Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is about how companies conduct themselves. Not just big companies, all companies.
It’s about how businesses align their values and behaviour with the expectations and needs of stakeholders – customers and investors, employees, suppliers, communities, regulators, special interest groups and society as a whole.
It gives voice to corporate culture and helps to ensure that everyone in an organisation conforms to a common set of behaviours – even when “nobody is looking.”
Having a clearly-articulated set of social values should be, I believe, at the heart of every business strategy. For smaller companies, those values need not be onerous – but they should demonstrate that the company is thinking beyond itself.
After all, business leadership starts with clear purpose and values, and CSR is what happens when you express and live those values in all your internal and external relationships.
Nowadays, CSR can be used interchangeably with other terms including responsible competitiveness, corporate citizenship, social contribution, or the triple bottom line, among others.
It has existed as a part of the business lexicon for years, but has increasingly come to encompass not only what companies do with their profits, but also how they make them.
It goes beyond philanthropy and compliance to address the manner in which companies manage their economic, social and environmental impacts and their stakeholder relationships in the workplace, the marketplace, the supply chain, and the community.
Many companies now look to support initiatives that are aligned to the issues and interests most relevant to them, their industry sector, and to the countries and communities in which they operate, often picking a few key thematic areas or challenges, rather than tackling hundreds of different things on an ad hoc basis.
In terms of the tools they are using, they are increasingly applying their own core competencies in addition to money – for example the skills of their employees, the capability of their technologies, the leverage of their networks, and product donations to help tackle public problems.
CSR: a starting point
CSR is, in essence, about managing social, community and environmental impacts to help improve results, reduce risks and enhance reputation. It is also about growing a business in a way that has value for everyone connected to it.
At its very simplest, a starting point could merely involve:
- Recycle printer and toner cartridges, and print and photocopy only when necessary and double-sided
- Buy materials only from suppliers who use sustainable sources, and audit the supply chain accordingly
- Ensure lights, computers and other equipment are switched off when not in use, use power-saving devices – and, if possible, buy energy from renewable sources In any case, replace lighting with low energy bulbs
- Pay staff, suppliers and creditors on time.
- Encourage support for local not-for-profit organisations. Perhaps give staff a couple of paid days per year to work with local community groups, or “adopt” a local charity
- Think positively about flexible and home working. After all, a day saved on commuting will have an environmental impact. Flexibility is also about home/work balances and being a family-friendly business.
Benefits will vary depending on the company, the specific proposed and the effectiveness with which they are implemented, and could include:
- Attracting, retaining and developing motivated and committed employees
- Winning and retaining business customers
- Improving business reputation, positive publicity, and networking opportunities
- Cost and efficiency savings
The above is no more than a starting point, to focus management minds on how to “do business better.” That in itself is a good thing.
From a marketing perspective, it puts the company in a wider context, no matter the size of that company. It demonstrates a commitment, however small, to the world beyond its office or factory.
It is, of course, about doing the right thing. However, doing the right thing can also have commercial and reputational benefits – a win-win marketing and PR strategy.
CSR should be part of every business.