Yes but how does CSR help my bottom line?

December 20, 2013

Unlike the SME market, in corporates and large enterprises, CSR – Corporate Social Responsibility – as an active function is increasingly commonplace. Often a CSR or CR Manager has overarching responsibility or in some cases a virtual team made up of Learning and Development, Internal/Corporate Communications, HR, Health, Safety and the Environment, Procurement and Operations teams each of whom share the workload.

They find CSR increasingly integral to business, and put simply is considered the right thing to do, but also brings many business benefits. CSR includes many things, and can be used to attract, develop and retain employees.   Giving back and charity fundraising is one way employees can get fully involved, and work closely with the communities in which they are based. The idea of working for an organisation where volunteering activity is  permitted during work hours, is considered a useful way for staff to develop new skills and experiences, whilst offering their time and expertise to the cause.

Business benefits for companies who actively engage in CSR activities include enhanced business/product reputation, engaged existing and future employees, business compliance, improved operational effectiveness and financial gain. In this way companies do not only focus on the bottom line profit instead they take a holistic view of people, planet and profit working together.

Phoenix Group is one such company who actively promotes their CSR agenda with the aim of building a long-term sustainable business. They have been included in ‘Britain’s Top Employers’ listing for a second year, and use CSR activity to help create an engaged workforce. Their programme focuses on four key areas: environment, workplace, community and external stakeholders (suppliers, customers). They believe that operating responsibly creates value for their business through building the trust and confidence of all stakeholders.

As well as reaching out to schools in the communities in which they operate, (Wythall, London and Glasgow) they recognise that a fundamental part of their business is paper generation based. So they have recently commenced a partnership programme by creating ‘The Phoenix Way’ – their own plantation of 1,000 trees in the Heart of England Forest. Environmentally, the merits of this are clear. From a stakeholder engagement perspective – employees, customers and suppliers can visit the area, even volunteering alongside the Head Forester Stephen Coffey to nurture the saplings through every stage. They also have plans to involve local primary school children in nature education sessions next year.

Lucy Symonds,  CR Manager at Phoenix Group said, “By planting trees in The Heart of England Forest we feel it important that we are doing something tangible in our local community, which will be around for future generations to benefit from.  We have sponsored an area of woodland which will be open to the public, and forms part of our ongoing CSR commitment. It’s great to know that we are helping to create England’s largest native broadleaf forest and that this in the future will be a thriving wildlife woodland in the Warwickshire countryside. The Phoenix Way wood is planted  primarily with oak.”

Organisations of all sizes as well as private individuals – regularly sponsor tree planting. From an environmental perspective the cost of entry is low to build this in as part of an active CSR plan. Carole Longden from Longden Ltd who brought the charity together with Phoenix Group is enthusiastic about the business benefits of tree planting, “The Heart of England Forest provides a perfect biodiverse playground for organisations to demonstrate their commitment to enhancing the local environment, employee engagement, supporting school visits, and generally improving peoples’ wellbeing and fitness. It also provides a lasting legacy for generations to come.”

In such a charitable nation as the UK, the role of corporate philanthropy is vital as substantial sums make a vast difference to those charitable organisations struggling to access much sought after funding in order to survive.

Certainly within the SME market, there are also many other organisations doing outstanding work for charity whether that is through donation or volunteering. For example First Impressions Ltd, the personal appearance and behaviour consultants, use their skills to help coach long-term unemployed people in how best to position themselves to successfully find work. They also provide advice and coaching for recovering chemotherapy patients needing confidence and new styling skills to cope with changes in their appearance. In the course of their normal client delivery, they are gaining positive feedback and repeat business based on how employees experiencing personal brand, behaviour and communications training feel valued, invested in and more likely to stay in the business.

Another example are leadership coaches – who actively work with The Right Stuff Amateur Boxing club a successful and unique project to engage young people and tackle youth crime and anti-social behaviour. More than 500 young people actively participate in this group and there are aspirations to cultivate future Olympians from this and future cohorts.

But there is a widespread assumption in the SME sector that corporate social responsibility is ONLY about charitable giving or volunteering.

SME’s like Coventry based diamond drillers D-Drill and De Marco Solicitors – are proud advocates of apprenticeships for example. D-Drill MD Julie White has even put herself through their apprentice scheme to lead by example. With a million unemployed young people – this kind of support makes a tangible impact on up skilling individuals into areas where specialist skills are needed.

Customers and suppliers will often expect to see a commitment to CSR as part of the tendering process. Ethics, trust, environmental credentials, employee development and well-being and crucially, leading by example, are vital attributes of business reputation. Actions do of course speak louder than words.

Pub Stuff Limited, an SME who supply nearly new/second-hand and new contract furniture to Hotels, Pubs, Bars, Cafes and Hospitality areas have built their business around the current demand for ‘upcycled’ furniture and also their range of sustainable new custom built contract furniture which they commission from soft rubberwood derived from latex producing trees. Latex is of course used to produce all rubber-based products that can be found around the globe.

Once the latex has been drained from the tree, after a usage of around 26 – 30 years, the tree is considered to be waste and is felled with a new tree planted in its place. This therefore presents an opportunity to create new durable furniture using wood that will not deplete vital resources and whose sole existence is not only to produce furniture.

Ian Huband, Pub Stuff Ltd MD, will be talking on their approach to sustainable products and having an ethical supply chain at the upcoming event at Ragley Hall on 11th February 2014.

So as the economy shows the first glints of recovery, SME’s wishing to be as well placed and focused as corporates in putting their best feet forward would do well to consider how the outlay need not be great, when implementing a CSR philosophy and action plan. Simple actions could yield significant dividends when attracting and retaining the best employees, or demonstrating environmental, community and ethical credentials to attract like-minded clients or investment.