Three Simple Ways Small Businesses Can Be Socially Responsible (without breaking the bank!)

For decades, companies have recognized the importance of using their substantial resources to better society. Moreover, recent studies have shown that companies benefit financially and reputation-wise when they invest in sustainability, eco-friendly behaviors, philanthropy, and other CSR values. (Center for Corporate Citizenship) So, let’s say your business doesn’t have $1 billion to give to education like Target does. You may be a boutique public relations firm or a mom and pop plumbing business. Does this mean you can’t be socially responsible? Absolutely not! Here are three ways that you can contribute to what has been coined the “triple bottom line” of profit, people, and planet: 

1. Work from the inside out. Start by making your internal business practices responsible. This could mean:

–> Encouraging healthy work/life balance for your employees (flex days, telecommute options, maternity and paternity leave, fair benefits packages)

–> Setting and achieving “green” goals for your offices, factories and workplaces. This is as simple as mandating double sided printing and installing energy saving appliances and fixtures.   

2. Develop a CSR strategy that fits your business’ size and capabilities. A few questions to ask yourself:

-> How can the service or product we provide for paying customers be beneficial to others? For example, an accounting firm can offer training to a nonprofit’s Board of Directors on best financial and auditing practices.  It can be tempting to try and tackle major problems like world hunger. While those are noble causes, your business can be more effective at making an impact if you stick to what you know and what you can sustain. (Plus, research shows that consumers are more receptive to CSR efforts that are related to a company’s business objectives.) 

–> How much of our resources can we allocate long term? While most employees particularly Millennials, prefer to work for employers who are socially responsible, there is no need to make this a burden for them. If you employ 10 people, it’s probably best not to commit to being a full partner with a nonprofit serving thousands of individuals. 

–> What CSR goals are attainable? It may be a bit extreme for an independent coffee shop to completely transition to fair trade products, however it may be more reasonable to consider offering and promoting one or two fair trade coffee brands, at least to start. 

3. Give the most inexpensive, but arguably the most valuable thing – your time. So you can’t take every kid at the local elementary school to Disney Land; but you probably can:

–> Develop an internship program for high school students who may otherwise not have exposure to the work you do. 

–> Mentor under resourced youth with a monthly employee/student outing. 

–> Depending on the skills of your employees, provide workshops to college students on general skills like time management, professional etiquette, best communication practices, or business appropriate attire. 

Additional Resources:

1. List of Companies Certified as “B” Corporations: or Socially and Environmentally Responsible (Great examples of how to be a socially responsible business!)
2. CSR and Small Business 
3. Five Best Practices for CSR in Social
4. Corporate Social Responsibility for Smaller Companies
5.  Know When You’re Already Doing CSR