Tag Archives: flexible working

Viva la Small Business CSR!

Photo Credit: Warren Smith / PA Wire


Following on from the recent post on 5 Reasons Against CSR from Smaller Businesses I thought it would make sense to explore the main examples of great initiatives that countless smaller businesses actively deliver without knowing it’s part of a bigger better business picture. 

As a consultant I have the ‘if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it’ mantra ringing in my ears day and night. If I’m completely honest I don’t completely accept that, especially for smaller businesses. Sometimes you know it’s working and can spend excessive resource measuring and administering. Yes, there will come a time when measurement is essential but with grassroots entrepreneurs over management can kill stone dead any energy or innovation. 

Anyway, here’s the 5 most common ‘unknown’ CSR activities within SMEs: 


Sponsoring a children’s sport club 

Especially in my home city of Liverpool football is almost a religion to some and junior football is literally everywhere. Usually small businesses connected via family members or friends of the children are responsible for sponsoring team kits and equipment. I use the term ‘sponsor’ with some licence. In many cases it is a donation rather than getting anywhere near a return on investment expectation, but sponsorship is what it should be called. 

Providing flexible hours for employees to manage care issues 

Even if it’s allowing an employee to come in fifteen minutes late or leave early to collect a child from school that’s still flexible working. Whilst SMEs are unaware of the complete range of flexible working options available, most will informally offer one or two variations to look after their employees. 

Recycling / Energy saving 

Environmental issues are pushing the CSR agenda forward and there can’t be many small businesses remaining that are either forced through legislation or a desire to reduce costs. There are countless support mechanisms to assist SMEs in with ever improving services but nearly everybody know recycles paper or is trying to save fuel / energy. 

Using local suppliers 

Encouraging businesses to use local suppliers campaigns have been around for ever. In the UK the Federation of Small Business (FSB) are pro-actively promoting their ‘Keep Trade Local’ manifesto. You could almost replace ‘Keep it Local’ with a the grander sounding ‘sustainable procurement’ as the two are much closer than fee charging supply chain consultants would have you believe; reduced road miles, supporting local economies, improved supplier relationships. 

Charity Fundraising Events 

Do you know a business that hasn’t help raise money for a good cause? Cash donations, fundraising balls, themed work days, Santa Dash, sponsored sit in a bath of custard / head shave. Most SMEs approach good causes as an act of pure philanthropy offering cash or in-kind support without expectation of return and there’s nothing too wrong with that at all. 

An extended list could also easily include employee training, supporting local schools, employing local people, etc. etc, but you should be getting the picture by now. 

These five highlighted areas are wonderful examples of instinctive CSR / good business / philanthropy that demonstrates the local understanding and willingness by owner / managers to allow business resources to be diverted away from core business objectives because they feel it’s the right thing to do.  

Smaller business are a furnace of raw, energetic, well meaning and often creative CSR activity that often goes overlooked. Imagine for a moment the possibilities with just a little more coordination, strategic thought, active communication and improved specialist support. We could see  numerous small initiatives multiplied across the millions of SMEs internationally to provide a world changing combined overall impact – viva la small business CSR! 


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CSR for Smaller Businesses – Employees and Workplace

Welcome to Part Four of the series on CSR for smaller businesses. Today’s post is going to look at every company’s most valuable resource, employees.


 Happy Employees

As in previous posts, the idea is to provide jargon free advice for activities that are simple and inexpensive to implement. At this point in the series it’s still about looking for shorter term benefits to justify a deeper and more strategic look at CSR a few posts down the line.


Before we head into the suggestions and examples I’d like to point out what this post isn’t. I’m assuming that your organisation is complying with the appropriate employee related legislation. If it isn’t or you’re not sure, go and check first. We can’t build on unsound foundations! This is about looking at the business opportunities for going beyond compliance using available time and financial resources.


Areas covered will include looking at how we can improve recruitment, increase productivity and increase retention.


