When it comes to being environmentally friendly and community minded, many people look only at large corporations and what they’re doing. Yet climate change and positive community development affect everyone, and modern consumers are demanding a reaction from even small businesses. The trouble is that many small business owners confuse Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) with charity and often believe they can’t contribute much due to their small size and purse. The truth is, there are principles at work here that small business owners should embrace.
Corporate Social Responsibility has many forms, and doesn’t always come with a hefty price tag. It’s about businesses being aware of their impact on the physical environment and stakeholders. And, according to SuperGreen Solutions, which partners with the United Nations on a global initiative, there are several benefits to be derived from building a more sustainable business.
- Lower Operational Costs
- Increased Operating Performance
- Improved Employee Morale
- Competitive Differentiation resulting in Increased Revenues
- Market Leadership
In a nutshell, these benefits are derived from focusing on the principles of reduce, reuse, recycle, which has been altered to now include rethink, refuse, and re-purpose. While the full details of this updated philosophy is material for another article, think about what these practices require small business to do. The result is creative solutions that work toward a leaner process, maximizing on resources within an ethical and moral context. It’s a win for communities and a win for business.
Let’s say you own a clothing outlet, how would this new framework look for you? Consider the following ideas:
Stop a moment and think about the plastic and other non-biodegradable waste your systems are producing. This includes packaging, office, and transaction waste. Are there any missed opportunities to adopt more sustainable and eco-friendly options? Most people don’t notice how much waste they produce, and haven’t even thought about how they can do better. Simply taking the time to contemplate your situation can open you up to possibilities you may never otherwise encounter.
Allow customers the opportunity to refuse certain items such as boxes, bags, and other packaging. In addition to monitoring the packaging of the items you purchase or create for resale, looking into the practices of your suppliers could be enlightening. Refuse to work with suppliers who engage in damaging or inhumane practices. Think about things like harmful dyes, fabric from non-sustainable sources, clothes produced at sweat-shops.
Reducing the amount of waste produced should be a step easier now that you’ve thought about what you need, your systems, and how you can make better choices. Using digital receipts instead of printed ones, or even reducing the size of your receipt can make a difference. Adopting energy efficient lighting fixtures, and ensuring that all systems are working at acceptable ranges, would reduce energy requirements.
One of the most popular options is to provide reusable shopping bags for customers, rather than disposable bags. You can also reuse things like clothes hangers and displays. Even seasonal decorations can be spruced up and reused rather than purchased new for each holiday or sale event.
Buy recycled items whenever you can, and choose items that use recyclable materials. Additionally, think about making it easier for your community to recycle by being a station for customers to drop off items for recycling. Quite often people would like to recycle more, but there aren’t any easily accessible stations to drop items.
This is different from recycling because you’re now using an item in a different way from its intended purpose. Recycling is about breaking the item down and creating something new. Displays and other storewide decorations can be made from repurposed items. Boxes and other inevitable packaging can be utilized elsewhere in the store. Identify items that can be used for art and craft, which may be sold at minimal cost or donated to schools instead of thrown in the bin.
The relationship between CSR and brand awareness is something that large corporations understand, so while they go about their duty with an eye on being environmentally friendly and supporting community initiatives, they are also fully aware of what that means to their corporate image. Environmental consciousness is increasing, and companies which take the time to be responsible are looked upon more favourably by customers, employees, and other stakeholders. The message being sent is that these corporations care about the people they impact, and there’s no greater incentive to buy than that. Even though this should not be your primary goal when undertaking these initiatives, taking a page from big business in this regard will impact positively on the bottom line.
Shelley-Ann Edwards-Barran is a writer, editor, writing coach, speaker, and advocate for better writing instruction. She is the CEO of WERD Coach Ltd., a company dedicated to helping writers at many levels – children, academics, authors.