In response to growing criticisms in the 1980s and 1990s that businesses were harming societies and the environment, and taking little or no responsibility for the negative impact of their operations, the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) movement was born.
Encouraging businesses to consider the economic, social and environmental consequences of their activities, wherever they operate in the world, and whatever their size, CSR is an expression of the belief that it is no longer enough for a company to simply profit its owners, and the concept is now a fully fledged feature of many businesses.
Not surprisingly, much of the emphasis until recently has focused on larger companies – indeed, the very name ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ suggests a certain scale of enterprise.
While adopting the key principles of CSR may be reasonably straightforward for these companies however, it may be another matter entirely for small to medium sized businesses, which traditionally employ a smaller work force, operate on smaller budgets and subsequently have less time, energy and resources to invest in making the necessary changes.
Bigger companies are commonly recognised as having the means to make a difference in terms of CSR, while small or medium sized businesses, whose reach is more likely to be local than national, are often overlooked.
As a result, these companies can be left wondering whether they should bother investing limited resources into what may be perceived as just another administrative whim. Smaller companies may also duck out if they perceive their impact to be too small.
In such a climate, implementing the principles involved in CSR can be tricky. If small to medium sized firms are to feel able to tackle the environmental and social impacts of their activities, the approach to CSR has to be adopted within the context of the thousands of sole traders, owner managers and entrepreneurs that make up small businesses today.
One of the difficulties is that new start businesses and small to medium sized companies usually have enough to worry about without also ensuring that their business ethics are always up to speed. A successful approach to CSR within such companies must therefore tackle the common fears, namely that addressing the issues involved will be time consuming, costly, difficult, involve endless bureaucracy and have the potential to open a whole host of additional legal obligations.
But the lack of a ‘one size fits all’ approach to CSR does not mean that smaller companies need play any less of a part. Studies have shown that, in fact, a lot of these concerns are not actually experienced by those small to medium sized businesses who are already engaged in CSR.
Furthermore, many companies are already active proponents without even realising it! Incorporating CSR in the work place can be as simple as recycling scrap paper, or becoming involved in local community projects, for example:
· Maintain a safe, healthy and happy working environment: this represents an overall commitment to the wellbeing of a company’s staff, who in a similar vein, should be recognised as a company’s most valuable resource
· Setting exemplary employment practices: another way in which to invest in staff, and one that can feed back into a company’s success.
· Implementing responsible environmental practices: this might include organising car-sharing schemes for commuting to work, encouraging staff to take the bus instead of the car, or better still, to cycle or walk to work where possible