Corporate Social Responsibility: why it makes perfect sense for small businesses
The ‘Corporate’ part of CSR gives a clue to why the phrase tends to be more closely associated with multi-nationals than with start-ups. In reality, embracing social responsibility makes perfect sense for a small business: by thinking seriously about responsible use of resources and engagement with the wider community, small businesses can strengthen their brand and operate in a more efficient way.
Does anyone really care if a small business is socially responsible?
Corporate Social Responsibility is a big idea and (according to the European Commission) describes the concept “whereby companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and in their interaction with their stakeholders on a voluntary basis”.
It can give rise to well-publicised projects (see Tesco’s Computers for Schools programme for instance). It involves looking closely at all aspects of how an organisation operates – from its employment practices through to its supply chain management, to measure the social and environmental impact of the company’s activities.
This may be all very well for the likes of Tesco and Unilever, but what about a small business?
Critically, the evidence shows consumers really care about it – and that CSR should now be seen as a critical business strategy. A 2013 report from Cone looking at the attitudes of consumers across the globe suggests more than 8-in-10 consumers consider CSR when deciding what to buy or where to shop and which products to recommend to others. 96% of global citizens say they have a more positive image of a company with a CSR policy in place and 93% want to see more companies support CSR.
By taking social responsibility seriously, a small business can send out a valuable trust signal to its actual and potential customers. It can build an affinity with customers by showing it shares the same concerns. More broadly, in the mind of the customer, if the organisation cares about the bigger picture, isn’t it more likely to care about meeting customers’ expectations too?
Small business-friendly CSR
CSR may be a big concept – but it’s also scalable. Here are some of the practices a small business can adopt as part of a strategy for social responsibility:
Keeping overheads to a minimum should be a priority for all businesses. Carrying out a waste audit, looking at areas such as implementing a paperless office strategy (including paperless contact with customers), recycling and encouraging employees to power down work equipment when not in use: these are all common-sense matters that can form the bedrock of a small business environmental policy.
Innovative employment practices
Building links with public sector bodies can be a useful way of sourcing talent as well as demonstrating commitment to the wider community. It could mean, for instance, liaising with local colleges, universities and Jobcentre Plus. This approach can be used both for general recruitment and for offering work placements.
Involvement with charity
Six-figure endowments are obviously not an option for most start-ups. There are however, lots of ways small businesses can get involved with not-for-profit organisations and this can be a valuable way of defining and strengthening a new brand image. Give careful thought to your choice of charity – and in particular whether the aims of that charity are in line with what your customers care about. Also, look carefully at the charity’s reputation and its commitment to good governance (e.g. transparency, charity insurance and the fundraising methods it uses).
Choice of third-party providers
Think about the third party services you rely on (everything from shipping and professional services through to housekeeping). Do those providers operate according to socially responsible principles? Consider making this a key consideration when you choose partners to work with.
Increasingly, customers care about your attitude to the big picture. Taking corporate social responsibility seriously cannot be ignored – especially by small businesses looking to position themselves in a crowded market.