CSR will help the small-guys compete

Small-enterprises offer an avenue for untapped CSR potential. 90% of the world's business comes from SMEs and they employ about 50% of the world's population. The kind of change they are capable of is community-based, continued investment to uplift their key stakeholders. Change at the grass-root level is what every ethical business dreams of and this is where small enterprises stand to gain enormously.

Charity-based CSR activities is not the only avenue that small businesses can explore. In fact donating towards charities without any strategic, long-term outlook of CSR can be detrimental. The four pillars of CSR can easily be used even in the smallest of businesses. The biggest misconception for small businesses is that in order to do CSR, you need money. CSR however, is not just about spending money. It is about using creative, innovative methods of creating a brand image and a positive business impact. According to David Connor, "it should be about balance, innovation and unfortunately not so common sense."

One of the biggest CSR activities that a small-business can do is to keep business within the community. With this I mean, to think about where supplies are are coming and what consumers are looking for. By engaging in this circle of minimal distance, you are reducing transportation carbon footprints and developing relationships by engaging your local stakeholders.

Engaging with stakeholders also extends primarily towards your staff. By giving them a clear idea of what CSR is and what you expect, you are not only improving the profile of your business but also engaging in active dialogue with them. For a small business, employees are the biggest pool of resources.

If you are a manufacturer, consider Fairtrade, recycled raw materials. Think about how you can innovate with packaging. A simple cost-benefit analysis will tell you if these products are more eco-friendly but in most cases, they also turn out to be wallet-friendly.

Be energy-wise, think about where you can save. As a small business you do not necessarily have to report CSR activities, but any CSR communications should be carefully checked for greenwashing. It is very easy for CSR to be misinterpreted and for it to turn into bad PR. CSR matters not only to consumers, but also other businesses that are now actively scrutinizing the sustainability of their supply chains, as well as eco- and socially conscious employees who see social responsibility as an attractive job benefit.

Alignment of business values as well as the owner/CEO's is very important. Creating a clearly defined early picture of these will go a long way in ensuring that no future conflict occurs. Everyone I've spoken to says that intensive CSR in the SME sector can drive the bigger companies to be more careful about their own CSR choices and thereby level the playing field. Diverting away from the kitschy big-business idea of CSR, small business have the advantage of direct interaction with the community from out of which they operate. What they need to be convinced about is whether or not it makes business sense for them to be 'socially responsible'. The answer is a resounding yes!

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