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No matter what industry you work in, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of CSR (corporate social responsibility). We’ve all seen national campaigns led by big brands like Boots partnering with the Macmillan cancer support charity, and The Co-operative and Starbucks supporting the Fair Trade movement, but seeing so many big names collaborating with worthwhile causes on such a huge scale can be a little intimidating to the smaller business.
But being small doesn’t mean you’re incapable of making a difference.
There are plenty of ways in which SME’s can contribute to the local community, improve the lives of its employees, look after the environment, and more. We’ve put together this guide on CSR to help smaller businesses understand it, get inspiration, and hopefully get started with their own CSR policies.
First things first: What is CSR?
Okay, I know we mentioned it fleetingly at the top of this post, but just to reiterate, CSR stands for corporate social responsibility…but what is “corporate social responsibility”?
To sum it up simply, it’s the continual commitment of a business to act responsibly towards their employees and their families, the local community, their main stakeholders, and the environment.
Having a CSR policy in place means the company pledges to help towards any or all of these causes by a variety of means – it could be anything from starting their own charity to simply recycling all their plastic waste. There are no minimum requirements by law for a business to have a CSR policy – which is great for small businesses who want to start small, but still be ethical.
What are its benefits for SME’s?
The other great news is that it doesn’t have to cost money to implement a CSR strategy. Something like having your employees conduct an hour of volunteer work a week, car-pooling to the office, or recycling costs little to nothing, and is a great way to give your business a better reputation. Here are some of the other ways having good CSR can benefit a company:
- It can enhance your branding. Having good CSR may be the one thing that can differentiate you from your competitors, and people love a company that’s ethical and does its best to give back.
- Good CSR can improve staff motivation and increase engagement. Knowing that they work for an ethical company can really encourage your workforce to work harder and more diligently.
- Attract a high calibre of employees. Plenty of bright, innovative minds belong to new graduates (and plenty of other candidates) who, as part of today’s society, will likely be more educated and passionate about ethical causes. Showing that you care about global – and local – issues will make your business more attractive to a high standard of worker.
- Decreasing overheads like bills and taxes. You can save on your electric bill by being more energy efficient (changing the type of lightbulb you use, car-pooling, and turning off unused equipment), and there are tax breaks for companies that are more eco-friendly.
- Increase customer retention, and enhance relationhips. With the public becoming more aware and educated on ethical issues, your company is more likely to retain customers – especially those who really care about those issues – and build long-lasting relationships if it is attempting to make a difference, no matter how small.
- Generate good publicity, especially in local papers. The press loves reporting about local businesses making a difference, which will further enhance your reputation.
How can small businesses make a difference?
It may seem impossible to really make an impact as a small business, but there are loads of things you can do to get started with a CSR strategy. Here are some things you can do:
- Recycling. Having different waste bins for cans, paper and plastic recycling is probably the easiest and cheapest way you can start off your CSR efforts.
- Sponsoring a local sports team or charity is a great way to raise your profile and help the local community.
- Dedicate time to volunteer or fundraise for a charity/local cause. Having your employees dedicate a even a small amount of time to help towards a cause can be cost effective and a great way to help out.
- Reducing energy consumption – carpool to work, encourage your employees to use public transport, or even hire locally so your employees don’t drive 40 minutes to get to the office and guzzle petrol. These are great ways of saving money and helping the environment.
- Source locally. This supports the local company and reduces your company’s carbon footprint.
- Offer equal opportunities to those of all races, ages, and abilities.
- Work experience for students is a great way of helping the youth of the area gain the necessary skills and experience in order to find employment.
- Stock Fairtrade products in the staff kitchen. Tea bags, coffee, sugar – these are all available from Fairtrade and help workers in developing countries earn a living wage.
- Provide further training for your staff to help them better themselves.
- Offer flexi-time, gym facilities, day care or any other facilities which may help make your employees lives easier. This can also attract a higher calibre of staff who will want to work for a company that looks out for their needs. You could also consider offering retirement/pension plans, or health care, depending on your budget.
- Use recyclable materials in packaging, and cut down on packaging where possible to reduce waste.
- Start small. You don’t have to throw yourself in at the deep-end and make promises you can’t fulfil to have a good CSR strategy. Gradually build your policies.
- Don’t bite off more than you can chew – if you’re going to support charities, that’s great, but it’s better to fully support one, than only marginally support a few.
- Set your limits, financially and in terms of time dedication. You should allocate a budget for how much money you can spend on your CSR, and how much time you can spare for projects (and stick to it).
- Collaborate with other local businesses. Two (or more) heads are better than one – you can have access to better resources, both financially and in terms of manpower if you partner up with other companies, which can make a bigger difference and also is great for networking opportunities.
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