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S3E2: Social impact and Sodexo

Angela Halliday from Sodexo talks to Daisy about how best to measure impact, how to choose what you focus on – and whether customers care. And what does it all mean for you? Our key takeaways are: 

  • Make clear commitments where you can get some depth and meet those commitments publicly in order to drive impact

  • Don't just measure the easy KPIs - try to measure what matters most to your stakeholders. That might be best tracked as a qualitative, nuanced feeling instead of a ticked box

  • We've got to be realistic that most businesses are here to make either a profit or a surplus. That means demonstrating the return on investment of 'social' programmes for the business, for clients, and for communities.

  • We cannot look at environmental performance without looking at social. And in doing so, the economic debate almost takes care of itself.

You can find the all the data and analysis from the BRODIE Public First Sustainability Sentiment tracker HERE or listen to the whole episode here:


Or read the transcript in full here:


S3E2 - Social Impact and Sodexo


Daisy Powell-Chandler

Hello! In this third season of Why Everybody Hates You I’m bringing you a series focused on the link between reputation and sustainability, covering everything from human rights to climate change, lobbying to labelling. Public First recently partnered with responsible business advisers BRODIE Consulting to find out what the public think about a host of these issues. You can find a link to the full report in the podcast description. I’ll be discussing some highlights of that data with a selection of experts and offering you guidance on what this means for corporate reputation.


In today’s episode, I’m speaking to Angela Halliday, Director of Social Impact for Sodexo – the global food services and facilities management giant. Sodexo provides a huge range of services to large business and public sector clients everything from catering, to property and technical services to home care services.


Angela actually worked her way up through the prison management side of the business before being appointed Social Impact Director in 2019 and she and I had a really wide-ranging conversation asking how best to measure impact, discussing how to choose what you focus on – and whether customers care, and we have a little dig at governance along the way. I started by asking her how Sodexo thinks about Environmental, Social and Governance topics or ESG…


Angela Halliday Our world’s full of acronyms, isn't it? I suppose in short what that means for us as a business is about how do we approach what we do? how we do it? and why we do it? which is the most important thing. And I think all of that, particularly for Sodexo is done through what we would call a social impact lens. We're continually asking ourselves the ‘so what?’ question, what is the intent? And what difference are we trying to make in terms of quality of life for society and the planet? In doing so, I think that this helps us meet the needs, as well as the demands not only of our own workforce, first and foremost, but our clients, our suppliers, our partners, and wider society, and it's certainly structured our thinking around the decision making that we do, design service development, very much is focused on what we call four social impact pathways, which is our people, our planet, our places, and our partners. Each of these, of course, has an application on not only the economic and environmental, but also the social well being of our business as well as the wider community. Within each of those pathways, I think it would be fair to say that we've got focused number of commitments, there's lots to be done across each of those, but what we do is try to bring them into sharp focus. We make clear commitments where we can get some depth and we meet those commitments publicly in order to drive impact. For Sodexo that's what's really important when we're considering not only social, but environmental activity, in terms of our own objectives, and how that correlates to what society needs and vice versa.


Daisy Powell-Chandler

I think that raises a really interesting question I know a lot of companies grapple with, which is, how do you measure the impact that you're actually making? How do you tell whether you're making a success of it? How have you gone about approaching that?


Angela Halliday

I love that question. It's probably the one that most companies are challenged by, there's a number of ways in which you can measure impact. For me, and for Sodexo, impact’s relative, and its relative to the individual and to the business. It can all mean different things. This poses a real danger if we try to put social and environmental impact into the box that we can tick, then it's going to become more governance, KPI orientated, as opposed to are we really doing the right thing. For me, the way in which we measure it, is considering what do we value, what do our consumers, our clients and our own people value in life, so listen to them. And then what we try to do is measure what is reflective of what they value and what we value. And that can vary. We try and, in most ways, not to make it too raw data orientated. But make it more qualitative, let people speak, let the story, the emotion come to life. That for me, is the best way of measuring impact, not just the difference we make to that individual, but what it means to the family, and those around them. So, by taking that qualitative approach, for me, that's the best way to bring to life impact. Human beings relate to emotion, less so about numbers, let's be really honest, so for me there’s a real balance to be had between that qualitative and quantitative impact measurement piece.


