CSR isn’t just tree hugging and saving polar bears

Corporate Social Responsibility – an over-used, over-hyped buzz-term? At least it’s perceived that way by small businesses who’ve often been active in their communities for years. But what does CSR really mean? Is it just a tick in the box of another glorified standard, or a footnote in a glossy marketing brochure magically produced from an already tight pot of resources?

Done right, it’s neither. Any business, of any size, can and arguably should get involved in CSR projects not just for the positive PR, but also the business benefit!

So, what tangible benefits can it bring to your business? “It’s all about making a fair profit,” explains David Connor, Managing Director of Coethica, a CSR collaboration enabler. “And to make a fair profit, businesses need to develop radars from both the business and social angles.”

Your organisation may already have social and environmental considerations as part of your day-to-day operation such as paper recycling bins in the office. You may even go further and support a local school, sports club or charity. Or it could be a staff-driven project such as a fundraising event, or perhaps you’ve introduced a staff volunteering scheme. All of these activities demonstrate a commitment to social responsibility; and all are achievable regardless of whether you are a multinational or a startup.

Where CSR comes into social responsibility is by explaining the personal motivation behind the projects you support. It lets the world understand what your company stands for. This in turn can make a very real financial difference to your business. It means that ‘yes’ you are in business to make money, but also that you understand the importance of making a “fair profit” and that as your business succeeds then so too will the local community.

Big businesses have been practicing CSR for years; but where should a smaller business start? Environmentally friendly activities are often the easiest way for smaller businesses to kick start their CSR programme according to Tracey Rawling Church, Director of Marketing and Reputation at Kyocera, an office equipment supplier. She estimates that up to 30% of their major invitations to tender are now focused on CSR, which has an inevitable knock-on effect to the supply chain. As a consequence, Kyocera launched a programme last year to help its partners develop their own CSR strategies. “Start with things that save you money,” she advises. “This will give you money to spend on other parts of the programme and keep it cost neutral.”

“We’re past the point where people think it’s all about hugging trees and saving polar bears,” concludes Tracey, “if you take your responsibility seriously you can build a successful business that also has a positive impact.”

Take for example award-winning children’s brand Ella’s Kitchen, whose healthy organic food ranges are backed by a number of CSR messages entitled ‘The good stuff we do’. Ella’s Kitchen has a 14% share of the baby food sector in the UK and a global turnover of £60m over the six years since launch. They have forged their beliefs and dreams into a highly successful business with both an ethical outlook and a passionate core.

It is this net positive effect that’s driving CSR forwards as a sustainable future business practice; and the best thing is companies of any size can be involved. Whether CSR is going to be at the heart of your business venture or if you’re a small business thinking of starting your first one-off project – there are opportunities out there. For those looking to start out, here are some suggestions for getting the CSR ball rolling:

•    Ensure you actively involve everyone in your business from the top down. Talk with your staff, customers, and your local community to find out what is most important to them and ensure you understand how you can build this into a credible part of your company, and what it stands for
•    Take small steps at the beginning, and make sure you consider what resources you will need so that you can measure, manage and communicate improvement as time progresses
•    Communicate effectively with your audience by starting a blog, via your website or a newsletter. Seek to collaborate wherever possible and don’t be afraid of public commitments
•    Keep progress under regular review and ensure your company’s positive impact remains a part of your overall business strategy
•    Remember, there are plenty of resources available on the internet for green initiative examples, e.g. sites such as Green Mark and the Carbon Trust have useful guides to help your thinking and actions

Have you implemented a CSR strategy or project in your organisation and have you got any top tips to share? We’d really like to hear your experiences and case studies about projects which have made a lasting difference to your business and community.