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A good CSR strategy can sometimes seem like the holy grail. With no set model and any number of different best practice guidelines, misconceptions abound about what makes a CSR strategy effective and a useful part of business. This means some businesses view CSR as an added extra rather than an extremely helpful facet of business with potential for enormous benefits. Here we’ve gathered together four of the most common misconceptions about good CSR to help you nip them in the bud.
“It’s All About the Money”
This is a big one. We’ve written before about how a hangover from the irresponsible exploitation of CSR by businesses in the 80s has led to a public conception that CSR is just businesses throwing money at a problem with little thought. This can damage public engagement with CSR efforts. It can also stop businesses with little money to spare from developing a CSR strategy.
In fact, research has shown that the key to an effective CSR strategy isn’t in the amount you invest, but how you employ the resources and expertise you do have. Plus, there are lots of ways to do CSR which aren’t very expensive at all, and might even save you money. A 2017 report by Ceres revealed that 190 Fortune 500 companies had collectively saved $3.7 billion dollars in 2016 alone through energy efficiency and renewable energy initiatives.
“We Won’t Profit”
So we’ve already seen that CSR strategies can save you money, but the lingering conception that a business’ CSR activities are completely separate from its profit-making ones means that a lot of businesses are missing out on opportunities to make money and make the world a better place at the same time.
A good CSR strategy can be profitable both in terms of raising your business profile and accumulating cold hard cash. In particular, businesses which integrate their CSR efforts with their business endeavours, rather than treating them as an optional extra, can create new and profitable opportunities for themselves. Take for example IKEA’s Sustainable Life at Home range, a series of products designed to help customers save on energy, water and waste. Sales of these products clocked in at 1.7 billion euros this year – not to be sniffed at.
“It’s All About Public Relations”
Having just mentioned that good public relations are an outcome of effective CSR, we want to emphasise that they aren’t the only benefit. If your business isn’t public facing, it’s tempting to think of CSR as superfluous. If you don’t need the public relations boost, why bother?
As we’ve already seen, a solid CSR strategy can boost profitability and save on business costs. It can also support the long-term viability and growth of a business, and help you to build stronger business partnerships and stakeholder relationships.
Unilever, for example, is using its CSR strategy to create stable and sustainable supply chains for its products, which will surely give it an advantage over competitors in the years to come.
“It Doesn’t Matter What You Do As Long As You Do Something”
We’ve already talked about how money isn’t the be-all and end-all of CSR but, unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that all CSR strategies have equal value either. Some businesses tend to think that anything is better than nothing, and that might be true, but what you do can make the difference between a mediocre CSR strategy and a great one.
Good CSR involves careful planning and playing to your company’s strengths. Anyone can paint a fence, and it’s useful, but if your company can offer unique services like website building that’s a more productive use of employee time and skill, it fits better with your values as a company, and it’s probably more helpful in the long run. It also makes CSR efforts seem less superficial, which can lead to increased employee engagement and public image gains.
One example of this is UK law firm Mayer Brown, which is working with refugee charity Breaking Boundaries to offer prestigious work placements and pro bono legal advice. These aren’t things the average volunteer can provide, and will surely be enormously helpful as well as fitting within the firm’s ethos and skillset.
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