Corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies have been in the news recently, highlighting the progress of big name businesses such as Lego and Microsoft. But what benefits can SMEs gain from successfully implementing their own policies on a much smaller scale?
What are CSR policies?
CSR is typically presented as a company’s policy that governs its activities to create a positive impact on key areas of importance. These typically include the local community, the environment and sustainability, and society at large.
Policies normally look at using a portion of a company’s profits to fund these positive programs which reduce the negative impact of the business. Examples include offering voluntary positions in local charities to employees, fundraising for community causes, or reducing the amount of energy used in the day to day operations of the company.
Whilst these activities will often be outside of the normal functioning of the company, they offer a number of benefits which we will explore in the rest of this article.
Green credentials for customer support
You cannot deny that environmental issues are now a significant concern for everyone on the planet. Business has to do its part too, with many campaigners pointing the finger at corporate organisations for placing profits above sustainability. One way SMEs can clearly differentiate themselves from their larger rivals is by having a well-defined sustainability directive as part of their CSR policy.
In a well-known survey back in 2013 conducted by Nielsen, 42% of consumers agreed that they would be happy to pay more for products originating from sustainable sources. When you demonstrate to your consumers that you are placing the future of our environment at the front of your mind, there is a significant percentage of your customer base that will be delighted at this move.
Ultimately, SMEs that embrace sustainability become more marketable, as the consumer will purchase from you simply because you care about these issues. But it is not only the customer that benefits from a business going green. Other notable impacts include improved employee morale and better employee retention.
Business example: with cars still creating a huge volume of carbon emissions, by committing to only using electric cars in a business, a SME can demonstrate a massive carbon saving and commitment to the local environment.
Promotion, awards and certification
There have been some cases where CSR activities have been viewed as publicity stunts designed to drum up public interest rather than create a real impact in the wider world. This bodes the question, should an SME shout about its achievements?
The important element here is to remain true to your company’s identity. There is little point in changing internal policy simply because certain awards and certificates appear attractive if they do not coincide with the real aspirations of your business.
Rather than turning to the local media to get recognition, companies should look towards business awards and standards that demonstrate a proficiency in key areas. There are now a host of organisations and charities that are willing to throw a spotlight on your hard work.
Business example: one of the most powerful commitments an SME can make towards environmental issues and sustainability is the internationally recognized ISO 14001 certification. It sends a strong message to your customers that you are serious about these issues without having to rely on other, more traditional forms of marketing.
Your local community
With austerity taking its toll on many local communities, creating a reduction in social services and opportunities for young people, it can be extremely beneficial for companies to get involved with the issues that sit right on their doorstep. Think about what your company is good at – and then explore how you can repurpose those skills to create welcome change for residents.
One of the most obvious ideas is for a building company to donate materials and time towards repair projects on local community buildings or even construct new outbuildings for sports teams or old people’s homes. Even if you do not have specific skills it may be that your teamwork could be your most potent gift, working to remove litter from the streets or local parks.
Working with your local community is a chance to show off your business operations on a wider stage and let people know exactly how proficient your organisation has become in your particular industry.
Business example: get in contact with local charities and organisations to find out what’s important to them and where they need the most support. Don’t assume that your good work will be well received by the community unless it is fully planned to fit in well with their aspirations.
Win more business
Companies want to build relationships with businesses that display and possess similar values and ideals. Much like end consumers, they are attracted by organisations that choose to have a positive impact on their local community, creating better employee working conditions and reducing environmental impact.
This is especially important when larger organisations are subcontracting part of a significant contract to an SME. They may need to meet certain obligations with the customer that includes working to particular standards and values, especially if they are part of the public sector where these ideals are a greater concern.
This is why it is vital for your company to publish its corporate social responsibility policy and to broadcast it on your website and every available channel, allowing potential customers and contacts to understand your business at a deeper level.
Business example: at networking events, rather than trying the old fashioned hard sell focusing on the benefits and features of your business’ commercial offering, try talking about your CSR for a different kind of connection which could lead to a longer lasting relationship.
There is one last benefit of adopting a CSR policy in your business, and that’s the good feeling you get from actually helping the world at large. It’s easy to get caught up in the drama of handling clients and issues in the workplace. Showing some gratitude in the form of help, support and responsibility can remind you of your power and place in the world.
About the Author
Jonathan Chapman is CEO at British Assessment Bureau, a leading ISO Certification body who offer management systems for the Environment, Quality, Information Security, and Health & Safety. Jonathan is an expert in Compliance, ISO Certification and Technology. Jonathon is passionate about delivering innovative services to organisations wishing to achieve growth and success.