Daisy Powell-Chandler

You are definitely preaching to the choir here about combining the qualitative and quantitative data. But I know there'll be lots of people listening thinking that's fine, but how do you sell that into the board? How do you prove to the shareholders and to the board that stuff is working? How do you go about being an envoy for that inside your business? And how do you go about explaining the way you approach data?


Angela Halliday

You’re absolutely right. We've got to be realistic that most businesses are here to make either a profit or a surplus depending on whether you work in private, or public services. But nevertheless, we've got to survive, never mind thrive. I've got to get the balance between articulating what the return on investment is for Sodexo as a business, what the return on investment is for our clients, but what I also do is alongside that articulate what is the social return on investment back into the communities? So that's where I suppose in some respects, I've got the joy of being a social conscience within the business. I'm always challenging and asking that ‘so what?’ question that will say, this is great, because we can clearly articulate the benefits of employing, let's say, an underrepresented cohort, whether it be an individual with physical and mental learning difficulties or an ex-offender, or whatever it may be, I can put some figures and facts around if we were to employ individuals who normally or very often don’t get the same life chances as others, that in actual fact will work harder to be more productive, they'll be less inclined to leave the business or go sick. The benefits financially to the company from recruitment and lost time is absolutely tangible. I can put figures around that. I can then work with different agencies about understanding, as a result of recruiting that individual, what investment back into the community has been had, as they are no longer dependent on benefits or paying into the community by buying local produce, whatever it might be. All of that return-on-investment piece is super important. But again, where a business is truly authentic about thinking beyond what they're expected to do, businesses that understand the moral and ethical obligations to society and environment will absolutely treat the storytelling equally as important. That’s got to be the starting point, you've got to get that balance. If a business is only genuinely interested in the financial ROI, then they'll never going to get it. So how do you tell that compelling story between facts, figures and monetary aspects versus the people side of it? That's super important. That's where the S of the whole ESG for me has got a prominence.


Daisy Powell-Chandler

Now, in this big consumer poll that we've recently done, we asked our consumers, we forced them to choose which one was more important environmental, social, or governance. And I suspect it won't come as a surprise to you that around half of consumers say that the social part of ESG is more important. Does that let businesses off the hook for the rest of those things? Should they just say right actually, we can win over the majority by focusing on social? So that's what we're going to do?


Angela Halliday

Absolutely not in my opinion. On the contrary, it must drive businesses by focusing on immediate priorities for individuals. What are the wider aspects of their lives that are impacted upon? And where can they create a healthier, more sustainable environment? I’ve always drawn David Attenborough when he says that we are guests on this planet. So, whilst we look after our own guests, customer service is always a top priority for the service industry, we must remember that we can all enjoy the experience more, and we will enjoy it more if the planet is a more sustainable, healthier place to work, live and play, in my opinion. For Sodexo, the social must go hand in hand with the environmental aspects of it. They are not two separate approaches. I think the sad thing is they look at it very differently, so depending on what's topical, and what the demand is at that moment in time, people tend to jump on. Yes, they know that there’s a climate crisis the clock is ticking, and it’s COP 26 coming up. Everyone's talking green agenda at the moment. But the social side of it is what underpins it, we can’t create a safer, greener, healthier environment if the people aren't in a good place in order to do that. We've got to balance the relative importance of a place upon social crisis, as well as environmental crisis, both of which I might add, were absolutely here before the COVID pandemic, it may have shown a brighter light and we’ve reached that decade of action. But all of this has existed for 10, 15, 20, 50 years. But if COVID has done nothing, there's lots of travesty in the background, but the positive from it is that it’s absolutely has sparked businesses and individuals in to action, people get it, it’s more relatable, and it's actually very real for all of us. But we cannot look at environmental without looking at social. And in doing so almost the economic debate takes care of itself.


Daisy Powell-Chandler

I think that absolutely reflects what we're hearing in focus groups and polling with consumers, climate change and social action have both really driven up the agenda, we're seeing them ranked much higher as issues impacting the country directly. But what we also see in those focus groups is that even though the poll, half of people chose social and said, this is most important, actually, when you talk to people about what that means. They think of social and environmental and governance very much as part of a nuanced whole. And you can't be seen as a responsible business unless you're doing all of them to some extent, because consumers say, how can you be responsible business if you're not looking after your people, and also trying to reduce your impact on the planet and also paying your taxes for example, they see them very much as part of a whole. What's interesting about that, to me is that, yes, we forced them to choose E, S or G, and half of them chose social, but what we see is that the consumers who prioritise the environment were actually the most likely, so that is about a quarter of people who prioritise environment and they slightly over index as female, interestingly. They were more likely to say that they're willing to pay a bit more for a more ethical product, whether that be a more environmentally friendly and more socially responsible or more governance focused product. Why do you think that is? And what should we take away from that discrepancy between what the majority of consumers say they think is important, and what actually prompts action or willingness to pay?


