Your business doesn't exist in isolation nor is it simply a way of making money. Your employees depend on your business. Customers, suppliers and the local community are all affected by your business and what you do. Your products, and the way you make them, also have an impact on the environment.
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is about understanding your business' impact on the wider world and considering how you can use this impact in a positive way. CSR can also be good for your bottom line.
It means taking a responsible attitude, going beyond the minimum legal requirements and following straightforward principles that apply whatever the size of your business.
This guide explains how you can exploit the benefits that CSR can bring to your bottom line.
Working with your local community brings a wide range of benefits. For many businesses, local customers are an important source of sales. By improving your reputation, you may find it easier to recruit employees. A good relationship with local authorities can also make your life easier. For example, some local authorities prefer to award contracts to businesses with a record of community involvement.
There are many ways to get involved. Some businesses choose to support a local charity, or sponsor a local event. It makes commercial sense to get involved in an activity related to your product. This lets you use your expertise as well as showing the human face of your business. For example, some restaurants provide food to local homeless groups, while builders may give free labour and materials to community projects.
Look for opportunities that will directly benefit you - for example, by generating publicity, or improving the neighbourhood around your premises.
Many businesses involve their employees in working with the local community. For example, you might support charities chosen by employees. Some businesses encourage employees to volunteer for community activities and also give them paid time off for this. As well as improving your community relations, this can help motivate employees and can help develop their interpersonal and team participation skills.
You could also give your employees the option of making regular charitable donations which are deduced 'at source' from their pay.
Business in the Community (BITC) has developed the CommunityMark standard to help businesses get the most of out community involvement. For more information, read about the Community Mark standard on the BITC website.
Make the most of your corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities by publicising them. Ensure that customers, suppliers and the local community know what you are doing. CSR lends itself to good news stories. For more information, see our guide on PR: the basics.
Publicity like this can be a key part of using CSR to win contracts. People want to buy from businesses they respect. CSR can be particularly effective for targeting ethical companies, the public sector and not-for-profit organisations.
At the same time, you should see CSR as part of a continuing process of building long-term value. Everything you do should help improve your reputation and encourage customers and other stakeholders to stay involved with you. A business that buys recycled paper - but exploits its customers and ignores the community - has missed the point.
You could consider working towards a management standard which you can then use to publicise your ethical, environmental or social responsibility. For example, many businesses have already achieved the environmental management standard ISO 14001. Find out about ISO 14001 on the British Standards Institution (BSI) website.
A new voluntary standard has been introduced to help businesses manage their corporate social responsibility. Read about the new social responsibility standard on the International Organization for Standardisation website.
Effective CSR like this helps you continue to differentiate yourself. Even with dozens of competitors, a real commitment to CSR lets you stand out. As an example, John Lewis department stores are well known as a business owned by its employees. Its commitment to CSR feeds through into customer service, sales and profits. As well as affecting the way you behave, CSR can lead to new products and services that reflect your values and those of your stakeholders. Over time, it can all add up to a powerful brand - and a winning business table.
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