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Corporate Social Responsibility: Is your business doing enough?

02 Jun 2017 –– Tips & Advice

What is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)?

Corporate Social Responsibility is an initiative which aims to ensure that businesses conduct themselves and their operations in a way that is ethical; taking into account all of their social, economic and environmental impacts, and also taking human rights into consideration.

This can involve a plethora of activities, such as:

  • Working with local communities to encourage a positive impact
  • Socially responsible investment (SRI)
  • Creating positive relationships with both customers and employees
  • Aiming to achieve environmental protection and sustainability

It is the modus operandi (MO) of some businesses to fulfil social and environmental goals, – these businesses are known as Social Enterprises – whereas others try to achieve their financial goals whilst minimising any negative impact on society and the environment.

Why is CSR important?

Over the last 10-20 years, there have been ever-increasing demands from employees, customers and government departments for companies to be more transparent about their activities and to ensure that they maintain acceptable standards in their business practices.

Many employers now see Corporate Social Responsibility as an important way to increase their competitive advantage, – helping to attract potential employees and potential customers – protect and raise brand awareness, and build trust in their market-place.

How can a business ensure its Corporate Social Responsibility?

Most organisations have a CSR policy, these days.

This policy will define areas of concern, – perhaps where, historically, a company hasn’t performed particularly well, or just areas where a company believes it is particularly important to continue to perform positively – and initiatives to improve relations with the people and environments that are, or could be, affected by its business operations.

A CSR policy will often prescribe a way of conducting business that aims to achieve the goals set out above, and provide a system which will monitor performance in these areas.

A successful CSR policy will generally take a company beyond merely complying with legislation. It will also enable them to honour and respect ethical and social values; leading to positive impacts on communities and the environment.

It should be noted that CSR should also be sustainable, not just in environmental terms, but also in terms of being possible to continue to carry out without adversely affecting a business’ goals.

A good CSR policy will be a long-term approach to a business’ operations, which addresses the needs of the employer and its employees, alongside those of local people and communities, thus providing a framework for successful business, that works positively alongside its surroundings.

What does a good CSR policy include?

A CSR policy can include, – amongst other things – all, or a selection of, the following:

Environmental concerns

Environmental efforts are often one of the key focal points of a CSR policy. Regardless of size, a business will generally have a large carbon footprint. Whether this is a small online retailer whose carbon footprint relates mostly to its use of energy in the office and the emissions used during the shipping of its goods, or a large manufacturer whose emissions are huge in comparison, due to the amount of manufacturing processes it undertakes.

It should also be remembered that a company can also be seen to be responsible for the emissions that are caused by the creation of materials that it purchases, so sourcing materials sustainably is also a key concern of a lot of CSR policies. Even the choice of energy a company uses can be taken into account.

Any steps taken to reduce a business’ carbon footprint are seen to be good for both the company in question and society as a whole.

Philanthropy

Another area that a lot of CSR policies take into consideration is charity. Granted, larger companies have more of an opportunity (and margin) to donate to charity on a large scale, but all companies can benefit from philanthropic involvement of some description.

Donating to local, national and international charity is a fantastic way for a business to be seen to be giving back to the communities in which it works, and in doing so, improve its CSR and the image people have of the brand as a whole.

Lots of larger organisations have even gone as far as to launch their own charities, trusts and foundations that work in the geographical areas the company works in, or aim to address issues that are seen as being of fundamental concern to the business.

At the other end of the scale, SMEs can do things such as raise money for charities of interest, by hosting staff-led baking events and dress-down days.

Volunteering

By enabling and endorsing staff to have the time to volunteer for charities that they are interested in, a company not only helps to retain its sincerity in terms of its CSR policy, it also ticks off philanthropical and community concerns from the CSR policy, as well as addressing the needs of the company’s employees.

Ethical Labour

Companies who are serious about CSR must ensure that they treat all of their employees ethically and fairly.

This is especially true for businesses that operate and manufacture in international locations with labour laws that differ from those in the UK.

By ensuring that all employees are treated and paid fairly, a company demonstrates that it is sincere in its CSR efforts, not just on the surface, but in every facet of its dealings.

How to create a CSR policy for your business

If you take all of the above information into account, you’ll be well prepared when it comes to starting your business’ CSR journey. To help smooth the process, here are a few steps that can help to ease the transition to being a company that places Corporate Social Responsibility at the heart of its MO.

Map the space

There isn’t a single definition of CSR, so it can be hard to know what is, and what isn’t, CSR activity. You can begin to develop your own CSR policy by thinking about its dual objectives – being of benefit both to society and your business.

