa Primary School’s end-of-year fun run, the Ballynahinch Lions 10km race, Hillsborough Oyster Festival and providing a youth talent stage for aspiring young musicians at the SOMA Festival in Castlewellan.
Recognising its responsibility to local communities where construction is taking place, Phoenix has rolled out its ‘Play Safe, Stay Safe’ campaign for local schools.
In 2018 Phoenix will continue its extension project into the towns of Downpatrick, Crossgar, Dromore and Drumaness, and is already engaging with the community and embarking on a CSR programme for these areas.
As Phoenix continues its network development in 13 new towns over the next few years, connecting the community with Phoenix is a key focus for the company, from both a commercial and CSR perspective.