It may seem like just buzzwords right now, but soon “social responsibility” is going to change the way your company does business. Why? In the next few years, if your company isn’t socially responsible, you’re going to be left in the dust.
“If you aren’t a socially responsible business now,” says Shel Horowitz, green/ethical marketing consultant and co-author of Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green: Winning Strategies to Improve Your Profits and Your Planet, “your market is going to leave you behind within the next few years. It’s going to become a rule of doing business.”
“When you have a socially responsible business plan, it’s putting you in line with the trajectory of how business is being thought about now,” says Summer Rayne Oakes, co-founder of Source4Style, an online marketplace that connects the fashion industry with sustainable materials from around the world. “Having a socially responsible business plan and being able to communicate that internally to your employees and being able to communicate it externally to your consumers, as well as your shareholders, is going to reduce risk.” Socially responsible businesses also tend to attract higher quality job applicants as well as a more loyal customer base, says Horowitz. “If you survive the screening process that they’re going to put you through, they will be evangelists for you,” he says.
Convinced? Read on to find out five ways to incorporate socially responsible practices into the way your company does business.
1. Donate (Your Money and Your Time)
“Focus on community service. Don’t just condone it, normalize it. Work with HR or operations to make giving back easy for your employees. Arrange regular employee volunteer days, and don’t require that vacation time is used for them,” says Jonathan Hsu, CEO of Recyclebank, a website and online community that offers rewards for environmentally friendly actions. He also suggests enabling your team to make automatic paycheck donations to their charity of choice, and partnering with and donating part of your company’s profits to a public-facing charity. Some of the charitable programs Recyclebank has partnered with have included NatureBridge, Alliance for Climate Education, and MillionTreesNYC.
When choosing partner charities, we recommend focusing on organizations that are in tune with your company’s own core values and mission,” says Hsu. “We also suggest including one or two local charities, which will help all employees feel a personal connection to the group.”
2. Sweat the Small Stuff
Often the easiest way to kick off your plan of becoming a socially responsible company is to start with the small things that are easy to change, such as changing the tea and coffee in your break room to fair trade brands.
Once you’ve changed the little things, you can dig a bit deeper. “Examine the environmental practices of your local goods and service providers. Ensure they are transparent in communicating their own impact and strive to use materials that are eco-conscious and not toxic,” says Hsu. “Look at who is making the products that you are using as a business, and who is making the products that you are reselling as a business. What are their practices like? Are they paying a fair wage? Are they establishing good, safe working conditions?” says Horowitz.
“Get employees to contribute their ideas. You’ll probably find that they have better ideas than you,” says Horowitz. “Create a culture of collaboration; emphasize how you’re all in this together to make this company a participant in a better world.” Hsu suggests regular surveys or an open-door policy to encourage employee feedback and idea-sharing. “Great ideas come from all levels. Start a Green Team composed of a mix of employees, which is something we have at Recyclebank. When new ideas and programs are generated from this group, it encourages broader employee adoption.”
Also make sure you’re communicating your initiatives with partners and shareholders, as well as your employees, who can all help spread the word. And don’t forget your customers, too. E-newsletters and social media can be a great way to let people know about your initiatives, as well as find new ideas.
4. Get out of the Office
Oakes takes her team on monthly field trips to engage them firsthand on sustainable and local business practices. Recently, they’ve been everywhere from a recycling center to a textile arts center to a button factory. Ask your employees where they’d like to go, and incorporate volunteering into your office trips. “Some of the coolest companies I’ve seen are really supportive of their employees who are engaged in their own kind of volunteer efforts. It’s a brilliant opportunity,” she says.
5. Start from the Top
“As a business owner, it’s up to you to set the tone for social responsibility among employees,” says Hsu. “Make it ingrained in your corporate identity and fabric so it’s part of everything you do. This way, it won’t seem like a daunting undertaking but instead a part of daily operations.” In order to have the right company culture in place, says Oakes, a business must also have understanding from partners and shareholders. “And that’s not always easy to create,” she says. However, a small part of the team making strides to make your business more socially responsible can lead to big changes down the road, both for your company and the future of your industry.
“You can shift the culture in about two years, but it’s got to be two years of consistent, honest, committed, and sincere efforts,” says Horowitz. But at the end, he says, “You will have a cleaner conscience. You’ll be able to say, ‘We are doing right by the world.’”