10 Top CSR Tips for Smaller Businesses


This is the first article in a series that will demonstrate how you can make your business better without any preaching about saving the planet or becoming a charitable saint, but please try your best if that is important to you.

One definition of Corporate Social Responsibility is:

“To balance economic, environmental and social impacts whilst maximising commercial benefits.”

It is entirely up to you where your balance point is. The key thing to remember is by considering all three aspects it can make your business more profitable and better for those who work there, your suppliers, your customers, your community and the environment.

Think of CSR as an ethos that helps you make decisions rather than a range of do-gooder initiatives and you’ve already learnt a valuable lesson.

I’ve spent years talking to smaller companies and trying to understand what will make a difference to them. Their answer is nearly always ‘What’s in it for me?’ My answer is more profit, greater longevity, integrity and a smile.

Here is a list of quick wins you can do today, at little or no cost that can have a tangible impact:


1. Take the ‘C’ word out of CSR!

The phrase Corporate Social Responsibility has been around for a while now and often confused with other terms such as sustainability, corporate citizenship, responsible business conduct, ethical business, environment, philanthropy, charitable etc. They all mean slightly different things but getting hung up on terminology is missing the point at this stage.

It is just good business practice that focuses on areas that, especially for smaller businesses, are not at the centre of your business radar. Think of this as the start of a process that will open up your vision to risks and opportunities that you can begin to manage more efficiently and gain an advantage over your competitors.

These tips apply to all small and medium sized businesses regardless of your product or service.


2. Don’t get caught up in a price war

Competing solely on price is a dangerous game and not to be played by the faint hearted. You should be aiming to win and retain custom by delivering a perception of added value. If you charge the same price your competitor why would they buy from you? Even the smallest companies have a brand. What is yours saying?


3. Check those energy bills

Many company’s bills are paid by the finance department without regularly checking the meter. I know of one company that was owed over £30,000 because the meter was being read using the wrong units! It pays to read it yourself, check your tariff and check your bills.

A green tariff would be better and they’re getting much more price competitive.standby

We all know about energy being used whilst equipment is in standby mode. Even if something doesn’t have a little red light and a formal standby mode it could still be using energy whilst plugged in.

In the UK recent figures suggested that on average businesses waste 20% of their energy. What’s 20% of your energy bill?


4. Use recycled paper

What’s in it for me? – Recycled paper today can be as good as your normal paper and at a similar price. Ok, but what’s in it for me? – You can do it without any effort, your staff will appreciate it (even if they say they’re sceptical) and any visitors will notice if they see the packets as they walk around the office. The question should really be ‘Why not do it?’

This rule is more about the thought process and you can apply it to anything you purchase. Is there a recycled option at a comparable price? Just ask.


5. Charities and Good Causes

Get a charity to work for you! This isn’t as mercenary as it may sound.

We are encouraging mutual benefit through a little relationship building. Do you have spare resources i.e. staff downtime, waste materials or media access you could trade in return for access to contacts or free PR? Support good causes but don’t just hand over a cheque.

Just about every business I know gives resources away each year with 90% reacting to random requests. I’m definitely not saying don’t give money to charities, just be smart and have a plan.


5. Flexible working

This isn’t just about letting people work from home it is about accommodating employees whenever practical to the business. Being flexible with hours, i.e. staggering starting and finish times to avoid rush hour / child minding, allowing people to work their 35 or so hours over four or six days, job sharing, etc. It’s the flexibility that both you and your staff will benefit from.

Remote working from home is a great idea where appropriate. The biggest obstacle is management overcoming the fear of not being able to look over employees shoulders to check on them. If you can’t trust your employees it doesn’t really matter where they are. It may need a change in management style but if an employee has a certain number of defined and measureable objectives to achieve it is a no brainer. In many cases productivity is seen to rise by 20 – 30% on top of energy savings (travel to work included), reduction in space requirements. You biggest problem may be stopping your staff work too much!

6. Engage with your staff

Communication with your employees has never been more important. Make them feel like they are part of the longer term solution not the shorter term problem. Newsletters, accessible management staff and transparency often reap unexpected rewards and stimulate innovation.


healthyworkpic_105110448_std7. Get training

We will emerge someday on the horizon from the current economic position. Will your staff be ready to compete at the highest level? Now is a great time to access funding and improve your employee’s qualifications whilst improving retention and productivity rates.