Let’s get straight into how you can benefit:



1.    Its good to talk

How well do you know your staff? I’ve seen countless times where employees have unveiled hidden talents not listed on any CV, application form or job description that can benefit your organisation. To get the best out of your employees you need to know each of them as individuals. If your recruitment, appraisal and management processes are from a template and managed like a conveyor belt you’ll get products not employees. Right now amongst your staff you may have an eco-warrior, a Twitter or blogging expert, a charity fundraiser extraordinaire or a fitness guru, who could all potentially add further value to your organisation at little additional expense. If you can tap into people’s true passions and exploit complimentary skills you’re onto a winner. We’ll look at how to utilise skills such as these throughout the post.



2.    Recruitment

In an increasing number of recruitment situations, especially for higher skilled positions, potential employees are grilling businesses on topics such as work-life balance, values, environmental position and volunteering opportunities. For higher skilled jobs those seeking employment can be confident of a decent salary and being able to demonstrate a commitment to CSR can add real value. This is even more prevalent with graduates and Generation Y’ers as CSR, sustainability, ethics and climate change are further integrated into the academic curriculum and are saturating the internet and other media. Can you exploit your ethical credentials to these types of job seeker’s questions to attract better employees?



3.    Get the staff out of the officevolunteering

Getting your staff out of the office and supporting a good cause works well for many reasons. No matter how small your business you can spare at least a couple of employee hours (especially at low periods) to paint a fence, read to a child, clean a river bank etc. Any time spent away from work will be more than made up for by an energised workforce, not to mention the new skills, change of scenery and feeling of satisfaction. The business will benefit from improved reputation, stimulated workforce, and who knows maybe even a little networking or new client or supplier from the relationship.


I would suggest at least having a company volunteering event as a group to build team spirit and for more formal appropriate PR opportunities. It’s also worth offering your employees the chance to take some time volunteering for a charity they feel personally close to. Offering volunteering as a contractual benefit is an inexpensive, yet effective way of adding value to employee packages.



4.    Charity begins at work

We’ll brace the subject of the business supporting good causes and charities in later post. This post is about employees supporting appropriate causes at work, i.e. allowing themed fundraising days and also making individual donations through their pay slips. By allowing managed use of company time or resources to support a particular cause you can break up routine and engage with appropriate causes. It’s good for morale and can also generate some positive PR.


Charitable giving can be painlessly facilitated through payroll at very little cost which effectively reinforces the company’s ethos of being a good citizen. Each employee can select their own charity or you could suggest a good cause that the company supports formally. There are external organisations that specialise in establishing and managing such projects at very reasonable costs. Not all employees will take up this offer to make a small donation each month but at least you will be seen to be facilitating this and play your part, even if nobody takes it up!



5.    Flexible working

We looked at this from an environmental perspective in last week’s post. This time I’d like to look at it from an employee and productivity position. We’re not just talking about working from home this time. I want to look at all the options and why they can work in the right situation. There are numerous options to manipulate working hours or responsibilities including staggered hours, compressed hours, shift swapping, job sharing, flexi time and home working. In the UK there is now legislation requiring employers to consider flexible working requests but these options should be looked at as business opportunities rather that yet another burden. Larger companies such as BT report productivity improvements of 20 – 30% using these techniques. Home working in particular can offer interesting headaches such as employees working too much, not a problem many managers face in an office setting!



6.    Health

Your employees tend to be more productive when they’re not in bed sick. How much does it cost you if somebody takes time off? Here are a few suggestions to help your employees perform to their best of their ability:


·   Set up a company running / walking / sports team or club.

·  Promote cycling to or at work. There are tax incentives to purchase bikes in UK.

·  Encourage, pay for or subsidise yoga, Pilates or aerobics sessions at workplace or local venue.

·  Make the stairs a more attractive place than the lift! Pictures and paint make a world of difference.

·  Provide fresh fruit and drinking water, or a fridge for employees own food.

·    Have regular health topic awareness days to highlight issues like cancer, back pain, asthma ordiabetes.

·    Promote Fairtrade or organic products.

