Is CSR just another fad or could there be something in it? That’s the question that many small to medium-sized businesses are grappling with. When internal resources both in terms of manpower and budgets are limited, is it worthwhile investing in CSR initiatives that will turn you into a good corporate citizen? Well, if CSR is something that’s been on your radar for a while, but you’re not sure whether you should take the plunge, or even if you fully understand what’s involved, then this post is essential reading. We take you through what it all means in an easy to follow discussion so you can make an informed choice on whether it’s right for your business.
What Does CSR Stand For?
First, let’s get back to basics with a look at exactly what we mean by CSR. What does the CSR acronym stand for?
CSR stands for corporate social responsibility and while there is no one standard definition, there is a common understanding of what it means. In essence, CSR is about how businesses manage and organize their operations in order to achieve an overall positive impact on society. Every company’s operations will have some sort of impact on society and the CSR concept encourages businesses to be mindful of sustainability by delivering social, economic and environmental benefits for society wherever possible.
There are three main elements to CSR that businesses will need to address in a comprehensive strategy:
- The impact of the company’s products and services.
- The impact of the company’s operations – for example, on the environment or in terms of sustainability, green practices or inclusion and diversity.
- The impact of any corporate citizenship programs in the local community.
What Is Corporate Citizenship?
Often mentioned in tandem with CSR, corporate citizenship is used to describe the contribution a business or organization makes to the local community or society as a whole. It follows that a company which is strong on the CSR agenda with several initiatives on the go is also a good corporate citizen.
Why Is CSR Important?
There’s no doubt that consumers are becoming more discerning and knowledgeable than ever before. And when making buying decisions, potential customers will be weighing up much more than just the price and quality of the product or service.
In fact, research consistently tells us that a majority of consumers are of the view that businesses should take an active role in bringing about social and environmental changes. Cone Communications’ 2017 study discovered that 87 percent of consumers surveyed would purchase a product because a company supported an issue that was important to them. What’s more, 76 percent of respondents indicated that they would refuse to buy from a business that promotes issues which conflict with their own beliefs.
These sorts of opinions and views are especially important to Millennials and Generation Z-ers. These generational cohorts have a much higher level of social awareness than those that have gone before. For them, sustainability, globalization, poverty, human rights and green practices are very important societal issues, and they are prepared to spend their dollar on companies and brands that share a similar world view. They also choose to work for organizations that take the lead as corporate citizens and actively practice CSR.
Millennials are already well-established in the workforce and marketplace. Generation Z-ers (those born after the mid-1990s) are now hot on their heels. It’s estimated they will make up 40 percent of consumers globally by 2020. And when it comes to hiring and retaining the best talent around, an active CSR agenda will be essential for Millennials and Generation Z-ers.
Benefits Of CSR
As we’ve seen, there are sound competitive benefits to be gained from developing a CSR strategy as well as satisfying the simple philanthropic desire of wanting to make a difference.
A comprehensive CSR strategy could be an important differentiator for you in the marketplace, enhancing your appeal to the increasing numbers of socially conscious consumers and employees.
In addition, an improved brand reputation, increased employee retention, more effective recruitment as well as increased customer loyalty are all potential benefits on offer with a strong CSR agenda. You could even save your business money with more cost-effective, sustainable operations and green practices.
And don’t forget that you will also be making an important difference to society and the world.
So, you may be saying to yourself that’s all good and well but what does it mean in practice? It’s easy for the big corporates to make a difference with their abundance of internal resources, but what about my small company with just a handful of employees, what can we do?
And the answer is that it’s possible to practice CSR in relatively small ways without breaking the bank or investing a huge amount of time and effort setting up initiatives. Here are some ideas as to how small businesses can be active on the CSR front.
CSR In Practice
We have identified four broad categories where small companies can make a positive CSR contribution:
1. Environmental Projects
The environment is, of course, a primary focus of CSR. Consider ways in which your business can reduce its carbon footprint. Possibilities include:
- Install LED lighting for a more energy efficient form of lighting and also save your business precious dollars.
- Introduce a paperless office in favor of an office intranet or greater use of digital files thereby cutting down on unnecessary wastage of paper.
- Recycle business waste wherever possible. This includes introducing recycling bins in the office as well as actively recycling any waste from manufacturing processes.
- Use ceiling fans rather than air conditioning. Air conditioning is a hefty power consumer and so if your premises are prone to becoming hot, using ceiling fans instead of air conditioning will significantly reduce energy consumption. What’s more, it also means that you are cutting down on nasty CO2 emissions.