8. Government money

Are you fully exploiting your excellent to approach to being responsible by winning public sector contracts? Best price is not always the deciding factor in this competition. Governments are really pushing low carbon economies through their own spending power. Has your company got an environmental or community competitive edge?


9. Redundancies

If you do need to make redundancies make sure you fully understand proper procedure. As well as ensuring compliance can you look to help those being made redundant with their next career step? Working in partnership with appropriate external agencies maybe all that it takes.


10. Silver linings

With every recession come new opportunities to do business. There is a substantial ‘green’ agenda to just about every country’s economic stimulus packages. How can your business make the most of these?


Well, that’s the start of the journey. You might think ‘that’s just good management’ and you’d be right. The first lesson in CSR is its just good business practice.









Please recycle any additional CSR tips for smaller businesses in the comment box for others to share!


See you next week.

9 thoughts on “10 Top CSR Tips for Smaller Businesses

  1. Tim Craig

    Returned, unwanted and undelivered mail is a waste of money, time and effort, which can increase opportunities for identity theft and produces vast amounts of waste paper.

    The ‘end of life’ solution for Direct Mail is still often neglected but with new EU directives on waste paper going to landfill and the DMA PAS2020 regulations there is now a ‘producer responsibility’ that all waste paper generated is disposed of responsibly.
    Since 1996 Veridata in Chester has provided this dedicated service to customers including one of the largest credit card Companies in the world. We have reduced their undeliverable mail by 50% and the recycled of tons of paper waste.
    Veridata’s dedicated service can help to lower the carbon footprint of anyone who mails out large amounts of mail, catalogues etc.
    Brief PowerPoint presentation available from tim.craig@veri-data.co.uk


  2. Lalia Helmer

    Great tips for small business social responsibilty efforts. I posted a link to this article on my blog.
    I wonder whether the “C” word also frightens small business away from other social benefit efforts such as philanthropy, community relations, giving.
    I look forward to your future pposts on this subject.


  3. Brian Setzler

    Nice list.

    As a CPA and head of a Triple-Bottom Line accounting firm (www.TriLibrium.com), I would also recommend that organizations think about the type of data that will go into their CSA report and to create the systems to capture it efficiently.

    Financial reporting systems are designed to report financial results. CSR reporting requires a similar strategy.

    We will be doing our first CSR report this summer. I think it will be fairly straight forward because we’ve been capturing most the reporting data in real time, just as you would with financial data.


    1. davidcoethica Post author

      Hi Brian.

      Thanks for the comment. I completely agree about data capture for CSR reports but the article is primarily aimed at businesses that are taking their very first steps into the responsibility arena.

      I constantly encourage even the smallest organisations to consider producing a non-financial of whatever title annual report even if it is only a one sided A4 document. Reporting is sometimes positioned as an all or nothing project and often puts off many smaller businesses as they feel they can’t compare to the bigger corporates highly polished documents.


  4. Molly Hovorka

    David, great practical tips. To elaborate a bit on number 5, it’s a good practice to align volunteer opportunities and donations with your company’s or your staff’s values. Rather than responding to every request, focus on one or two causes that make the most sense for your company, such as education, environment, or hunger. I’d also advocate volunteering together as a company for a variety of reasons. It’s gets your team out in the community, it’s a way to contribute without spending additional money, and, especially for mid-sized companies, it’s a great way to help with team-building as more new faces come on board and the family feeling of a small company erodes.


    1. davidcoethica Post author

      Hi Molly.

      Thanks for adding more meat to Tip 5. It’s great to have external expertise making each area provide more value. I always advocate splitting volunteering allocation between supporting individual employee requests and team buiilding to offer the best of both worlds. It allows a much richer engagement and fulfilling experience for all involved. I’ll be delving in more detail on the employee and workplace post in this series currently under construction!


  5. Chris MacDonald

    This seems a useful list, but I’m going to quibble with #2. First, how is “Don’t get caught up in a price war” a CSR tip? It just seems like good management advice. I can imagine connections to CSR (if, e.g., low prices mean cutting corners in socially-undesirable ways), but I’m wondering what connection YOU see.

    Also, I would think that from a CSR point of view, companies need to deliver more than “a perception of added value”. There ought to be something *underpinning* that perception, at very least. We don’t want misinformed customers. Note also that the focus on *perceived* value implies there’s nothing wrong with socially-pernicious products as long as the people buying them like them.




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