Corporate Social Responsibility for Smaller Companies

Good people. Good business. Better world.

Many companies have earned good publicity by doing great things in their communities. For example:

  • small business corporate social responsibility

    Signage on the wall at an ice cream store in Nevada. Flickr/ATIS547

    Campbell Soup Company is in the midst of a five-year, $10-million effort to help revitalize aging neighborhoods near its headquarters in Camden, N.J.

  • Ford Motor Co. gives away millions of dollars every year to help fund fellowships for graduate students in 22 countries.
  • Procter & Gamble estimates that since 2007, it has assisted 315 million children by giving away 2.9 billion liters of clean water.

But corporate social responsibility (CSR)—a company’s commitment to behave ethically and improve the quality of life for its employees, its community, and the world—is not reserved for Fortune 500 companies.

About 90 percent of businesses polled in the United States, including some very small ones, practice some sort of CSR, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. And many people believe that the percentage is actually higher because some small businesses perform CSR activities without even realizing that what they’re doing falls into that category.

CSR encompasses a lot of different things that small businesses can—and should—do as part of their operations. Here are five simple but important ways a small company can practice CSR:

1. Give to charity.

The Fords and Campbell Soups of the world do it, and smaller businesses do too. Peninsula Cleaning Services, Inc., a 175-employee firm in Virginia that specializes in cleaning hospitals and doctors’ offices, gives 10 percent of its profits to charities and other non-profit agencies, such as the YMCA, the American Diabetes Society, the Leukemia Foundation and many others. Kelvin Copeland, its president, said, “That’s part of who we are.”

2. Recycle.

Sounds simple—almost too simple—but recycling is just as much a CSR activity as any other. Lions Bridge Financial, a financial services firm in Virginia, was unimpressed that its landlord provided no place for its employees to discard recyclables, but the team decided to separate them anyways.

Now the company President takes the recylcing home on their behalf. Just as you should when you’re making charitable donations, record what you’re recycling, so that you can work to increase your recycling efforts and reduce your waste production.

3. Start a volunteering program.

This can take on a lot of different forms. Huntington-Ingalls Industries, a company that builds ships for the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard, has a long-term program where white- and blue-collar workers tutor at-risk children in their communities.

Small business owners can encourage their employees to volunteer at local schools, hospitals and libraries. Many companies show their support for this by paying their employees when they leave work to volunteer their time, whether it’s mentoring children or picking up trash on the side of the road.  

4. Reduce energy usage.

Large companies set goals to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Small companies can reduce their energy usage and save money by using solar energy, keeping lights off when they’re not needed, and turning down the air conditioning and the heat, especially during times when no one is at work.

5. Scrutinize your suppliers.

Consider getting a new supplier if yours has done something unethical or illegal, or is a polluter. More and more companies are requiring their vendors to meet specific greenhouse gas measurement requirements as the price of doing business.

CSR makes sense for small companies for the same reason that it makes sense for big ones: It’s the right thing to do, and customers love the businesses that do it. Just remember that CSR is a long-term strategy, not a one-time financial donation.

If you haven’t started, don’t put it off any longer. Start small. Incorporate corporate social responsibility into all aspects of your business. And keep looking for ways to do it better.


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