CSR or So What?  The Smart Way to Being Socially Responsible

Corporate social responsibility is as much a way of thinking as it is a way of doing business these days. However, CSR is still a relatively new word in the business environment and as a result, there is relatively little actual regulation. Most actions are voluntary, meaning that there are few specific fines or punishments for not acting “responsibly.” Consumers are beginning to come down hard on those companies that don’t act responsibly and the hospitality sector is no exception. Increasingly, businesses in this sector are finding that the impact on brand reputation and credibility by not acting in a certain way is far more damaging that any sum of fines or penalties.

If you want to survive the recession, you need to find ways to stand out from the crowd and differentiate yourself in the marketplace and capture the business that is still very much there for the taking. Building a reputation as a responsible business can set you apart from the competition as more and more customers look to do business with ethical companies. A good reputation also makes it easier to recruit employees and actually can encourage them to stay longer, be more productive and stay motivated.

CSR is Not Just PR
Contrary to popular belief, CSR is not just a public relations task but works across the various functions and departments within a company. The drive for greater transparency, accountability and trust means that businesses are under increasing pressure to not just focus on “doing CSR,” but reporting on it, too; this has raised the question as to whether a more legislative approach is required.

Benefits of Doing Good
Building a reputation as a responsible business can set you apart from the competition, while also making you more attractive as a supplier. Remember: It is not only consumers who choose to buy from ethical businesses; companies often favor suppliers who can demonstrate responsible behaviour as this helps them to reduce the risk of any damage to their own reputations.
A good reputation also makes it easier to recruit employees and actually can encourage them to stay longer, be more productive and stay motivated. Investors also recognise the benefits to businesses of engaging in CSR and may be more willing to finance you too.

Getting on the CSR Ladder
Starting any CSR program can be daunting. The problem is that there isn’t a one size fits all approach when it comes to finding the right strategy. The approaches, challenges and opportunities would be very different for a small service based business in the UK compared to a global manufacturing company for example. So how do you choose the most appropriate CSR strategy for your business?
Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Charitable Donations
Don’t get caught up in the panic of printing Christmas cards this year. Simply inform your customers that you will be making a donation to a charitable cause instead of sending Christmas cards. It’s a simple technique but will reduce wastage, help the environment, show your customers that you care and improve your brand reputation all at the same time.

The ‘Green Office’
There are many ways to help your office become ‘greener’ including energy efficiency, using cleaner technology, renting ‘green’ office space, purchasing recycled materials and using Fairtrade products. The best strategy is to find options that will complement your business. United Business Media for example, offer environmental awareness training for their staff to ensure their values permeated the entire business.

Diversity in the Workplace
CSR isn’t always about being green or doing good in the wider community. It is also about what is happening within your business and extends to your employees too. Remember, being socially responsible includes embracing diversity within your workforce and this can extend to the percentage of women, disabled or ethnic workers that you employ.

Lead by Example
Being socially responsible is also about how you can influence others around you, so think of ways to encourage suppliers and customers to take a more ethical approach. Provide regular tips as part of your e-newsletter or add them to your Web site. If you are asking others to take certain actions, ensure that you are actually doing them yourself.
Get Involved

Some businesses choose to support a local charity, or sponsor a local event but it makes sense to get involved with activities that are related to your service or product offering and enable you to demonstrate your expertise while also adding a touch of personality. If you have staff, you may want to involve them in projects, perhaps by allowing them time off work to volunteer for community activities. Many businesses use such opportunities as team building and morale boosting exercises, which then benefit both the organization and the charitable cause at the same time.
Engage with Your Staff

If you employ a large number of staff make sure you engage with them to identify the socially responsible subjects that matter to them; once you have acted on these areas, share it with your staff. This will improve motivation and contribute to improved staff retention levels, reducing recruitment costs and improving your reputation as an employer.

There are also commercial benefits to community involvement too, such as increased opportunities for publicity. Some local authorities even prefer to award contracts to businesses with a record of community involvement.

All That’s Fit to Brand
There isn’t a one size fits all approach to CSR and any activity undertaken needs to be completely relevant to the brand. The current economic climate has meant that many brands still seem to be competing for who can invest the most money into their CSR programs, rather than on whose initiatives provide the most benefit to the business itself, as well as the wider community. This is why those with responsibility for communications (and who have the valuable market intelligence) should also be responsible for defining what CSR activity is undertaken.

This article appears in the upcoming PR News Guide to Best Practices in Green PR and Corporate Social Responsibility, Volume 3. It was written by Graeme Crossley, who runs Brand Reputation, a multi-discipline brand communications agency for consumer brands. To order the guidebook or find out more information about it, please go to: www.prnewsonline.com/store.