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Corporate Social Responsibility tips for the SME

When it comes to CSR, focus on the bit of the iceberg people don't immediately see - more at www.remsol.co.uk

If you’re an SME finding that your customers are starting to expect more from you in terms of Corporate Social Responsibility, but you’re a little daunted by it, read on…

Whether you’re selling to consumers or other businesses, the chances are nowadays that you’re getting asked about your commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility.

What is Corporate Social Responsibility?

Well, at its most basic level, you could say that CSR (as it’s known for short) is about recognising and taking responsibility for the impacts you have on society and the world around you – reducing negative impacts and building on the positive ones.

What exactly does that that look like?

It’s tempting to think it’s all about sponsoring local kids football teams, donating money to charity and ‘giving something back’ to the communities where you work, because that’s what we tend to see when we look for examples of CSR.

And although there is definitely a role for that in doing business responsibly (we do it, for instance) that sort of ‘corporate philanthropy’ is really just the tip of the iceberg. The really meaningful CSR stuff starts inside your business. And, done right, the financial rewards can be significant.

Start with what you can control

Before you get too carried away organising a charity gala to prove your CSR credentials, stop: think first about the things in your business over which you exert total control, and that you can change in order to make them better.

Take emissions of carbon dioxide. They’re implicated in global warming, but that’s a massive phenomenon and you can’t control it on your own. However, you do have control over the way you undertake business travel, which contributes to carbon emissions. So, if you introduce a policy of using public transport for certain journeys (changing something you control) you can limit a negative environmental consequence of your business.

That’s an example of real Corporate Social Responsibility in action.

Here’s another, in a similar vein. If you invest in energy efficiency, for instance by replacing your fluorescent office lighting with a low-energy LED alternative, you’ll cut down on your energy consumption and, by extension, the carbon emissions you’re responsible for. You can exert control over how much energy you use by being thrift.

And here’s the best bit: whilst you’re doing all these things to reduce the negative impacts your business has, you should also be saving money.

Let’s just go back to energy efficiency for instance. The typical micro business (less than 10 employees) with the U.K. average annual profit margin of 7.26% could earn the same profit as £20,661 in additional sales simply by saving £500 a year on energy for 3 years.

Which sounds easiest – cutting costs through energy efficiency or selling more in a world where you have to compete for customers?

Top tips

1. Get help. We all know that SME owner / managers often end up performing multiple roles in their business, and so the idea of taking on CSR as well can seem off-putting. If that’s the case, get external help just to get you going.

See also: Embedding CSR

2. Draw up a list of the things in your business that have some sort of interaction with the environment or society, and over which you exert control (think people, neighbours, waste, raw materials, energy and water use etc).

3. Once you have your list, think of ways that you can either enhance things where you already have a positive impact, or do less of the things that have unwanted consequences.

4. Set out a plan for when you’re going to make the identified changes and who is going to make them.

5. Look back periodically to see how far you’ve come and what a difference you’re making.

Approached like this, you’ll create real and lasting benefits.

Then, the next time you’re filling in a tender for a project, and it asks you for evidence of your Corporate Social Responsibility efforts, you’ve got something meaningful you can show to prospective buyers.

Here’s some final food-for-thought:

A part-time employee, perhaps a parent working between school drop-off and pick-up times, doing 20 hours a week on the National Minimum Wage will earn £6,968 a year. The same person earning the National Living Wage would earn £8,164 a year. That’s an extra £1,196 – or, put another way, new shoes and school uniforms for the kids, more trips out with the family, being able to afford to have the heating on a bit more in winter. These are real, tangible differences to a person’s wellbeing, that are likely to be repaid in higher productivity and loyalty – and a much more lasting impact, than if you spent the same amount sponsoring the shirts of a local junior football team for a season.

Thats why it’s important to focus on the bit of the iceberg that people don’t immediately see.

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  • Ged Ennis says:

    At SME level there are a number of simple things you can do that cost nothing. Switch off lights and computers. Reduce temperature stats on heating systems by 1 degree. Make sure timer settings are right. Does the heating need to be on full belt all weekend? Share your waste disposal with other companies in your area. Recycle your paper and plastics. Print on 2 sides of paper instead of one. Other low cost items include changing bulbs to LED s – you don’t have to do them all at once. If you don’t have thermostats on your radiators install them. Make sure your boiler is serviced (it will improve efficiency). Install an energy monitoring system, they start at about £500 now and once you understand where your energy is being spent you can start to effect change. Can you insulate the building? Plan journeys etc. Simple things that take a bit of time and effort to get going but work. They work to reduce cost and carbon and actually benefit the bottom line. A lot of our clients come to us because their client is demanding action or evidence of change. So the change helps secure your businesses future. Use the change to market you company, don’t be quiet about the change you are making – tell people, it’s a good story.

    Bigger ticket items include infra red heating – if you have a large space with a small number of work stations infra red is a fantastic solution as it heats the work station not the large volume of air around it. If you have roof space, solar pv can reduce your electric cost. We have just supplied a client with a system that had the effect of reducing his electric costs from 11p a kw down to 3p (that 3p is for the next twenty years, so our client will never pay more than 3p for the electric they generate) and saves him 24 tonnes of CO2 a year.

    Think of the move to change as a journey. Know where you are, know where you want to go and take small steps to get there.

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