Productivity

The benefits of a socially responsible small business

Adam Turner
Technology Journalist

Adam Turner is a Sydney Morning Herald senior technology columnist who has been writing about the challenges facing Australian business for more than a decade

Adam Turner
Technology Journalist

Adam Turner is a Sydney Morning Herald senior technology columnist who has been writing about the challenges facing Australian business for more than a decade

Corporate social responsibility is about doing your bit for your community. It can boost your business’s reputation and also change how you see yourself.

We speak to some very different businesses about their mentoring, charity, community and environmental initiatives, to find out why they do it. Corporate social responsibility. That’s something for big business and multinational brands, right? Well… maybe not. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a blanket term which covers the various ways a business – of any size – takes responsibility for the environmental, financial and social ramifications of work that they do. Simply put, it’s about balancing out the planet after you make money from it. 

CSR is usually split into four major areas: sustainability, charity, volunteering and mentoring / training. It can take the form of everything from planting trees in the park behind your office to teaching underprivileged kids how to fix cars in your workshop after hours.

Sure, social responsibility programs are traditionally something only big business has the resources to deal with. But according to the NSW government’s Small Biz Connect program, CSR is becoming more widespread among smaller businesses. And not only does it raise a business’s profile in the community, it can change how a business perceives itself. The challenge is finding the right model to suit your business’s resources.

Corporate social responsibility is part of the scene for larger companies. So what can smaller businesses learn from the bigger guys?

hands and feet in circle

1. Use your specialised knowledge

“Much of Telstra’s community work is centred on bringing the social and economic benefits of the new communication technologies to all Australians. Our Everyone Connected programs support around 1.3 million Australians on low incomes to stay connected. We work with over 2000 community organisations — from large national organisations like the Salvation Army to smaller local community agencies like the Tangentyere Council in Alice Springs."

“Through the Telstra Foundation we support organisations like the Alannah and Madeline Foundation to roll out the eSmart cyber safety program to Australia’s 1500 public libraries. This supports library users to be safe, smart and responsible while they are online."

“Small to medium enterprises are often very active in their local community. Certificates of appreciation from local schools or hospitals are common in shopfront windows across Australia. Equally, small business owners are often disproportionately represented in local service clubs like Rotary and Lions. A good way to get involved is to ask your customers about worthwhile community initiatives.” 

— Tim O’Leary, chief sustainability officer, Telstra

2. If you go green, do more than recycle

“Making the decision that sustainability is something a business, or even a single person, can do requires more than just a first initial action. It requires planning to ensure that it can be followed easily. Within Husqvarna Australia we follow group practices and recycle as much of our packaging as possible, whether it’s paper, cardboard, plastics, metal etc." 

“One of the first steps all workplaces should take is to create an indoor green space. At Husqvarna we have green spaces in our break areas where staff can physically remove themselves from technology and clear their head. Make use of what you have at your disposal. Vertical gardens are easy to create and simple to maintain. As our Global Green Space Report 2013 has found, employees return from their break enthusiastic about their work and have reported improved concentration levels.” 

— Jessica Millard, marketing services manager, Husqvarna Group

3. Start In your local community

“At dosomethingnearyou.com.au you can sit down with your staff and find something that you, as a team, want to get behind and help… It doesn’t have to always be giving cash. It might be something where you all go and get involved in National Tree Day and plant some trees. It can be as simple as joining in the clean-up of your local community, or you go down and give a hand at the local soup kitchen, serving food or washing dishes."

“There are also many organisations that might benefit from your skill set. If you are an accountant maybe you can lend a hand with the books for a local charity. If you’re a lawyer maybe you can help by looking over the odd contract for a local community organisation. For most business owners it’s a natural instinct to help out in their local community, and if you can do that in a way that is effective and strategic it can be good for your bottom line, too."

“Basically, it’s common sense. If you’re seen to be playing an active, positive role within your community and giving back and helping out — if you give out good things, you get good things back.”

— Jon Dee, DoSomething! community network

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