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The decade long introduction to Corporate Social Responsibility is finally yielding some positive traction. There are still those who insist that the purpose of CSR is to promote sustainablility claims to cover a dubious environmental record. The term “Greenwashing” implies that, by coating the positive efforts of a large corporate in shiny environmentally friendly green, they distract from their harmful behaviours, actions and impacts.
And there is, of course, the argument that big corporate manufacturers, causing a world of waste and environmental devastation, could in fact utilise their CSR resources to instead fund the creation of less harmful products. Sadly, both are valid points in many cases, and particularly in Asia: although there is increasing amounts of positive activity, there is still too much harm.
The way I see it, there is no quick fix to the global impact humans are having on our immediate environment. Where we think there is demand, and therefore profit, we will continue to manufacture, despite the carnage we leave in our wake. And while CSR might not be able to stop them in their tracks, it is, for the first time, highlighting accountability. It’s turning a spotlight on companies themselves and, at the very least, asking them to be aware of their impact.
The benefits of CSR far supersede the stigma. And thankfully according to the Nielsen poll in 2015, shoppers are placing importance on ethically sourced products too. 66% of global consumers are willing to pay more for environmentally sustainable products. This figure jumps to 72% for our millennial compatriots which is brilliant! Employing a measure of CSR goes a long way for a company’s reputation these days.
In the eyes of clients, customers and employees, it’s no longer a question of why you should implement CSR, it’s a question of how.
CSR initiatives will differ greatly company to company. Knowing ones business inside and out shouldn’t be too tall a request for most directors. Understanding what constitutes credible corporate behaviour in the context of the company's operations should fall within this remit.
There is, however, a broader responsibility in knowing who all your suppliers are and whether their practice is in fact complimentary to your enterprises? How are they placed on ecological considerations? Where do they sit on the fifty shades of green scale? Can your liaisons be improved upon from an environmental perspective?
These are important conversations and often mutually advantageous ones. The core of CSR is to benefit both the business and society, providing opportunity to evaluate every facet of internal operations.
Having control of external case and practice is not always easy but keeping a handle on things under your own roof is where the responsibility means the most.
It’s important to know the basics of what constitutes CSR activity within a company. Large or small, the core principles are the same; fair trade, safe workplace environment, ethical practice. Protecting primary social and environmental values relating to your business. This may be where the line blurs for some, but while the context might blur, don’t let the integrities. There is always more that can be done!
-Recycling. Make it paramount! Have the right bins in the right spots and push a recycle happy workplace.
-Reduce waste. Give each staff member a permanent cup for morning coffee and drink bottles that can be refilled from filter taps in the office so as to avoid buying single use cups and bottles each day.
-Go paperless. Encourage less meaningless print by opting for the digital soft copy. Macquarie Bank implemented a simple key card that had to be tapped on the printer in order for the copy to print and made a whirlwind difference to the amount of forgotten copies that sat in the collection tray.
-Paper towels are another office favourite to waste uncontrollably. Go for the washable cloth option.
-Encourage power-down overnight for ALL electronics and power outlets. It’s a simple habit that will stick if it’s pushed enough.
-Desk lamps can replace giant overhead fluorescents that light an open-plan office.
These simple implementations in the day-to-day of how an office runs can make a world of difference. Being constantly alert to the new issues and considerations is key. There is always more we can be doing to soften our carbon footprint but being mindful is a good place to start.
CSR extends further than in-house sustainability. The giving back factor plays a big role in CSR today. “Giving” doesn’t always involve a signed cheque, so assess your best means of contribution and let it be known. Some companies like to get their staff involved in deciding where best their charitable efforts should be going.
One company I worked for let the respective teams from each division run the ‘give-back’ programme for one month of each calendar year. The team was allowed to pick the directive for the month. We were allotted hours on which we were allowed to work on the task and we had to project manage it as a job effectively. Our time was the immediate expense with a handful of resources, mostly internal. Depending on the strategy, it would be promoted internally or externally to community or clients. There was, of course, a deadline at month end and the results debrief. Some extraordinary outcomes came from this drive. The most memorable being the painting of an entire school in a run down neighbourhood over two very busy weeks with donated time and paint!
By global standards, we were a small corporate. Some of the giants have got extraordinary programmes on offer. Millennials today flock to Accenture who run a programme for their employees to travel to Africa and build homes in rural areas. It’s not a competition but perhaps it ought to be. The most ethical of all competitions in existence!
There is a great deal of help to be given out there and it takes more than a company to grant its employees the hours in which to make that difference. It’s instilling a vested interest in what it really means to be the difference and have that valued impact.