Angela Halliday

I think that's a really interesting observation and findings from the research. It’s a luxury, isn't it? Because the ability to do that is only applicable for those who have got more to spend, those that can enjoy the luxury of spending more on sustainable products, services or charitable giving. However, much of the green agenda products and services for me are in the early stages, and they continue to evolve, that does mean that the unit price tends to be much higher, that's just a given. However, the elephant in the room for me, is there's also a marketing angle to this, so the perception that it costs more, because it does more, let's be honest, it's not necessarily the case. And we're all victims to certain degree, depending on our circumstances of wanting to be involved. Some people choose it, because it's the in-vogue thing to do. But maybe not truly understanding the impactful piece to it. However, for me there’s a more moral, and ethical responsibility for people, and not just business, but for individuals, we've got to be more transparent, we've got to simplify the message and help people better understand the impact of what they're buying, whether it's a product, or whether it be a service. I think that people are more likely to be considerate about what to do. And this very much will lead to driving consumer behaviours to a point where industry behaviours need to change, they’ve got to adapt to the needs of the consumer, it's that whole push pull effects that we do need to make the purchase of goods and services for businesses and individuals much more sustainable because in doing so, I think will engage the mass, and their values, and support the green economy. Because they now say, those who are either living in poverty, or on the poverty line, they’re tempted by what's cheapest, what's most affordable, but that doesn't mean their values aren’t in the right place, they just can't afford it, because they're actually priced out of the market as a consumer, because it's either in-vogue or the product or service is still in development. Therefore, the cost base is really high. Those reflect back to the whole Apple beginning of the iPhone, green products are exactly the same, and there's a lot of talk is well, at the moment about trying to get a green economy - what does that actually mean? And how do we really do it? So, it sounds good. But we've got to make it accessible for those who truly live those values and want to engage and make a difference in this agenda. For me, the answer lies in the developers, the manufacturers, the retailers, almost taking that common approach to sharing resources. Industry needs to work collectively, because we're both at the same goal. It may sound a little of blue sky,but I think certainly through the pandemic, we've seen a number of blue chip organisations come together to combat the pandemic. Because it's been real, it's been right in our faces. So is the climate crisis, so is the social crisis, but for some reason, we’ve just not quite what there as a collective yet, to come together, share that innovation, those ideas, in order to not only keep the momentum going, but to make a change, and how do we make more sustainable future through services and products? And that's a big question to get answers, I don't genuinely know the answer.


Daisy Powell-Chandler

I think also, part of the complication here is that there's two forms of exclusion going on is my interpretation, and certainly what we hear from consumers. So first there's this point about genuine exclusion from the products and services themselves either by being priced out of the market, or perhaps, living in a food desert or a very rural place where you don't have access to recycling facilities, or there's only one shop and they perhaps don't sell certain sustainable products. There's that physical, actual very personal exclusion. And then there's something perhaps slightly more ephemeral, which is around exclusion from the language from the conversation, which particularly I suppose, in this context comes out in labelling and in buying products and services. And there are various initiatives going on at the moment to try and improve particularly environmental labelling. But it comes out a lot when you talk to the public where they say ‘Well, I don't know is fair trade better than living wage? Where do I put organic in this? How do I know if the workers have been treated well?’ Is there an extent to which you think the social side of that kind of labelling has lagged behind the environmental? Or is it just that people aren't paying as much attention to the social side?