- Conduct an energy consumption audit. This will help you to identify where savings can be made and also provides a benchmark of where the business is currently. Once you know where you are falling short, you will be able to devise a more appropriate and sustainable strategy going forward.
These are just some of the steps your business can take to become a good corporate citizen and reduce its impact on the environment.
2. Philanthropy Projects
Another way in which companies can demonstrate social responsibility is by donating money, products or services to social causes. Here are some easily implemented philanthropic projects you could consider implementing:
- Give away unwanted or outdated desktop computers to a local charity or not-for-profit.
- Share your knowledge and expertise or provide discounted products and services to nearby not-for-profits or charities.
- Involve employees in fundraising for a good cause. Encourage employees to dress down on casual Fridays or bike or walk to work and make a donation to charity.
3. Ethical Labour Projects
Treating employees fairly and ethically should be a CSR responsibility of all employers. This is especially so for those companies that operate in international markets which may have different labor laws from the United States.
Lots of companies have made significant efforts to build in diversity and inclusivity in their company cultures. Simple things like providing ramp access for wheelchair users, multi-sensory safety alarms – auditory and visual – as well as large-print instructions for emergency and safety equipment can make a big difference. Providing a prayer room, gender-neutral bathrooms or adopting a policy of pay equity are other ways that you can demonstrate CSR.
If your company has already made advances in implementing ethical labor practices, then it may be time to move on to focus your diversity and inclusion efforts on the customer. Many businesses are now taking that extra step by examining how their marketing and customer communication meet the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion.
4. Volunteering Projects
Attending volunteering events such as beach or park clean-ups, helping at a soup kitchen, becoming a board member for a not-for-profit or collecting for a charity are great ways to demonstrate your commitment to CSR and give back to the community.
Encouraging and facilitating staff members to do good deeds without expecting anything in return is great for team spirit and company morale and will enhance your reputation as a caring and socially conscious company.
Best Socially Responsibility Companies
So, we have probably given you plenty of food for thought with the ideas discussed above. But what are other companies doing? What practical steps are they taking to provide value to both society and the company?
Here are some additional ideas of how companies are delivering on CSR and being exemplary corporate citizens.
- IKEA has recently announced that from 2020 it will only use recycled wood in its furniture products.
- Hewlett-Packard has revised its advertising to include more diversity and has reported an increase in sales as a result.
- Equinox Fitness regularly hosts spin marathons to raise money for charitable causes.
- Starbucks plans to hire 10,000 refugees across 75 countries in the next five years, plus 25,000 veterans by 2025.
- In 2018, Adidas sought to raise awareness of the effect of plastic pollution on marine life through a Run for the Oceans As well as individual runners raising money through their participation, Adidas also donated $1 million to the Parley Ocean Plastic Program.
- In 2011, Levi’s launched its Water<Less Campaign which aims to significantly reduce the amount of water used in its manufacturing processes. Since starting the campaign, Levi’s estimates that it has saved more than one billion liters of water.
- Walt Disney’s VoluntEARS program encourages employees to donate their time to community and charitable causes. Since 2012, employees have donated a total of 2.9 million hours of service and the company goal is to reach five million hours of community service by 2020.
- Through its charitable arm, the Coca-Cola Foundation, the beverage giant has supported a wide range of worthy causes including access to clean drinking water, women’s empowerment, and initiatives aimed at supporting disadvantaged youth. Coca-Cola aims to give back one percent of its profits to communities in need around the globe and it also encourages employees to do the same through a matching gifts program.
CSR Strategy: Good For Business
The bottom line is that being a good corporate citizen and exercising CSR is a win-win situation for most businesses. You will increase your appeal and brand authority with socially conscious consumers. And you are also likely to see more effective recruitment and increased employee retention.
Furthermore, you will be making a positive contribution to society at large and will be adding real value.
Not all companies have the resources at their disposal that the likes of Adidas and Coca-Cola have. And while your business probably won’t be able to donate the millions that these big conglomerates can, hopefully, the example they set will trigger some ideas as to the contribution your business could make.
Taking steps to reduce water or electricity consumption in manufacturing processes is something every business can do. Donating time or a small percentage of net profits to worthy causes is another possibility as is ethically sourcing supplies and materials. At the very least, every business can look to introduce energy-efficient lighting or can undertake to give away unwanted IT equipment to a local charity.
Whatever you do make sure that you let consumers know about it. If you have switched to only ethically sourced organic ingredients or you are recycling content then use your social media platforms and customer communication networks to get the message out there that you take corporate citizenship seriously.
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