·     Have a quite room for reading and relaxing, away from any food & drink space.



Don’t forget emotional health. People tend not to talk about their own problems but 1 in 6 people are experiencing mental health issues at any one time. If your employees are having problems away from work these will almost always effect their performance in work. I’m not suggesting that every business should provide a counsellor but it costs nothing to provide contact details or website address for agencies and services to support just about every mental or emotional problem you may encounter. How about asking a masseur or beautician to spend a day giving neck rubs or facials at a discounted price for offering access to your workforce?


There will be local agencies that will be keen to help you with most of these types of initiatives at little or no expense, just make a call or search the internet.



7.    Physical environment

If you’re asking somebody to spend a third of their waking life in your business you need to make it as energising and pleasant as possible. Corporate grey, filing cabinets, no windows, poor lighting and poor ventilation doesn’t really inspire anybody to do they’re best.


One small business client we worked with the employees just wanted to put the radio on. Management did know they wanted this and the employees thought that management wouldn’t allow it! Just by allocating a short amount of time to talk about work space conditions with employees will unearth hidden gems of ideas that make a difference.


·   Do you provide showers or somewhere to change if people want to cycle to work?

·  Are employees allowed to decorate their own work space?

·  Do you consult employees about general work space decoration and colour schemes?

·  Is there adequate ventilation into the work space?

·  Could you have plants / greenery tended by green fingered employees?

·  How about an office pet?



8.    Being sociable

By this I do not mean early finishes on a Friday and an afternoon in the bar. Keep events formal but fun! Most businesses have a Christmas event (which should be properly managed) but what about an end of financial year or seasonal event? It could even by tied into supporting a charity. How about a ‘bring your child (or pet!) to work day’ may need some management but great fun and fantastic change to the daily grind. Be creative.

 Times Best 100 SME


9.    Get recognition

If you’ve got a great workforce tell people! Apart from the obvious aura given off by your business and its employees, the next best step is to gain accreditation such as Investors in People or look to enter a ‘Best Company to Work For’ type award. Don’t forget to put any of these onto your website (not hidden away) and recruitment literature.



10. Twittering, Blogging and Facebooking

If you’re a small business and you’re not using these tools you are missing out. Social media for smaller businesses should be better described as free PR, free advertising, enhanced internal communication and improved customer relationship management. Not one of them alone is a miracle answer to make millions but they can individually, or better still integrated together in to an online marketing strategy, really deliver impressive results. Who is the secret Twitterer / Blogger / Facebooker in your business? Twitter is a great way to gather information, make contacts or conduct research. I now have over 2000 people I can connect directly with on Twitter. Not a bad start when looking to promote, research or network, and all free. Come and say hello @davidcoethica.


Social media is also great for improving communications internally if managed properly. Yes, there is always room for abuse with social media but none more than photocopiers, stationary cupboards, employee room fridges, telephones and fuel cards, and we’ve learned how to manage these to our advantage efficiently. Don’t be afraid of new technology – use your internal champions. A company Facebook group could provide great free branding, lead generation and compliment (or stand alone as) your employee newsletter. As long as you have a clear policy on how all employees can use these tools during business hours you should see the benefits quite quickly.




All of these suggestions need managing and I understand that we’re all busy keeping heads above water especially at the moment, but think of these as investments to improve productivity and research potential initiatives with a return on investment approach. You will be surprised at the returns you can deliver quickly and with little financial input.


There are many agencies and incentives for businesses to engage in initiatives such as these, you just need to make a little time to discuss and find a champion to coordinate.


For inspiration take a look here at what benefits Google offer to their employees.


By taking extra time with employees you can easily reduce turnover, improve productivity and enhance recruitment. If you consider the cost of having to advertise, recruit, interview, train and allowing somebody to get to full speed in new position, then a short amount of time and maybe a small budget is worth investing in.


Please add a comment or example you’re aware of about great employee management for others to share.


CSR for Smaller Business – The Environment

Welcome to part three in the series looking at CSR for small and medium sized businesses (SMEs).  All things environmental and green are next up for two big reasons.

piggybank-main_full·        You can make substantial and tangible bottom line benefits.

