British Gas: CommunityMark Case Study

British Gas has successfully achieved the CommunityMark. The company is recognised for its strategic approach to managing community investment, and long-term commitment to transforming its business and in so doing, positively transform its communities. The company has worked in partnership with a range of community organisations such as Citizens Advice Bureau and National Energy Action and has used its own expertise to tackle key social issues that are relevant to its business including fuel poverty and improving energy efficiency.

British Gas has developed a strategy that focuses on social issues that are most relevant to its business:

  • Reducing fuel poverty amongst disadvantaged groups, offering debt advice through dedicated centres

  • Supporting communities to reduce their carbon footprint, funding innovative projects to reduce carbon emissions in local communities

  • Developing skills to support people into employment, offering apprenticeships through dedicated Academies

  • Promoting greater community involvement amongst their employees, through supported volunteering and the company’s Charity of the Year – Make-a-Wish

The company has developed a number of programmes and activities to engage employees to support these key issues, increasing positive perceptions of the company internally.

Enabling employees to support the company’s community investment strategy through its Get Involved programme by providing two days volunteering and matched funding opportunities to support activities, ranging from the company’s Green Streets programme to raising money for Children in Need, has supported British Gas’ rankings in the Times Best Companies to Work For 2011. This includes ranking 12th for people being positive about the organisation putting more back into the local community, a six-place improvement. At the same time, the company has achieved a higher than targeted employee retention rate of 87.7%, a key indicator for the success of the company’s employee engagement approach.

Transforming business

British Gas is continually developing the way it engages with its communities. This supports the company in focussing its support. The company has created a Corporate Responsibility Advisory Group, made up of experts from the fields of business ethics, consumer rights, the environment, social impact, energy supply economics and the government to advise on the work British Gas undertakes in the community.

Customers are also engaged through the British Gas Customer Panel to inspect operations and support the company in identifying risks and opportunities to both the business and the community. A 2011 IPSOS Mori survey found that customers who think that British Gas takes its responsibilities to society and communities seriously had risen by 3% between 2009 and 2010, whilst customers who were favourable to British Gas had risen by 6%.

Through its Engineering Academy, which offers dedicated apprenticeships for 16-18 year olds and partners with local organisations such as Jobcentre Plus to support the long-term unemployed, British Gas has recruited 28% of its workforce, including 80% of employees required to support future growth plans. The Engineering Academy is managed across six purpose built sites that provide training for approximately 800 engineers, plumbers, smart energy experts and loft and cavity wall insulation installers. All apprentices at the Academy (of the applicable age) undertake the Duke of Edinburgh’s Gold Award as part of their formal training. This has enabled the company to provide 70,000 hours of voluntary work in the community, and raise £30,000 for charity since 2007 just through this scheme.

Transforming communities

By combining its specialist knowledge of energy needs and its network of engineers and customer assistants, British Gas has been able to support disadvantaged people and those at risk of fuel poverty. Working in partnership with a coalition of charities, including Save the Children, National Energy Action and Age UK, British Gas has identified and supported vulnerable and disadvantaged communities through its Here to Help programme. Customers are referred to the charity most appropriate for their needs to receive free or subsidised insulation, benefits assessment and advice, and a tailored package of support. For example, through the relationship with Age UK Benefits Programme, 68,100 people were advised about benefits they could access in 2010. This enabled beneficiaries of the programme to access over £1.1 million in benefits immediately and £2 million to be paid within the next twelve months.

British Gas has also set up 14 Energy Debt Advice Centre services in independent charitable organisations across England, Scotland and Wales through the British Gas Energy Trust. These offer a free dedicated face-to-face advice service on energy and other household debt, and assist applications to the Trust. In 2010, 4,840 energy customers were supported in clearing their energy debt through grants totalling over £2.6 million, and a 2009 independent evaluation by the University of Oxford showed that only 13% of successful grant applicants fell back into fuel debt.

The company has also supported local communities to improve energy efficiency and reduce their carbon footprint, whilst promoting innovative energy projects. Through the Green Streets programme, local communities pitched ideas on saving energy to a panel of experts, who decided eventual funding from British Gas. Each community received over £22,000 as a result of the technologies installed, with IPPR estimating that the total amount saved on energy bills at £30,000 per year for participating householders.