Posted by: balticcsr | 29 November 2010

A view from outside: Small Business CSR Mistakes

Sometimes, the view of an outsider, whether on the subject of CSR in general, or on the situation in the Baltic states in particular, can be very valuable. Therefore, we introduce a series called ‘A view from outside’, in which we ask a guest blogger to share his views on our blog. We kick it off with a very pragmatic post by David Connor from Coethica in the UK. His recent post about CSR mistakes that small and medium sized companies generally make in the UK, is a valuable lesson for companies in the Baltic States as well. The same misconceptions are valid here.

Here’s a quick list of CSR mistakes made by small businesses.
Some of the headings may sound a touch exaggerated, but trust me far worse happens in reality. Names have been withheld to protect the not so innocent!

Thinking CSR isn’t for smaller businesses
I had to put his first didn’t I? Think of CSR as a lens to improve your business performance. The core principles work at every level from pre-start up to multi-national. It should be about balance, innovation and unfortunately not so common sense.

Trying to hack your electricity meter won’t reduce your carbon footprint
The old days of the colourful myths surrounding tricks to stop, or slow down mechanical electricity / water / gas meters are fading fast, but not without an element of truth behind their origins, or at least in those attempting to beat the system. The point here is that either trying to manipulate the system or passing your carbon usage onto suppliers or customers is missing the point and will boomerang back and explode at a later date – not carbon offsetting. Nothing beats robust measurement, management and reporting!

Don’t claim ‘carbon neutrality’ because you planted some trees
For SMEs the term ‘carbon neutrality’ is usually a mirage. Yes it may exist but don’t waste your precious resource getting there anytime in the next 12 months. Carbon neutrality and offsetting do have a vital role to play when managed correctly but they are still abused terminology exploited by attention deficit marketeers. Spend most of your effort reducing the energy in the first place. Most small and medium-sized businesses waste about 20% of the energy anyway. What’s a fifth of your energy bill? Greenwashing is a no-no, so be careful about environmental claims you make – always ask an expert.

Being more charitable than a charity
Are you a registered charity? No, well then be careful with your resources! Think carefully and strategically about who and to what extent (financial & in-kind) you support good causes. Is it a pet project of the CEO or will it offer tangible value to both the company and those the partner charity aims to support? Most SMEs confuse the values of the owner / manager with those of the organisation. Partnering with local good causes can provide wonderful benefits and don’t be afraid to explore.  Try not to merely react to every request you get. Find a fruitful longer term relationship and look for help from the charities themselves.

Oh, and going to countless charity events isn’t ‘networking’ or marketing, unless you’re getting leads and business from it – it’s wasteful and indulgent.

Spending months creating a CSR strategy
There is nothing worse than a mighty sounding strategy that lives in a drawer. Just because somebody understands CSR and takes the time to write a formal document doesn’t mean the business is doing anything.  It’s more important to be doing (and measuring) what you know is adding value. Strategies only add value when they are alive and evolving.

This is a guest post by David Connor. David is a CSR consultant, who has spent eight years to make English Football Club Everton into a very respected pillar of the community, before setting up his own CSR consulting firm, Coethica. David is an active sharer of CSR information through his @davidcoethica twitter account and his blog. This post was originally posted there.

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