Is Your Business Socially Responsible?

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If you are a business owner, you’ve probably heard about becoming “socially responsible.” Exactly what does this mean? And why does it matter to your business?

n a nutshell, being socially responsible means your business is positively impacting society through three main channels: the environment, philanthropy and ethical labor practices. Of course, improving your bottom line at the same time goes without saying.

It used to be that business owners dismissed this notion of social responsibility, regardless of the effects on the environment and on social relationships. But today, things are different. It’s almost as if there is a change of heart going on in the business world. Experts agree that consumers have played a major role in this new paradigm shift by using their purchasing power to force companies to rethink their views on social issues.

One of the strongest arguments to implement social responsibility in your business can be found in the 2015 Cone Communications Millennial CSR Study, measuring corporate social responsibility, which illustrated the connection between profitability and social responsibility. The study found that among millennials, the group quickly becoming the demographic that marketers must target for sustainable success, corporate social responsibility is imperative. An astonishing 91 percent of millennials polled indicated that they would switch brands to one associated with a cause! And 66 percent would use social media to engage around CSR.

Assuming you want to grow your business, it seems you may have an opportunity to do good and make money at the same time if you embrace CSR. Delving deeper into the three ways you can incorporate social responsibility into your business model, let’s take a look at some of these opportunities.

Environmentally, are you geared toward practices such as recycling, water conservation or utilizing green materials where possible? Do you systematically recycle paper and buy only paper that has been recycled? Better yet, do you embrace more digital output at the office? Perhaps you can use ground shipping instead of air shipments that use more fuel.

In regard to philanthropy, does your business support charities with time or money? Do you provide your employees opportunities for them to volunteer in the community? Do you give them a day off during National Volunteer Week?
Some companies are using philanthropy as a marketing tool for branding. In the 1980s, American Express started the trend called “cause-related marketing” by supporting the Statue of Liberty Restoration. They raised $1.7 million in three months by donating a percentage of every new card issued.

A number of advantages come from this type of marketing, not the least of which is improving your company’s awareness, credibility and likability. Just be sure you do careful research and planning before jumping into a charity. Knowing just how much is enough and which charity is the best to reflect your company culture can be difficult. You need to make sure that you don’t give away too much. The idea is not to hurt your business’ bottom line. Also beware of unethical charities; you don’t want to pay into a charity that is unethical or that sends a message contrary to your company’s values.

As for ensuring ethical labor practices, are you treating all of your employees fairly and ethically? Have you considered giving your employees travel allowance benefits so they can spend more time with their families? Any effort to improve work-life balance goes a long way, even if it’s just an outside company coming in to do health screenings or massages.

Keeping employee safety on the job a top priority is another ethical labor practice that alleviates demoralized workers, public relations nightmares and legal issues. Enhancing your employees’ skills through continuing education and training promotes loyalty and commitment, which in turn means lower employee turnover.

Supporting fair trade and ethically made goods is yet another socially responsible practice that your business can adopt. In addition to encouraging your employees to support fair trade in their personal lives, you can also check your business resources to be sure fair practices are in play. This not only helps your business become more responsible, it helps thousands of people across the world by assuring them a fair price for their goods and services, which helps to improve the livelihood of their communities.

At the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show, Intel’s CEO announced they would be the first to produce and ship only conflict-free microprocessors. This meant that the minerals used to make their chips would not be sourced from mines that pass on profits to warlords. This level of commitment builds loyalty all around, from the mine worker to the consumer who purchases a computer.

Whether you begin by focusing on the environment, your community, your employees or a local charity, most business owners agree that social responsibility leads to more success, and isn’t that what it’s all about anyway? ■

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