·        Climate change is already happening and needs action now to minimise the impact by ALL of us.

As a small business the potential for reducing your costs offers an easy road to demonstrating the power of looking toward the edge of your daily operational business radar.

I did promise not to preach too much about the non-economic issues surrounding business but this particular area can’t be ignored. There is a huge gulf between the abstract concept of climate change (and not forgetting population growth and peak oil) and how a micro, small or medium sized business can make any difference. There are a million excuses out there for avoiding taking action ranging from it’s not my problem, technology will save us, to its all a conspiracy, its a natural cycle, what about China (also the name of a good read dispelling climate change myths – great train reading!) etc, but I’m imposing a carpet ban on all negativity on this from here on in. Don’t argue, just read on. 90% of scientists are now predicting potential catastrophic effects due to a lack of political  will and action. (Guardian article April 14th 2009)

Ok. Rant over. Back to business. Now a few suggestions to reduce your environmental impact and save some cash.

1. The basics – Read energy & water meters & check tariff

This may sound obvious but many companies just send the energy invoices to the finance dept. and they get paid. No checking, no measurement. Check your meters regularly as you may have a water leak or a malfunctioning piece of equipment constantly adding an accelerator to your costs. Even a single dripping tap can leak 2,000 litres a month or 24,000 litres a year – a bit pricey if you’re on a water meter!

One company I know decided to take a full energy audit and discovered that their meter had been read in the wrong units! A cheque for £30,000 was a nice reward for taking notice of the environment via savings.

When you’ve checked your meter against the bills, check which tariff you’re on and make sure you’re getting the best price. While you’re checking tariffs have a look at renewable energy suppliers tariffs as well. If you’re overall electrical bill isn’t huge then changing to a 100% or part green tariff could add extra serious credibility to your environmental credentials for little work.

2. Who is your environmental champion?

If you’ve got an eco-warrior on the staff use them! For those reading this blog regularly you’ll notice a pattern emerging here. Tap into your natural resources, i.e. your staff and their passions.  I will guarantee there is a enthusiastic green champion in your midst somewhere. You need to have somebody to take responsibility for this area, and dependant on the nature and size of your business can be either a 10 minute a day role or a full time position. Staff engagement really is essential to maximise the opportunities here and some training will probably be needed. You would get best results by sharing this responsibility with somebody with a financial control position with a more passionate green champion to cover all bases.

3. Don’t end up in jail or with a hefty fine

The environment is home to the largest rise in quantity of legislation wherever you look and it’s going to get tougher. As governments are feeling more pressure internationally about climate change this is rapidly being passed onto businesses and consumers. Unfortunately, we as human beings don’t react well to just being asked and only really take action when our wallets are hit. The fines for non-compliance are getting bigger and ignorance is being removed as an excuse. For one wrong mistake you could destroy your business. This is definitely an area worth talking to an expert about as soon as possible.

5. Use less, pay less.

It’s not rocket science, what are you wasting? We need to split this into two main areas; materials and energy.


Check your bins and ask your staff. What are you throwing away?  The true total cost of waste is scary. When you calculate the cost of the actual wasted materials themselves, the cost of employee time to purchase and manage, the cost of disposal (storage, certification, taxes etc) even a small amount of waste suddenly looks very different. Use the waste hierarchy (see image below) concept all the time. Talk to your suppliers. Do you need all the packaging that comes with the product? Could you agree to share any cost savings? Don’t forget to monitor your water!










You’ve heard a million times about turning lights off, replacing with low-energy bulbs, turn your thermostat down 1 degree and many others but do you actually consistently carry out these tasks? Google search ‘energy saving tips’ for a glut of great ideas to use around the office or site.

Travel is a huge user of fuel. Although I’m a staunch advocate of meeting actual people, there isn’t much that can’t be done via communications technology these days. Do you really need to sit in traffic or on a plane? When products such as Skype offer great quality (and free) video calls why not use all the tools that are out there? If you really do need to travel use public transport. It may take a little longer but it has drastically improved for the better over the last few years and it can be much cheaper if planned in advance!

