5 Reasons Against CSR from Smaller Business

 

I thought I’d take some time to share the most frequent responses I hear from smaller business for not exploring Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

My accountant hates me. Rather than spend my time finding businesses already keen to enhance their CSR journey, I often go looking for trouble from the not-so-enlightened end of the small to medium sized business market. I don’t know whether it’s because I’m competitive, refuse to accept poor excuses or just a righteous so and so on a mission, but I am a big believer on targeting the worst cases in any scenario and trying to turn them around, as these can often produce the best case studies you could ever wish for.

So in no particular order…

Reason No. 1 – ‘It’s called CORPORATE Social Responsibility’

So what? Forget about the name! CSR is a concept that aims to improve business performance by maxmising the returns from better management of social and environmental impacts. The term CSR is THE biggest barrier I face  (so I seldom use it).  There is obviously a difference between how a huge corporate beast like Intel and a single employee new start-up business addresses CSR but in essence it’s exactly the same. Just take out the jargon and stir with an entrepreneurial spoon and voila!

Reason No. 2 – ‘I’ve never heard of it.’

Most smaller business haven’t heard of CSR, even if many are already practicing individual initiatives without knowing they have a grandiose name. Awareness of the opportunities that CSR can offer a small business are seldom promoted such as differentiation, reduced costs, improved productivity, access to markets etc. Business support agencies have much to answer for.

Reason No. 3 – ‘We already do all that.’

I wish this were true. This is the one where I usually have to bite my tongue and say with gritted teeth ‘Ok. Very good, but how well are you doing it?’ I’ve not yet come across a small or medium sized business that isn’t doing something, whether they are managing their waste, reducing energy usage, motivating their employees, supporting charities or checking supply chains. The problem is that there just isn’t the awareness or support for excellence in these areas, with the majority of CSR related initiatives inefficiently managed, many not even considered at all and few are just plain dangerous to the business.

Reason No. 4 – ‘We’re not a charity (or a social enterprise).’

It isn’t just philanthropy. This again highlights the bad press CSR has had, with many negative perceptions focusing on donating money to good causes with little strategic consideration to financial, social or environmental returns on investment. I enjoy playing devil’s advocate and reminding people that there is no law that says a private limited company has to make a profit. I know of many charities that are more commercially successful than businesses, and many businesses that are more philanthropic than many badly run charities. The legal structure of an organisation is a vehicle to achieve a goal and should not stand in the way of well managed social and environmental engagement.

Reason No. 5 – ‘We’ve got no time for CSR. We’re just trying to survive.’

I really do understand how small businesses feel, after all Coethica is my small business and I support numerous others. The daily list of tasks to keep a company afloat is relentless. CSR should be used to help the business survive and prosper, it shouldn’t be an ‘either / or’ situation. Take a breath and investigate the short and medium term opportunities to reduce costs, access new markets, improve product specification etc. and make the time to take a longer look when your planning. If you think you’ve got no time for CSR, you don’t understand the concept – call me and I’ll help you understand.

16 thoughts on “5 Reasons Against CSR from Smaller Business

  1. Andrea Learned

    This is so true, David. It reminds me of the ways companies make excuses for not “marketing to women.” The thing is (for both marketing to women and csr) businesses do not need to reinvent the wheel. It’s a matter of making wise business decisions at this point. Consumers seem to be way ahead of companies in their expectations as values-based buyers. But, there’s still time for an early advantage, so small businesses need to get over the hemming and hawing, and meet consumers where they already are.

    Like

    Reply
    1. davidcoethica Post author

      Hi Andrea

      Small business do have an incredible amount of demanding pressures every day of the week, not dissimilar to the fog of war, and unfortunately most dismiss CSR (usually as a result of misconception) as way down the priority list. I always try to engage every business I can, and often spend too long on hopeless cases, but like everything else in business it comes down to is perception as a tool to increase competitive advantages.

      I’ve got a strong feeling that we will see consumers demanding much, much more from companies and their products as economies begin to emerge from the troubles and disposable income becomes disposable again. This combined with an albiet slow, but increasing awareness from the investment community will concentrate social and environmental pressures on companies of all sizes.

      David

      David

      Like

      Reply
    2. Cindy Esposito

      Good points, David and Andrea. I really believe that small businesses can drive the concept of csr home to consumers much more easily then large corporations can. Often these businesses have more contact directly with their customers, the somewhat complex concepts of supply chains, energy efficiency and other areas are simpler to understand on a smaller scale, employees can be engaged in all areas from the start and philanthropic activity may be more localized. When these issues can be related directly to consumers own lives, they can then begin to apply the necessity of csr on the larger scale.

      Like

      Reply
  2. Matthew Rochte

    I’ve regularly run into these objections when consulting and coaching SMEs. I also learned long ago that I can not coach/consult people/organizations that do not want to be coached/consulted – I end up being Don Quixote batting at windmills. Often though, when hired to coach on leadership and communication issues, the CSR develops from the ceo/president connecting their own values to the company values. When they bring that into integrity, the CSR elements not only become a no-brainer to them, but also they see the competitive advantage of reduced turnover, happier and inspired employees, the attraction of new clients, and reduction of wasted energy, time, attention as they focus on what matters to the company. That’s when they see both the risks and the opportunities in CSR and the primary risks revolve around NOT being in integrity around their CSR leadership.

