Small Business CSR Mistakes

Here’s a quick list of CSR mistakes made by small businesses.

Some of the headings may sound a touch exaggerated, but trust me far worse happens in reality. Names have been with held to protect the not so innocent!

Thinking CSR isn’t for smaller businesses

I had to put his first didn’t I? Think of CSR as a lens to improve your business performance. The core principles work at every level from pre-start up to multi-national. It should be about balance, innovation and unfortunately not so common sense.

Trying to hack your electricity meter won’t reduce your carbon footprint

The old days of the colourful myths surrounding tricks to stop, or slow down mechanical electricity / water / gas meters are fading fast, but not without an element of truth behind their origins, or at least in those attempting to beat the system. The point here is that either trying to manipulate the system or passing your carbon usage onto suppliers or customers is missing the point and will boomerang back and explode at a later date – not carbon offsetting. Nothing beats robust measurement, management and reporting!

Don’t claim ‘carbon neutrality’ because you planted some trees

For SMEs the term ‘carbon neutrality’ is usually a mirage. Yes it may exist but don’t waste your precious resource getting there anytime in the next 12 months. Carbon neutrality and offsetting do have a vital role to play when managed correctly but they are still abused terminology exploited by attention deficit marketeers. Spend most of your effort reducing the energy in the first place. Most small and medium-sized businesses waste about 20% of the energy anyway. What’s a fifth of your energy bill? Greenwashing is a no-no, so be careful about environmental claims you make – always ask an expert.

Being more charitable than a charity

Are you a registered charity? No, well then be careful with your resources! Think carefully and strategically about who and to what extent (financial & in-kind) you support good causes. Is it a pet project of the CEO or will it offer tangible value to both the company and those the partner charity aims to support? Most SMEs confuse the values of the owner / manager with those of the organisation. Partnering with local good causes can provide wonderful benefits and don’t be afraid to explore.  Try not to merely react to every request you get. Find a fruitful longer term relationship and look for help from the charities themselves.

Oh, and going to countless charity events isn’t ‘networking’ or marketing, unless you’re getting leads and business from it – it’s wasteful and indulgent.

Spending months creating a CSR strategy

There is nothing worse than a mighty sounding strategy that lives in a drawer. Just because somebody understands CSR and takes the time to write a formal document doesn’t mean the business is doing anything.  It’s more important to be doing (and measuring) what you know is adding value. Strategies only add value when they are alive and evolving.

What CSR mistakes have you heard of or seen?

10 thoughts on “Small Business CSR Mistakes

  1. Gareth Kane

    Here are some of the mistakes I frequently come across in SMEs:

    • Expecting a direct financial return on all investments when winning new business may be the true driver;
    • Weak or preachy communications either internally or externally;
    • Giving individuals responsibility but no authority;
    • MDs not demonstrating personal commitment;
    • Seeing CSR/sustainability as a bolt on rather than a core value;
    • Thinking measurement is all – a pig never got fat by weighing it.


  2. Arjan Tupan

    Great post. Super to have a direct summary like this. Some other mistakes I come across:
    – CSR is expensive
    – I have an ISO certificate
    – CSR is only a marketing gimmick

    By the way, are you open to guest posting this on the Baltic CSR blog as an outsider’s opinion. Because many of the points you make go here for business in general, and not only for SME’s


    1. davidcoethica Post author

      Hi Arjan

      Glad you liked the quick list.

      The list could have been much longer as you mention plus ‘Thinking CSR is philanthropy’, ‘CSR is too complicated so I won’t do anything’ etc. I might add another list soon!

      I don’t have a problem with use a guest post. Can you please add a link back to the original post and my Twitter account –




      1. Arjan Tupan

        Yes, the philanthropy remark. But I thought you covered that reasonably sophisticated in the charity section 🙂

        Thanks for allowing me to guestpost this item. Of course I will link back. Let me know if there’s anything else you want to add. Maybe a short bio at the bottom of the post?


  3. Juan Villamayor

    I agree with Gareth when he states “Weak or preachy communications either internally or externally”

    Also many SME’s are already implementing CSR without being aware of it. Thus not really communicating it / profiting from it.

    CSR is just for big corporations


  4. Aykan Gülten

    Great post and comments.
    I won’t add another line but I want to share a simple message.

    For the sake of sustainability of CSR, companies need to act on a “business case”. If there is no business case, there is no long-term commitment to CSR. SMEs need to find the right business case and build their CSR strategy on that; whether it’s innovation or increasing customer satisfaction or reaching out to new customer segments or risk mitigation.

    This sounds like a simple message but when it comes to tailoring the right CSR strategy it is very easy to loose the focus.

    cheers everyone


  5. Preston Bernstein

    Great post Gareth!

    I agree about the not being more charitable than a charity part the most. There is only so much one can contribute, so it’s best to focus on what you really care about instead of spreading yourself too thin.


  6. Doug Hadden

    The key mistake that I see in small business is not realizing how entreprenuership can lead to CSR innovation. Larger businesses are typically bound by business models (making athletic shows, extracting oil, operating retail stores) where CSR can be a long journey.
    Small business has the agility to develop different business models. To focus on social entreprenuership or green solutions. To bring CSR as core to company vision and not to be bound with the risk adversity of non-profits or the established business models/supply chains of larger businesses.


    1. davidcoethica Post author

      Thanks Doug

      I assume you meant athletic ‘shoes’ not ‘shows’? 🙂

      The world of the entrepreneur is about as distant as you can get from the corporate ivory towers. I’m constantly spellbound by ideas and activities by grassroots entrepreneurs, some that will never make it into the spotlight and a few on the edges of substantial success. All, and I say that with a huge dollop of perspective, is needed is an education and ‘re-branding’ initiative to unleash a massive tidal wave of entrepreneurial agility, creativity, commitment and resilience.

      Small businesses owners will often baulk at terms often considered positive to practitioners and believers such as ourselves. CSR, social entrepreneur, sustainability etc and even allegedly accepted basic terms such as environment, today still create barriers and negative emotions to those possibly best equipped to offer best social & environmental value.

      We are closer to a better place, but still with a mountain to climb, especially at grassroots businesses.



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