Angela Halliday

I would say one hundred percent. And I think the difficulty is, when we talk about carbon emissions, for example, it's much more tangible, you can put numbers on it. And people relate to that. So that's the kind of path of least resistance. Although I'm not entirely convinced that the joe public understands what we mean by carbon emissions, I don't think they understand truly what it means and what the impact is to the climate. If speak to my parents who are in their eighties, you talk about carbon emission and carbon reduction, they think that's what comes out the back of the car. You've got to always educate them and re-educate them continuously. I think we've got to simplify the messaging, there was the blue planet messaging that came out some years ago, which was really powerful. All it took was an image of a seal with a plastic straw up its nose for everybody to be disgusted when they saw a plastic straw in a bar or restaurant. So how do we extend that powerful imaging, around the wider piece of environmental, but then the challenge then comes when you move in to social. So again, there's lots of empirical evidence to support this, but if we look at charitable giving, human beings are more inclined to give to charities that support kids, charities that support vulnerable adults with cancer than they are for maybe cats, or maybe people who have made the wrong choices in life, those have been in touch with the criminal justice system. But in actual fact if we fix the latter, what we do is we increase and create a more buoyant labour force pool that then supports all of the ambition that we as a society have, whether it be just through the labour market, whether it be through tackling the climate crisis, or whatever it may be. But people are just not as well educated to that. And also, they have perceptions, bias, that's that the reality of it. But sometimes I can understand that, because we make it either too complicated, or we don't actually explain to people in a very simplistic way. And that's not about insulting their intelligence, but it's just because it's so complex. But let's actually just demystify and simplify the difference that people can make, individuals as well as businesses, but particularly individuals, supporting and driving societal environmental crisis. I think there’s an easy fix there. If people come together with the same view, to simplify and demystify for me, and I'm a big supporter. Let's just try and do one or two things, but let's do them great. And honestly, that difference before we move on to the next thing, the challenge that a lot of businesses particularly have got, is they put together strategic roadmaps and business plans, and it's just built on stuff. They do lots of things, but they don’t get a lot of depth to it. There’s no shame in just focusing on one or two things, and wanting to be known for one or two great things. And there's some businesses let's be honest, that are just known for one thing.


Daisy Powell-Chandler

Yeah, absolutely. We know in terms of reputation building, that actually staking out a particular landscape, a niche for your business, is a much better way of engaging people.


Angela Halliday

One hundred percent, and that's where businesses need to sit back and ask themselves honestly, not only what fits best with their company, values or objectives, but in what way can we stretch ourselves from a moral and an ethical point of view, and take our responsibilities more seriously in order to support societal and environmental issues. And then it's bringing that into the fore, not bolting it on, but bringing it in to what you are as a company. The more uncomfortable or alien it feels, for me, that means you're actually doing the right thing, because you've actually gone beyond the expected and what you actually do this properly reaching into your communities and doing the right thing and business and industry absolutely need to do that. Government set their stall, we've got to deliver it as far as I'm concerned.


Daisy Powell-Chandler

I couldn't agree more with that. I was actually talking to someone this morning who was saying they've set a series of sustainability goals for their organisation. And the one that has really driven change is the one that they don't know how they're going to meet. The whole organisation is totally terrified by it. And there was a lot of backwards and forwards about whether to commit to this goal. But he was saying, it's actually the reason why the whole business has engaged on it, because they've got to find a solution, there isn't a promised land up ahead that they know they're going to reach. Then it will be easier, they actually have to really think about this hard because they've only got 15 years. And the promise they've made is currently completely impossible. It's actually got the whole company much more engaged by having that sort of moonshot goal as he was describing it.


Angela Halliday

Absolutely. Because again, I think it's too easy for companies to do what they're comfortable with, or for companies to do things tokenistically. Because, through legislation or client requirements, or whatever it may be, they feel that this is the right thing to do. I think the minute you start looking at things through a social impact lens, particularly understanding the way that ecosystem will help you move towards making that authentic, meaningful difference to both the environment as well as the social environment that sits around you. Because the success of the society, the longevity of the planet, quite frankly, is actually two things that underpin any company's success. The economic debate takes care of itself. Put that to the side for the moment, because if you get the social and the sustainable piece right, the economic debate will look after itself, but I think sometimes companies use that as a starting point. For me, it's about flipping that over on its head, most definitely.


Daisy Powell-Chandler

I think that's really interesting, because my next question was going to be, it hasn't escaped my notice that we're both talking about economic and social, and governance has really rather fallen away, how important really is governance in all of this?


