Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a self-regulating business model that helps a company be socially accountable to itself, its stakeholders and the public in general.
The key here is ‘self-regulating’. It encourages companies to furrow their own paths in terms of where their values lie, and how they structure and organise themselves to meet self-imposed goals, values and targets.
There are no legislative sticks encouraging these guidelines. This is an open initiative that focuses on incorporating good practice that enhances society and the environment, instead of acting against it. For the company in question, it impacts positively on its overall brand image, helps to raise morale in the workplace, and has a positive impact on society as a whole.
How long is a piece of string?
Following legislation actually simplifies processes for a company – you have a strict set of guidelines that you follow as you need to make sure that you comply to those guidelines. A battery manufacturer, for example, will know that its ATEX cells must conform to DSEAR Dangerous Substances and Explosive Regulation 2002 to ensure that it fulfils its responsibility in terms of Health & Safety legislation. It’s black and white – you either conform, or you do not.
When it comes to CSR, you could ask, how long is a piece of string? And who decides how long that string needs to be?
In 2010 the ISO International Standards Organisation released ISO26000 to help companies implement CSR. The difference to most ISO standards is that ISO26000 is purely guidance, rather than requirements. Because CSR is considered ‘qualitative, rather than ‘quantitative, it is impossible to measure the results against set standards.
ISO26000 clarifies what social responsibility is and help companies translate CSR principles into practical actions.
From principles to practice
First of all, you need to decide in which area you want to concentrate your CSR energies. These are split into four areas – philanthropic, environmental, ethical and economic. Make sure whichever category you choose – and it can be a mix of them all, depending on the size of your company and how it is sectioned off – that it integrates with your overall company ethos, both complementing, and helping to drive forward key objectives.
Build from the bottom up
While a CSR plan needs to be driven by the company leadership, its employee base needs to be given ownership. Every single employee needs to be invited to participate and contribute, and those who are highly motivated encouraged to embrace those less motivated by inviting them in to help brainstorm and identify other areas they may be more passionate about. Proactivity leads to activity which in turn leads to momentum. And momentum grows.
The beauty of a CSR is that it gives you a platform on which to approach local organisation and community partners. This is when you start to see a CSR truly start to bloom and bear fruit. It is the hands on, rolling up the sleeves and contributing to a warts and all project that you realise gives a CSR the absolute value that it is intending to achieve.
One example of a CSR in action is Tentree – a Canadian sustainable company. The company was established in 2012, with CSR firmly embedded into their original business model. For every item of clothing they sell, they plant 10 new trees. When customers make a purchase, they receive a unique code that helps them track the exact tress that their purchase contributed to. Planting takes place across the globe, and TenTree undertakes community projects in the local areas, helping in areas such as education, drinking water, job creation, sustainable development and more.