Ensure that anything you include in your policy is more than just a PR opportunity. It must have genuine benefits to the environment and community and not just be a none-too-subtle way of advertising your business’ ‘morals’.

Concentrate your efforts

Your time and resources are limited, you don’t want to be taken too far away from the work you actually need to do in your office. So, ensure that time you spend, both on creating, and implementing your CSR policy is spent wisely.

Focus your efforts and make sure that your time is spent on the areas where your business can interact meaningfully with your local community, environment, and society as a whole. Exercises of this ilk will have the greatest impact both on the community and your business, allowing you to gain a greater insight, and greater results from your CSR.

Understand the benefits

Once you’ve selected the areas in which you’d like to work, you have to ensure that your Corporate Social Responsibility policy creates mutual value, for your partners/community and your business. The key is to find the synergy between both sides and understand any issues that may arise from both a societal and business perspective.

Work with the right partners

When plotting out your CSR course, you need to find the right partners to work with; the ones that will benefit from your business activities and capabilities, and that, in turn, will benefit your business, as well.

Finding the right partners can be time-consuming, but when both sides can benefit, the motivation to make it work will be there. Make sure both parties fully understand each other’s strengths and what there is to gain from the situation. Relationships like this will have more chance to be successful in the long-term.

Building a business case

Like any proposed business activity, when planning a CSR initiative, you have to work out whether there is a business case for it – one that ensures long-term success.

Remember, this should be viewed as an investment and should be treated as such; with the same amount of rigor applied to the planning, resourcing, implementation and evaluation that your business would apply to any other investment it was making.

Make sure that you clearly define the potential benefits for both the business and community; although this might not be easy to project, it is important if you are to get the buy in of all the necessary stakeholders.

This great article from Mckinsey Gloabal, goes into further detail on this.

Examples of successful CSR activities

At this point, you might be wondering what examples of successful Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives are already out there. So, here are a few of my favourites, that will hopefully inspire you.

Innocent

Innocent has placed CSR at the very core of its brand. In fact, its unrivalled CSR programme is Innocent’s USP.

The company name: ‘Innocent’ and its strapline: ‘Tastes good. Does good.’ places a reminder of its ethos right at the forefront of every single one of its products. Creating every one of its drinks from products of high quality, sourced from ethical and sustainable sources has allowed the company to develop a completely unique brand identity and culture that is an endorsement of itself.

The juice is good to you, and good to the planet. And Innocent are completely transparent about it.

Nespresso

In the past Nespresso has struggled with its reputation for Corporate Social Responsibility, due to the huge numbers of waste aluminium capsules it has been responsible for creating.

However, in 2014, Nespresso launched a CSR initiative, The Positive Cup Commitments, which pledged that by 2020, Nespresso will:

  • Source 100% of their coffee sustainably
  • Manage 100% of aluminium packaging sustainably
  • Have a 100% neutral carbon impact

To achieve this, Nespresso has committed to programmes in agroforestry, signed up to the Aluminium Stewardship Alliance, made investments for Colombian coffee farmers and is also investing in sustainable coffee sourcing in Eastern Africa.

Nike

Historically, Nike was considered the epitome of capitalist sweatshop manufacturers.

And although it had been a pioneer of the business model which saw myriad manufacturers reduce costs by outsourcing production to countries where costs were lower, the idea that the company was an uncaring monolith is fatuous.

However, as a result of its use of ‘sweatshops’ Nike did find itself in a position where, in 1998, Phil Knight, one of Nike’s founders, admitted that, “the Nike product has become synonymous with slave wages, forced overtime and arbitrary abuse.” Nike and child labour had become intrinsically linked in the public conscience.

After decades spent working to rid itself of its (some might say, somewhat unfairly gained) image. Nike is now regularly found at the top of lists for sustainable companies within its sector. Its commitment to improving its environmental and social impact, providing good working conditions in its supply chain, and to providing transparency about its manufacturing processes has seen Nike included in the top ten of Fortune’s Most Admired Companies list on a number of occasions.

Nike now even goes as far as carrying this over to the athletes who it endorses; they recently dissolved a partnership with Manny Pacquiao, the day after he made homophobic comments to the media, and labelled his comments ‘abhorrent’.

Nike’s turnaround is a fine example of a company successfully utilising CSR to improve both its own image and the lives of the communities it works in.

For more information on some of the excellent Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives on display in the UK, check out the National CSR Awards.

If your business needs office space, from a provider that takes its CSR seriously, and works with its employees, tenants and communities to try to promote charity work, then look no further than Business First.