Computer greenCorporate social responsibility (CSR): a load of old greenwash, or the acceptable face of doing business in the 21st century? And can small businesses benefit from running their own CSR campaign?

People, planet and profits
CSR has increasingly moved to the top of the agenda for big businesses eager to show the public (and their customers) that they are driven by not just making profit for shareholders but also in terms of the positive impact they can have on the community around them. Some call it the triple bottom line; people, planet and profits.

And there is clear evidence that the ability of companies with good CSR records is becoming a success factor in their recruitment, particularly of younger people. A report by US based NetImpact for example, reports that 58% of students want to work for a company with like-minded values and over a third (35%) would take a pay cut to work for a company committed to CSR.

Go to any FTSE company’s website and you will usually see sections devoted to their CSR activities. But what can small to medium sized businesses (SMEs), without the budgets of the big corporates, do to promote their own CSR credentials?

Don’t suffer greenwash
Firstly, CSR should not be about using your work in the community and environmental credentials to simply make more profit. That’s why some businesses get doused with the ‘greenwash’ tag by a (rightly) cynical public. There should be a genuine motivation behind why your business is involved in CSR but that’s not to say there aren’t business benefits. I’ve already mentioned one of the employee benefits, but a report in Marketing Week says that Marks & Spencer made an extra £50m from its Plan A eco campaign.

It won’t cost the earth
Secondly, and this is the good news, building CSR into your business needn’t cost the Earth – if you’ll pardon the pun. Aside from limiting your impact on the environment – a subject for another blog post – there are some relatively easy things you can do to put something back into the community.

Here are five suggestions:

  • Work for a charity (for free)
    Why not have one charity client that you work for on a pro-bono basis? If you’re a website designer, produce their website; accountant…then do their books. Use your existing skills to offer them something they would normally have to pay for. Or you could become a charity trustee. Taking on a trustee role need not be an onerous time commitment but could be an interesting experience for you or an employee. The Do-it volunteering site has a database of available trustee roles and some great advice. Alternatively you could approach charities near you directly.

 

  • Nominate a company charity
    If you have employees, nominating a charity to raise funds for can be very good for company morale and provides a great focus for CSR work.

 

  • Be a school governor
    Local schools are crying out for governors who can offer business and marketing experience. You don’t have to have a child at the local school to stand as a governor. Go to the government’s website on becoming a governor to get more details.

 

  • Use more local suppliers
    Supporting the community isn’t just about charitable or volunteering endeavours – using local suppliers is important too.

 

  • Offer flexible working
    What else can you do for your employees? Offering them a more flexible working pattern not only often improves productivity in many cases but again reflects your business’s approach to creating a better work/life balance. Great CSR.

 

We’re not naive; most of us are in business to make profit. But remember that triple bottom line. There’s no reason why we can’t do our bit for people and planets at the same time.