6. Energy Security

You will see this term more and more over the coming years, especially connected to gas and then oil. What would happen to your business in an energy blackout or petrol shortage or huge price rise? Could you continue to operate without gas, oil or electricity? Do you rely on suppliers or customers that are potentially vulnerable to breaks in supply? By reducing your usage and reliance on external suppliers of energy you are increasing the stability of your business. Even if it is just a short plan to ensure you have access to a generator, a store of energy, bicycles & fuel efficient cars or alternative options for a few hours or so, take the time now!

6. Carbon Upsetting

I’m sorry to upset a few people but let’s be honest and forget about carbon neutrality or offsetting for smaller businesses. There aren’t huge tangible benefits for small companies to put resource into attempting to be carbon neutral (I’m seriously not convinced by the definitions and would strongly advise not using the term for now) and offsetting is also an immature area with limited benefit. Focus on saving as much energy as possible and investing any resource into reducing your consumption.

7. 10 Minute Carbon Footprint

Measuring your carbon footprint is worth considering and will be racing along the legislative rails over the next few years, and your first attempt can take about 10 mins. Just get your energy bills out and calculate how many units of gas, electricity or fuel you have used and paid for over a year. Even if you don’t convert them to tonnes of CO2 equivalents you need to know how much energy you are using not just how much you are paying. As you progress you’ll need to start thinking about your supply chain but lets not get ahead of ourselves.

 8. Flexible workingwork-at-home

I want to look particularly at remote / at home working rather than manipulating hours in the office. We have the technology, what we don’t have is the culture, yet. The single biggest obstacle to employees working from home is poor management techniques. Managers like to look over people’s shoulders and see them working. They might not actually doing anything, but as long as they look like they are managers are happy. If you need a series of tasks achieving and they are easily measurable why do you need them in front of you? By working from home you can avoid wasting time commuting and vastly improve your quality of life and balance.

8. Recruitment

If you want the best employees how do you attract them? Graduates are almost interviewing the interviewers about CSR, work-life balance and environmental issues as these topics are climbing the curriculum and the  internet.

10. Green money

Even before the recent economic stimulus packages to help us recover governments were pushing hard on using their spending power to drive down carbon emissions. If you want a public sector contract these days you need to be able to demonstrate evidence such as certification to ISO 14001 before you get to the starting line. Yes, price will always be important but the value or carbon (or your lack of) will become a serious competitive advantage in winning government money. This also applies to being a sub-contractor to those winning the big tenders. The procurement code for the London Olympics in 2012 is requiring ALL sub-contractors to meet the same environmental criteria as the main contractor – this isn’t just about working directly for government. This also applies to getting work from more and more corporations setting stricter criteria to suppliers to reduce their own carbon footprint.

11. Adapt and survive

Can you adapt or compliment your product or service to create a new more environmentally friendly alternative?  A very small traditional (6 staff) electrical contractor in Liverpool recently decided to add the installation of wind turbines, solar pv panels, insulation and has found a new lease of life by using the same skills.

If you can’t change or add to your offering why not consider a cause related marketing campaign. By aligning your brand or offering with an environmental charity or green good cause you can raise each others profile whilst hopefully selling more. It is a tried and tested approach and if done properly adds real value to your reputation. Can you plant a tree, donate a water well, install solar panels in developing countries every time you sell a product?

Why not support Earth Day on April 22nd? This is a great chance to piggyback global media coverage and engage with your staff, suppliers, customers and community – check out this news article and  www.earthday.net for more details.

12. Do it at home

Don’t just be green at work. Save yourself some cash and take any tips home with you.

Being green is not a bandwagon its the future. The next couple of years will see drastic changes for all of us and those who have the foresight to see this will profit most. It makes business sense to know what is on and beyond the horizon. 


Leave your suggestions below for getting the most out of being green as comments for others to share.