Corporate Social Responsibility … how does it benefit the SME or sole trader?

Firstly what is corporate social responsibility or CSR?  Certainly not to be sniffed at and a valuable tool to your business but what does it actually mean and how can it benefit you the small medium enterprise or sole trader? 

This business practice is becoming as important as exceptional customer service in customer retention, the reason why people want to work with the big corporates over another.  It is changing our shopping habits and choice of service provider as we seek not only the best deal but want to make a difference to our communities, the environment or support a cause that is closest to our hearts. You can find some great examples CSR working at its very best here >>> Best 100 companies.

You can split CSR into three categories:

• Environment, reducing your carbon footprint – being a greener business

• People, creating working environments that put the workforce first - being a responsible employer

• Community, getting involved and putting something back – being a community supporter

While CSR has been embedded into corporate process and structure by the big companies many small businesses have also recognised and embraced what CSR has to offer and the benefits it brings; the feel good factor, a happy workforce and being part of the community.  What can you do?  Whether you are one man (woman in my case) band, a micro business or SME you can do something.  

"Successful people have a social responsibility to make the world a better place and not just take from it."

Carrie Underwood

 Grab a coffee and think about the following questions and what you can do better, change or improve in your business!

1. How green is my business?  Do you recycle your toner cartridges, think before you print, use public transport, how do you dispose of packaging or could you reduce packaging that you use?

2. What do you presently offer your employees?  How do you support them in times of crisis, why would someone what to come and work for your company – what sets you out from the crowd?

3. How do you support or engage with your local community?  Do you or could you fundraise for a local charity, do you have a budget to sponsor your staff when taking part in fundraising events, could you offer a free or reduced price service to a charity?

I would say don’t be bogged down by what you should or shouldn’t be doing, take small steps to change, make a list and chunk down to short, medium and longer term actions.  Create a statement that you can use on your website that shows you have given this thought and you are going to be better, greener and show that CSR is important to your business and why. 

Below are some ideas and suggestions for you that I hope will show that there are actions that can be implemented easily.  Take action today:

1. Put in place a means of recycling your toner cartridges
2. Allocate an annual budget for giving, this could be as little as £10 a month that you are going to give in sponsorship or £120 that you can going to give to a local charity each year.
3. Add a statement to your email signatures as simple as ‘think before you print’
4. Turn off everything at the end of the day, standby uses more electrical power than you think!
5. Commit to printing all marketing material on recycled paper, it is no longer the expensive option.
6. Review your HR policies and employee contracts; what do you say you offer and aren’t?  What could you do to improve your workforce working environment or benefits?
7. Ask your workforce what they would like to do for their community and implement a project a year, this could be a monthly cake sale, offering to paint a local community centre room or putting a team into a fundraising event.
8. Find out what support is available locally that your employees may need to access e.g. bereavement counselling, as for a smaller business it may not be financially viable to offer this directly.
9. Share lifts to networking events or take the bus!
10. Finally, get in touch with the lovely people at Carer Support Wiltshire and become a Working for Carers employer because 1 in 9 employees is also a carer (2011 Census) and you can’t afford to lose a valuable member of staff!

Creating happy workforces makes good business sense, being greener can save you money and clearly setting out how you will get involved with the local community will result in focused activity that is of far greater benefit to your business and the projects or causes that you choose to support.