    CSR and Sustainability in all business, but SMEs especially is about doing smart business.

    Matthew Rochte, LEED AP
    CSR / Sustainability Consultant
    http://www.OpportunitySustainability.com

    Like

    Reply
    1. Dave Macdonald

      Matthew,

      I think you nailed this down. I only use the term “CSR” with folks who understand what that concept is. For everyone else, I talk about “responsibility” and the values of the organization.

      David picked up a number of rebuttals for SME’s, but one of the strengths versus large corporations is that you can talk about vision, values and personal integrity with some authenticity behind it. Showing people that their business can improve through responsible practice is very powerful and it’s been my experience that this approach doesn’t work as well for larger organizations.

      Dave

      Like

      Reply
  3. Sarah Mitchell

    Hi David,

    You won’t be surprised to hear I’ve encountered the same responses you’ve listed here. After the blank look, I usually get a “What do you mean?” or “How would we do that?” question. I published a blog post in October 2009 addressing ways SMEs can implement a CSR program. It’s not comprehensive, rather a starting point for businesses wanting to adopt a strategy.

    http://www.globalcopywriting.com/csr-good-ways-for-small-business-to-make-a-positive-impact/

    Thanks for the post.

    Like

    Reply
  4. Cathy Joseph

    Great post, David! I am finding it’s not only smaller businesses that raise these questions. In a larger business, CSR is often looked at as a “nice to have” and discounted – especially in this economy. When I have reframed a CSR conversation to one of “business sustainability”, the reaction immediately changes to one of more interest. Your response to #5 is perfect in speaking to this.

    Like

    Reply
  5. Ian Berry

    Great post David and here’s to more SMEs etc seeing the light and to making it happen. I also agree with Cathy business sustainability is better and the jury is no longer out on this in my experience

    Like

    Reply
  6. Beth Steinberg

    As the co-founder of a grassroot program, albeit an NPO, I feel this keenly. Even if we’re not a small biz, we try to think like one and I actually feel that the economic downturn has been positive for us – meaning, where to cut back, where to be careful, how to incorporate CSR ideas even on our minute scale. But I find that too many companies are just focused on making a buck and forget that charitable giving makes employees feel that the company is engaged – not just in money – but in improving the world on a small scale. Small is okay – it always is. That’s the message to remind companies. Make your difference in numerous small ways.

    Like

    Reply
  7. Celesa Horvath

    Heck, I hear some of these excuses from LARGE companies, especially since the start of the Great Recession (like they were waiting for something to pin it on…)!
    What I hear most often, by far, is “we’d love to do that, but we don’t have the resources”, followed quickly by “And we wouldn’t know where to start anyway.”
    Ah, but don’t we practitioners/consultants love a challenge?!
    Thanks for the post.
    Best,
    Celesa

    Like

    Reply
  8. Andrea Learned

    David and all – this recent Cone research may be something to flash in front of clients: http://www.mediapost.com/publications/?fa=Articles.showArticle&art_aid=120756#comments Consumers WANT the dialog and ARE looking under the radar (so there!)😉

    Celesa – it is SO true. In this case, I’m hoping the small companies will catch on quick and large companies will then scramble. Even if the big companies start to get major publicity for it (Clorox Green Works, anyone?), we can all then be proud, as consultants that we helped the little guy and raised the bar for an entire industry. Or, that’s what my inner sustainability Pollyanna is saying… Great conversation here!

    Like

    Reply
  9. John Bergdoll

    Hi David. Great post and right on target. As I was reading, I kept thinking how amusing these self-imposed barriers to entry will be in a few years time when it becomes painfully obvious that social media is a social revolution and we are no longer at the crossroads. It’s here to stay.

    Twitter @JohnBergdoll

    Like

    Reply
  10. Joe Thornton

    I am doing research on motivations for CSR in small and medium manufacturing companies in the US. If you know of any companies that are doing CSR I would be interested in hearing about them so that I can approach them for my research.

    Thanks,

    Joe Thornton

    Like

    Reply
    1. davidcoethica Post author

      Hi Joe

      Thanks for the comment. In reality most small business ‘do’ CSR. If the question is about those doing either innovative or more strategic (than the majority of ad hoc / reactive approaches), I would check out the B Corp website (

    2. http://www.bcorporation.net
    3. ). If you’ve got any further information that may narrow down the search let me know and I’ll try to highlight some appropriate targets to look at.

      Good luck with the research, and I’d be really interested in hearing about your findings.

      David

      Like

      Reply
  11. Bernie

    Im doing part time research in how small companies do plan, measure and report CSR relevant issues. I found that the Balanced Scorecard would be an easy approach to implement CSR issues, thus plan them on strategic level so they know basically what to do, measure the activities and report them. Since the BSC is affecting/including economic and financial issues as well, I assume it could be easier to explain that CSR and its activities is not just a marketing issue and relevant to big corporations with huge monetary investments, although it (a lot) seems to be a reserved area for them.

    I know that there are some quasi standards in place regarding CSR reporting such as the GRI G3 guidelines. I found, that these guidelines are far too complex for small companies to implement. I strongly believe that an easy to use framework is needed to invite small companies to measure and report on CSR issues.

    Hence my dissertation.

    If anyone of you have some further insights to my topic of interest (case studies, examples, academic papers etc.) please get in touch!

    Thanks
    Bernie

    Like

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s