Supply chain 17 November 2017

How your small business can embrace CSR in 2018 and make a difference

A viable CSR strategy boils down to creating a scheme that suits your business
A viable CSR strategy boils down to creating a scheme that suits your business

Writing for Business Advice, Rowena Perrott, general manager of cardboard box supplier Boxtopia, explains how owners of small firms can make a positive difference, locally and further afield, by embracing CSR in 2018.

Small business owners have the potential to do a lot of good in their local communities and the country as a whole by embracing corporate social responsibility (CSR). When a business adopts a CSR scheme, its management and employees are saying that they recognise the need for their business to make a contribution to society beyond its regular activities.

CSR can seem daunting for small businesses. When we think of examples of businesses engaging in charitable activities it’s easy to think about events and programs run by international corporations that eat up far too much time and money to be viable in most normal cases.

However, I believe that small and micro businesses can have a significant positive impact through coming up with a CSR strategy based on their existing activities. To help me illustrate some practical ideas, I gathered comments from other businesses of varying sizes around the UK to add to my own experiences.

My hope is that you’ll come away from this article with some ideas that you could implement come 2018.

When waste isn’t waste

Most small businesses produce waste materials of some kind. For businesses that make their own products, some of the materials used in manufacture are likely to be wasted. Other businesses may have equipment that they no longer use, such as warehouse machinery or office hardware.

Could your waste be used for something more than landfill fodder?

Cocofina brand manager Paola Toska explained that her coconut product company wanted to reduce food waste from their oil production. Instead of throwing out the coconut water that was produced as a by-product of the oil manufacture, Cocofina realised that they could ferment the water to make coconut vinegar.

By using a waste product in this way, the company took a step towards more sustainable food production and developed a brand new product. In addition, Toska said that the business has taken steps to reduce non-recyclable packaging, as packaging is a big environmental concern in the food industry.

I heard a very different example of how to use waste from Lloyd Williams, chairman of the Shredall SDS group. Williams explained how his company donated wooden pallets that they no longer needed to the recent fireworks night in the village near their head office, making up most of the wood on bonfire.

This may only be one small action, but as part of a wider CSR strategy it helps Shredall SDS to make a contribution to their local community, highlighting the range of benefits that can come from taking another look at waste products.

Reducing your environmental impact

This aspect of CSR is linked to waste reduction, which clearly has an environmental benefit, but incorporates a wider range of strategies. Being “green” isn’t necessarily what all business owners think of when they think about CSR, but as climate change remains at the forefront of the public consciousness, at least in the UK, being able to show environmental credentials is a way for a lot of small businesses to make a positive difference locally and beyond.

I don’t want to dwell on my own company much, but Boxtopia’s focus is mostly on sustainability. As we work almost exclusively with cardboard, we have to consider the sustainability of our raw materials. We also encourage our clients to recycle boxes once they’ve finished with them, through writing about the topic on our blog and including the messaging in emails.

This kind of strategy doesn’t cost anything and doesn’t take up too much time, so it’s perfect for smaller businesses who want to do something positive but don’t have the capacity for big changes.

If, however, you have some money to invest in environmental schemes, there are plenty of ways to reduce your business’s carbon footprint. Around this time last year, Business Advice published an article on the affordability of solar power that explained some ways businesses could use solar to cut their emissions. It’s not the right CSR strategy for every small business, but for some it could be the perfect way to boost environmental credentials and save money in the long term.

Leverage your expertise

Creating a CSR strategy that’s viable for your business and something that you’ll maintain in the long run ultimately boils down to creating a scheme that suits your business. Piccolo Foods told me that they run a One for One campaign, whereby they donate one baby food pouch to charity for every one bought in store.

Your business might not have the resources to match this, but could you donate x number of products to charity for every y sold. One for every ten, perhaps? Even one for every 100, if your products are pricier.

Another option, particularly for service-based businesses, is to get involved with local universities and colleges by offering free workshops for students or local businesses.

If you have an expertise in a certain field, like information security, customer relations or financial management, imparting some of your knowledge for free in these scenarios is a great way to build a presence in the local area. There would be a small time commitment, but very little in the way of cost.

A CSR scheme built on the expertise your business already has is not only sustainable, it can be very enjoyable for you and the employees who get to be a part of it.

Start thinking today

I’ve tried to give you some strategic ideas for CSR in 2018 in the hopes that you’ll be inspired to put something in place come January. For this to be a realistic target, start thinking today about what you could do.

To conclude, here are three questions to ask that could get your CSR scheme started:

  • What needs exist in your local area that your business could meet?
  • What expertise/products does your business have to offer that others could benefit from?
  • Do any of your employees have interests or charitable links that you could build on to kick off your scheme?

Rowena Perrott is general manager at Boxtopia

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