You might think that CSR is tied to big financial investments that you don’t have available. Or, you might feel overwhelmed by the sheer range of CSR activities to choose from.
The truth is, CSR can come very naturally if you embrace it as a mindset rather than a PR campaign.
There are many simple ways to practice social responsibility - as long as you embrace it within your culture. More often than not, small decisions eventually lead to great change.
Here are some ideas to help you get started.
1. Become a guardian of the environment:
Use environmentally friendly materials
Or make an effort to actively use more secondary materials.
The most ideal way to do so is to switch to using natural, eco-friendly material to manufacture your products.
A complete switch takes time (and resources) and often requires investment.If your business is not yet ready for such a change, start small by opting for eco-friendly packaging, or slowly replacing the material for parts of the products.
Suppliers such as EcoEnclose offer a wide range of packaging from recycled apparel mailers to recycled shipping boxes. Wherever you're based in, you'll probably find one such supplier.
Go one step further by opting for non-branded packaging. This ensures the packaging can be easily reused later on.
Innovate your production processes to use less water and energy
Or collaborate with those who have the same goal too.
Again, innovation takes time and investment. Before jumping into innovating your entire process, source for other businesses who have done something similar. Chances are, they are willing to share their practice too.
Co-innovation is another possible option. We've seen examples of this in the fashion industry with the Better Cotton Initiative - a not-for-profit organization set up by a couple of fashion brands coming together to push for sustianable practices in cotton production.
You can also collaborate with your own suppliers. By pooling together resources and knowledge, you're bound to find new solution that benefits both sides.
Support causes that protect and restore the environment
This is no longer something new.
Many brands have opted to contribute part of their profit to saving the environment. Choices are plenty. From reforestation, protecting endangered species to beach clean ups, there are many organizations working tirelessly to save the Earth and they need your support to do so.
2. Know who you work with:
Source your suppliers carefully
And make sure they have ethical business practices.
What your suppliers do affect your business' reputation too.
All the hardwork you put into making your business socially and environmentally responsible could be downplayed if your suppliers engage in unethical practices.
In 2016, Turkish textile industry was found to illegally employ Syrian refugees and children. These child and refugee workers are often paid very little, work in harsh conditions and given no rights.
The scancal implicated major fashion brands such as Marks & Spencer and ASOS whose supply chain involves Turkish textile factories. While there was no definitive link between the sweatshops and the particular brands in question, the scandal did tarnish the brand image anyway.
Keep a close relationship with your suppliers and make sure they are transparent about their operation.
Give to causes that are transparent about their spending
Bonus if you could easily track where your giving goes.
With B1G1 for instance, every small action can be connected with a project.
So you can give a person access to life-saving water for every email you sent, and it only costs as little as 1 cent. And you know exactly where your money goes.
Whichever organization you work with, transparency remains an important consideration.
If your chosen organization doesn't track the exact impacts, make sure they have a good track record. Take a look at their Annual Reports (preferrably 2-3 past year reports) to see their fund allocation and how their projects have materialized over time. That way, you can be sure your giving is going to make an impact.
3. Stand up for issues you’re passionate about
And give to those causes in both good and bad times.
You’re likely to retain customers who care about the same causes as well.
Of course, if the issue you’re passionate about is a controversial topic, you may want to take a stand, but stay caring and respectful in your messaging so you don’t drive away customers who may not believe in the same thing.
After all, disagreements are common, but respect and empathy will help your message shine without upsetting anyone.
But don't be a blind follower.
With controversial issues, it’s important to do your research, understand all sides of the argument, and how solutions to these issues work. Make sure what you support has an impact on the ground that you want to achieve.
4. Volunteer to work on the ground:
- Pro-bono work is a great way to utilise your skills for good, get exposure to different audiences and challenges, and to help those in need.
- Let employees volunteer on the clock for causes they care about.
- Have an annual volunteering trip for your team (another win-win situation - you are doing something valuable for your community while facilitating great team bonding!).
5. Embed giving into the core of your business:
CSR works best if the values of it are incorporated into your core business model. Make giving part of what you do every day.
Plant a tree for each email you send or provide a healthcare plan to a person in need whenever you successfully sign a new contract. This way, you can share your success and make everything extra meaningful.
When it’s baked into the core of what you do, giving becomes natural. Some businesses even find giving to be extra motivation for them to do better.
The accounting company Inspire CA from Australia is an excellent example of how setting grand giving goals can result in surprising success.
The co-founders behind Inspire set themselves an exceptional task - Ben Walker and Harvee Pene want to be meaningful players in ending global poverty. Their idea: giving a day's worth of access to basic requirements to people in need. The result: over 11 Million days of giving to date.
For their program, Inspire partnered up with B1G1 and regularly gives to a project in Malawi.
Co-founder Ben Walker says that they have integrated giving into everything they do.
“Be it the emails we send, our AGM and planning sessions and meetings we have with prospects, clients, and suppliers... every time we do one of those activities, it means more water for Malawi.”
Don’t worry about the amount you spend, but stay consistent:
A commonly held view about CSR is that only large businesses have enough resources to do so. But this is a misconception.
Organizations like B1G1 empower small and medium businesses around the world to give from as little as one cent. One cent can bring access to life-saving to water to a person for a day while one dollar can send a disadvantaged child to school for a day. So, it's perfectly feasible for small businesses to create hundreds or thousands of impacts on a regular basis.
A small amount can make a huge difference to someone in need. Imagine if every business gives small amounts consistently – together, we can make an enormous difference in the world.
It’s important to not view CSR as a PR effort or one department's responsibility, but to treat it as integral to your business. And when you’re in it for the long-run, CSR has the power to improve not just your business, but also influence your customers, clients, suppliers, community and the lives of those you support.
Taking the first step can be daunting! Check out our Guide to Corporate Social Responsibility.