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.