Corporate social responsibility (CSR) it may not be the most glamorous thing you do while running your business, but it can form the basis of some of the most rewarding projects you’ll work on. In this article, we’ll look at why you should develop a CSR strategy and how you can make it work for your business, no matter its size.
Why should you work on CSR?
There are three reasons to get involved with CSR and we’ll deal with the most prosaic first: You’re legally obliged to, at least in some cases. Rules such as the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive will dictate a part of your CSR strategy, and if you ignore them you could be hit by fines. There’s not enough space here to go into detail on all the legislation you’ll have to comply with, but it will set the minimum benchmark for CSR projects.
But there are other reasons to get involved with CSR; done well it can bring all sorts of benefits. That might be press coverage, new contacts and even new customers. If you have staff, you can also use CSR to boost loyalty by helping causes that are close to their hearts. However, in order to reap these rewards you need to get involved with projects for the right reasons; passion, not cynical opportunism, is what’s required here.
As a growing business, you’ll already have connections with your local community; be that through suppliers, customers or employees. CSR is an excellent way to strengthen these ties further and, just as importantly, strengthen the community as a whole. If you don’t have a CSR strategy, then you’re missing out on these advantages.
So what can I do?
Hopefully, by now I’ve convinced you that CSR is not only something you should be doing, but something you want to do. Now it’s a case of deciding the areas in which you want to become involved. Clearly you’re going to be limited in terms of the amount of time, money and effort you can expend. After all, this is something you’ll be doing alongside the day-to-day work of running a business.
Firstly though, you need to set objectives that are both measurable and achievable. Like anything in business, nebulous goals aren’t going to cut it. If you set yourself the task of “going green” you’re going to fail because your efforts will be directionless.
Instead, set goals such as “reduce paper usage by 20 per cent in three years”, or “raise £5,000 for local charities over 12 months”. As well as helping you measure your progress, these kinds of goals make it easier to develop specific tactics that will help you achieve your aims. Broadly, these tactics can be divided into two categories.
These tactics are ones that can be employed in the general course of running a business. Examples include ethical banking, ensuring that your suppliers have green credentials and investing in energy-efficient technology. For example, our Host Europe data centre in Cologne is carbon neutral and we even use the warm air it produces to help heat our offices. Projects don’t have to be as big as this, but it’s a good example of introducing a CSR project that complements your business needs.
These tactics will require more involvement and you will usually have to invest resources, either time or money, into such projects. Examples include organising/sponsoring community events, volunteering and carbon offsetting.
The most important part of managing your CSR projects is ensuring you have a mechanism in place to measure the impact of your efforts. Exactly how you go about assessing things will depend on your goals and tactics. However, it’s vital you establish a framework that can be used to assess your CSR projects before you implement them.
If you’re going to be using active CSR tactics, you should also make sure they’re not going to eat up more resources than you intend – if that happens you could end up harming your business. Again, these safeguards will vary depending on your tactics, but examples include volunteer contracts which specify the maximum number hours which you will donate each month. This kind of thing may seem over the top, but if your CSR work damages your business then ultimately, no one will benefit.
Of course, you’ll also want to track the positive impact of your actions. By supporting non-profit organisations that are based in your community, you’ll be able to arrange regular meetings with the people whose work you are supporting. You should also monitor your employees’ views on your efforts, where appropriate. We use employee surveys, but if you only have a small team it may be best to arrange quarterly feedback sessions.
The bottom line
Done well, a CSR strategy will allow you to forge strong links with the community in which you are based, boost your visibility with potential customers and even improve your bottom line. I can’t draw you a map to show you exactly what you need to do in terms of CSR, but what I hope to have done is inspired you to develop your own CSR projects.