Angela Halliday

I think it's important. And in saying that, whilst it's important, I do think we need to be careful that it doesn't become the core thing that we do as a company. When we talk about doing business in a good way, we shouldn't fall into the trap of trying to work out how do we tick all the boxes that sit around it, which ultimately is sometimes what the governance process looks like. For me, we need to think differently, what we mean about governance, and what we mean about compliance and how we measure compliance. For me it should be about driving behaviours. It should be about changing the culture and the thinking process of a company, which ultimately, not only enables your people to do good things, but also empowers them. It's about not just gratifying or chastising people, because that tends to be what our framework ends up doing. But it’s actually about saying, what is it we value, and how do we enable and empower our people, our business, to do that? How do we create value? I do think we need to think slightly differently around what a governance framework looks like. Moving away from that traditional reporting, around input, output equals outcome, that moves one step further into impact. And if you start to impact and design your governance around that, that's where it becomes more fluid, it becomes more qualitative. And that then just brings to the forefront all the things that a company values, and your moral compass will spin, either quickly or slowly, depending on what your governance framework output is, as to whether or not you're prioritising and sequencing the right things, not just for your company, but for the people who actually in essence are your company, that wider community. So, time to rethink governance and compliance, and move away from the traditional tick box. I’ve spoken for many years around social contracts. I've yet to see a social contract in its purest sense, because it starts off great, and then it tends to move back into that whole monitoring management of performance as opposed to the difference that you're making. I think we've got a long way to go there, and I think within ESG, there is a huge risk at the moment because there's a lot of academics and industry, trying to solutionise the whole governance and measurement piece and an industry has actually been born which is making it more complex, overly sophisticated, which is actually scaring businesses away from doing it. For me, dare I say, I'm going to go back to what I said earlier, and let's demystify it and simplify it. Let's choose, I'll say half a dozen, or whatever it may be, but a very manageable number of things that truly value what society and the planet needs. Just focus on those whilst the ecommerce revolving world takes care of itself.


Daisy Powell-Chandler

Final question then - taking out our future gazing specs, how do you expect that your approach to ESG is going to be adapting over the next five years or so?


Angela Halliday

Running on from what I said earlier is that I personally, but also our company, we absolutely anticipate and are already doing it. We’re now focusing on less, but doing more in terms of delving deeper into each of the priorities that we've identified. So that not only we can make it more tangible, but so we better understand the wider implications, the impact of our actions. There’re not many businesses that truly understand that we can make a second guess of, doing this is probably a good thing for X reason. But I think we've got to get a truly deep understanding of what the benefits and the impact that we're making are, whether they be positive or negative. And we've anticipated negative actions, not because we want to be a naughty company, but sometimes there’s negative connotations to what we do. So how do we offset that? Ideally, how do we mitigate and eradicate it? For me, understanding what we do, and the impact by doing less, and being more focused, is going to be key. And whether they have big priorities for us, actually starting on local level, right in the community, what are the communities telling us? What are the people that live, work and play, in our communities telling us that's important to them? We talk about tackling inequality, great, we can say, we will recruit a diverse workforce, or we will fund a certain social enterprise, but let's get to the root cause. The root cause varies from community to community, one size doesn't exist, every community is different. But I suppose the themes are very similar, whether it be safety, whether it be unemployment, whether it be health, the very similar, but the level of prioritisation and sequencing within each of those communities differ. So unlike industry needs to have a more sophisticated level of understanding about how we tackle inequalities, through societal challenges, through environmental challenges, and through economic challenges. If we can get those priorities sequenced properly, that meet specific needs, that's where I think we'll have a much more equitable playing field for individuals, local businesses, etc. So, we're already on that journey as a company, but we're going to have to continue to move towards that position. We’ve got to challenge ourselves a bit better, it’s alright talking it but we’ve got to walk it. So how do we better challenge ourselves as a business in terms of impact? Be really honest, what difference are we making? Can we do more? And how do we influence our people, our partners, and our clients? Which is a big challenge, of course, how do we influence to support us taking that collective approach to driving social, environmental change, so keep it really focused through social impact lens, do less, but get more depth to what we're doing. I think that's the answer. It's not about having a wide portfolio of wonderful stuff to do, when in actual fact, you're not making a tangible difference in society. Let's be honest, people are much more sophisticated, they know what they want and they know why they want it, and they demand that. We've got to respond to those demands, and anticipate future demands.


Daisy Powell-Chandler

That's everything from us. A big thank you to my guest, Angela Halliday of Sodexo. If you want more data on how consumers feel about sustainability you can find it in the BRODIE / Public First Sustainability Sentiment tracker – the link is in the podcast description.


If you've enjoyed this episode, I hope you'll tell your colleagues and perhaps write us a review on your usual podcasting app – it really does help new listeners to find the show.


Thank you for listening to Why Everybody Hates You, and remember: you are not alone.