Corporate social responsibility and you

What can your business do to earn that all-important customer loyalty? Besides offering stellar products or services, excellent customer service, and timely response to their questions and concerns, your clientele expects to see twin passions – for the environment and for people – to be supported by all whom they choose to do business with. They want their providers, whether they be their local retailer or their employer, not only to show concern for the environment and the communities in which they’re involved but also to act in a way that will bring about positive change in the world.

Corporate social responsibility, or CSR for short, is big in today’s business world. So just what is it? It’s the way a business’s operations affect the environment and society. Although various non-governmental certifications exist, there is no federal regulatory agency that enforces CSR; rather, it’s the business itself that determines what actions should be taken to leave its community or the world better off for its having been there.

Some people say it’s the millennial generation that’s most insistent in seeing a rise in environmental and societal consciousness in firms they do business with. Actually, consumers from all present generations put a premium on such concerns. According to a study conducted by Cone Communications, 87% of respondents reported they’d buy products from a company active with the issues that concerned them. And 76% said they wouldn’t buy from a company that supported something that ran contrary to what they themselves believed in. Half of those surveyed said they would boycott a company that engaged in irresponsible practices.

And consumers won’t simply take a company’s word regarding their action on an issue – a full 65% said they’d research a company’s actions when it claims to be environmentally or socially conscious.

How your business can be socially and environmentally proactive

So, given the emphasis today’s consumers place on CSR, what are we as small business owners to do? We need to broadcast to our communities the efforts we’re taking on behalf of society and the environment. But we have to back up our words with action. Steps we can take include:

  • Supporting charitable entities that directly affect our business and community
  • Implementing actions that decrease our carbon footprint
  • Ensuring that vendors and manufacturers up and down our supply chain are active on the environmental and societal levels
  • Treating our employees as we wish to be treated.

Old school business practices place the utmost value on bringing in profits for owners and shareholders. But now, in this day of heightened awareness of how our way of living affects others, we businesspeople must satisfy the demands of their triple bottom line: people, planet, and profit. It’s not enough to simply bring largesse to shareholders; we must now ensure our activities and business dealings are friendly to the planet, our stakeholders, and everyone up and down the supply chain. We should not only pay fair wages to our employees but also to those who produce the products we consume and sell.

How to get involved

There’s plenty of advice and support for entrepreneurs wanting to clean up their business actions. Many areas in the US are now home to green chambers of commerce. If there’s no local chapter, the US Green Chamber of Commerce stands ready to help with networking opportunities, advice, and information for businesses interested in or on the path to going green.

The Green Business Bureau is another organization to aid businesses in going green. Benefits of joining include a sustainability certification process; toolkits to aid your company’s sustainability efforts; recognition as a green community leader; a badge to display on your marketing materials, website, and place of business; and marketing support. Jump over to their website to find out more about the certification process and membership pricing.

If you’ve been involved in the sustainability movement for a while, you may want to consider becoming a certified B Corporation (B Corps). Their website houses the B Impact Assessment, a free tool to learn how your business is doing on the green scene.

As is true of many of the wrinkles your business may face, CSR brings about its own set of challenges:

  • You have to figure out how to align your mission statement with the goals of corporate social responsibility to ensure that how you dedicate your time and money match your business identity.
  • You need to be sure your company policies align with CSR.
  • If you have staff, you will want them to be aware of your CSR efforts, and that you have their buy-in.
  • You need to be concerned that not only does your business conform to the goals of CSR, but also that your suppliers do. This means they as well as you treat employees and the environment sustainably.
  • You must be able to prove to your clients and customers that your CSR efforts are genuine.

Setting up corporate social responsibility practices within your business can positively impact your company’s bottom line. But if your efforts aren’t genuine, or if you say you support sustainability but fail to implement practices enhancing it, you’ll likely lose business.

Help is available. Sometimes, even with that help, all you can make are small steps forward rather than broad, sweeping changes. That’s ok. If you create strong CSR goals and then continuously work toward them, you’ll eventually get there. And you’ll know you’re doing your part to make the world a better place.

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