The small business CSR checklist

I’ve come across some great pieces of research discussing corporate social responsibility (CSR) in a range of business sizes and types. Businesses’ commitment to their sustainability and CSR is has been important for a long time in the corporate world but now it seems more consumers are seeking information about the ethics and social commitment of the businesses they buy from.

Something that is clear from the data is that larger, more well developed businesses, generally have more established CSR programmes and smaller businesses are often unsure where to start. The truth is, your business is never too small to implement the basic elements of a CSR policy and make the first steps to a full programme.

If you’re a small to medium size business owner, there are a number of basic steps you can take to begin implementing a CSR programme.

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1. Create a company policy on corporate social responsibility. This can simply begin with a set of beliefs or principles your company and staff should uphold and include plans on how you’re going to be responsible. If you have the resources to fulfil a programme, whether this involves a financial commitment or otherwise, add this. This doesn’t have to be complex, have a look at the John Lewis Partnership CSR policy.

2. Designate a director or senior staff member with corporate responsibility. This is simply making sure someone is formally responsible for CSR. This creates a point of contact for potential collaborators or CSR providers.

There is simply no excuse not to do the first two stages yet only 87% and 85% of medium to large companies, respectively, have them in place! Needless to say that the number of micro and small businesses with them will be significantly smaller. Now, depending on your business, you may not need to change your business practises, or may not be in a position to, but do not wave away all responsibility just because you are a small business. Every business impacts on the environment and society, just to different extents. If you’re serious about CSR then follow the next steps.

3. Create CSR goals. These should not be regarded as arbitrary goals as they will underpin all of you CSR activity. Having identified the areas in which your company need to act responsibly in your company policy, decide on where you want to active and where you want to be passive. Which need to be maintained or required a little monitoring, and which can you can proactively upon and make a real difference?

Use the SMART goal framework. Be Specific, make sure your actions and outputs are Measurable, keep them Achievable, Relevant to your business or CRS aims and be Time-specific.

4. Publish your goals! Once you’ve completed step three, step four is a no-brainer. Depending on whether you can make this press-worthy in the form of a well written press release about your new endeavours or whether you simply publish them as a blog post or webpage, get them out there. If you can get some initial coverage, that’s great, because I’m sure those publications will want to hear updates of your good work. The key benefits are that a) everyone can see you’re committed to making a difference, b) if someone can help you in that respect, they know to get in touch and c) to keep you accountable to your goals.

5. Plan and strategise. This is where the hard work begins! You’ve worked out what you want to achieve and what impact it’s going to have, now you need to work out exactly how it’s going to happen. Remember, your objectives are not going to be achieved themselves and you must put the steps in place as per your SMART goals. Each step much be time-framed with specific action points and responsibility designated. What budget or resources are required? Who is in charge? When will you know it’s been done?

6. Publish updates. You’ve got to work on your CSR strategy and beginning to make some positive changes. Following on from action four, keep everyone updated with what progress is being made. This is important you’ve taken the step to publish your goals and it will help your staff, customers and collaborators see what is being done.

7. Requirements of your suppliers and collaborators. It’s all well and good being squeaky clean and proactive about CSR but if your main supplier isn’t pulling their weight, they could be undoing all your good work. As a side point, it’s worth having a think about the companies you work with and their business practices and if you can help them make a change too.

8. Review. What were the timescales you set when you created your CSR goals? Make sure you check back and review you progress every few months. This will help you make sure you’re on track to achieve them but also to make sure they’re still relevant. What could your future goals be? What do you need to change or adjust to make your CSR strategy more effective?

 

Other things to consider. Do your staff need training in CSR? Do they need to be incentivised to do work in the community? Familiarise yourself with key documents including international guidelines such as the UN’s human rights principles but also local and industry-specific whitepapers. What marketing opportunities are there for your business? Let’s not ignore the benefits of prominent CSR activity because the evidence is clear that many companies see an improvement in their bottom line after a concerted CSR effort and investment.

Creating and implementing a solid CSR strategy does not need to be a time-consuming exercise, especially if you’re a small company, but it will prove incredibly worthwhile. Far beyond being something your business begrudgingly creates, your CSR activity should be highly rewarding and make a positive difference to you business practices, staff moral and benefit your bottom line if done effectively.

I hope that’s been of some use!

 

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James Caan, CBE - entrepreneur and former Dragon
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