Bakers Journal

Features Business and Operations
Doing the Right Thing, Part Three


November 27, 2007
By Michelle Brisebois

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This is the third article in a three-part series examining corporate social responsibility as a vital business tenet. Part one described where the movement is getting its push (and pull) from and why it should be a cornerstone of any business model. Part two examined how CSR can be successfully integrated into a business and the last article below will describe how small businesses can adapt these practices for their own operations.

This is the third article in a three-part series examining corporate social responsibility as a vital business tenet. Part one described where the movement is getting its push (and pull) from and why it should be a cornerstone of any business model. Part two examined how CSR can be successfully integrated into a business and the last article below will describe how small businesses can adapt these practices for their own operations.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR). It’s a mouthful to say and a potentially intimidating topic to try to grapple with. Truth be told, we could easily lose the “corporate” and even the “social.” Maybe this whole concept is easier to wrap our minds around if we just promise to be responsible – to each other and to ourselves. Most small and medium-sized companies look at the term corporate social responsibility and immediately think, “Oh no, that’s not us. This is for the big guys who can afford the grandiose gestures.” If you’re a small or medium-sized business, think again. In actuality, nobody’s more nimble or adaptable than you. In fact, you’re probably doing more right for the world than you give yourself credit for.

Canadian Business for Social Responsibility (CBSR), a consulting and teaching organization that helps companies improve their business while also contributing to the improvement of the world, examined the unique challenges and opportunities related to implementing CSR for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Fancy acronyms aside, the report discovered that many SMEs were already engaged in a number of socially responsible activities. These smaller businesses didn’t give it an elaborate label, they simply thought of it as doing the right thing. The study found that there are a few unique issues facing small businesses should they choose to embrace CSR. Here are a few areas worth honing in on.

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Take the “C” Out of CSR

The study found that small and medium-sized businesses recognize that they have a responsibility to their employees, community and environment. Often, these businesses don’t formally think of it as CSR – it’s just part of how they do business.

Take a look at what you’re doing already that you may take for granted. It’s a great starting point to build more initiatives upon.

The Right Thing…at the Right Time

Larger corporations with deep pockets can snap their fingers and create entire departments to focus on CSR initiatives. For the SME, all hands are needed on deck to deal with the day-to-day business issues. The CBSR study revealed that success with CSR initiatives was greatest when smaller businesses made changes gradually. Many CSR activities were driven by “stakeholder request,” which means employees, customers or other owners who shared their vision or concerns. Listen to your customers and see if there is a way to address their concerns by making small changes a bit at a time. Don’t try to be all things to all causes overnight.

Being Good Can Be Profitable Too

One of the biggest concerns for smaller companies when looking at socially responsible practices is the potential cost of changing their business practices. Ironically, this is a major concern for large companies too. Look for changes that are good for society and good for your bottom line. Perhaps introducing a canvass grocery bag at a reasonable price point will actually save you money in the long run if you don’t have to buy an inventory of plastic or paper bags. Doing the right thing by society can also mean doing the right thing for your business.

Follow Your Bliss

Most successful CSR initiatives in small businesses grow in the heart of the owner/operator. It will take leadership and passion to make the long-term changes necessary to make sustainability a part of your business culture. That’s easier to do if the leadership has deep rooted commitment to the cause and the necessary changes. Find causes that mean something to you personally. If you don’t believe in it down to your core, then CSR runs the risk of becoming another “flavour of the week” HR program.

Keep a Low Profile

Many companies are implementing sustainable practices quietly and without fanfare. If a business creates an entire marketing campaign around its latest environmental policy or human resource program, it may look as though the real goal is public relations rather than sustainability. Resist the urge to announce your changes in some sort of advertising campaign. There’s nothing worse than a company that trumpets how ethical or environmentally friendly they are. It’s the art of talking the talk without walking the walk. SMEs can quietly and quickly adopt CSR philosophies in a very natural way. Consumers want us to be real.

Be Your Own Watchdog

It’s always good to schedule regular internal audits of your CSR policies. You may wish to put a small group of dedicated employees in charge of this activity since they will understand the business. The audit doesn’t have to be conducted with the precision of a Swiss watch, it’s simply a process check. Look at the areas you’ve chosen to focus on and ask “what was our original intent in making this change?” What have been our results to date and what, if anything, do we need to change? What gets measured gets done. If you’re serious about making the changes you’ll need to continuously take stock.

Get By With a Little Help From Your Friends

Network with other SMEs to share best practices and to work through any challenges unique to smaller businesses. Banding together as a buying group may have some benefits to help bring costs down for things like environmentally friendly packaging or free trade ingredients.

Organizations such as CBSR (Canadian Business for Social Responsibility) can provide support to their members in implementing CSR. There is strength in numbers and by sharing and comparing CSR strategies and successes with other SMEs, you’ll benefit from their knowledge as will they from yours.

Corporate social responsibility is a big issue. It takes understanding, patience, diligence and commitment to get it right. For those who wish to embrace sustainable practices, the true profit is a noble one indeed.

Michelle Brisebois is a marketing professional with experience in the food, pharmaceutical and financial services industries. She specializes in helping companies grow their brands. Michelle can be reached at On Trend Strategies by e-mail at: briseboismichelle@sympatico.ca.


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