life coaching

What is Corporate Social Responsibility (and Why Do You Care)?

You may have come across the term already. What is it? The latest buzzword in business, a vague concept that sounds good but means little? Or a genuine shift towards ethically- and environmentally-responsible business?

There's no universally-accepted definition for CSR as yet, but the definition offered by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development is a good starting-point:

"Corporate social responsibility is the continuing commitment by business to behave ethically and contribute to economic development while improving the quality of life of the workforce and their families as well as of the local community and society at large."

We're all aware of numerous scandals in the corporate world – from human rights abuses to ecologically-damaging practices. Whilst there is ongoing debate on where the obligations of organisations to society begin and end, it is becoming clear that consumers really can influence the decisions of companies to consider the ethical and ecological impact of their business.

So, where do you stand, and what can you do?

CSR and Soul Ambition
CSR and Consumers
CSR and Constituents
CSR and Employees
CSR and Your Business

CSR and Soul Ambition

At soulambition, all efforts are made to reduce, reuse and recycle. Printed materials are minimised, with e-communication being the preferred method of talking to clients and other interested parties. Wherever possible, printed materials (business cards, training manuals, etc.) are printed on recycled card or paper, and used materials, including printer cartridges, are recycled.

Although charitable work doesn't strictly fall under the umbrella of CSR, I see involvement in the community as going hand-in-hand with it. In soulambition's first year of business, I worked closely with Business in the Community, providing free life coaching to staff in local enterprise agencies and in the charitable and social enterprise sectors.

"I was very sceptical about life coaching but I’m so grateful for Tracy’s help. With each session I feel more and more positive about myself and my work. Her approach is energizing and realistic. I can’t recommend Soul Ambition highly enough!" [read on]
Jackie Bradley, Ardoyne Women’s Group (Belfast, Northern Ireland)

Since then I've done pro bono and/or heavily-discounted work with a number of individuals, small charities, community groups, youth groups and schools, in areas from confidence-building to stress management. Since I can only work with a small number of people at any time, I put materials online for free at the Dream It, Do It, Love It! blog, as well as writing a career coaching column for the Belfast Telegraph (see www.facebook.com/careerbuilders).

I've also recently volunteered as chair of the steering group for youth support charity Rathbone NI, and recently took to the streets of Belfast with their detached workers to see first-hand some of the work they do. It's a fantastic charity - read more about it here.

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CSR and Consumers

Don't underestimate the power of your pound! Businesses are being forced to review their policies and practices thanks to consumer pressure. Many companies are ramping up production of organic cotton products and FSC-certified wood products, minimising their packaging and using more recycled materials, etc. – they're getting wise to the fact that we as consumers care about where our products come from and how they are produced.

A fantastic source of information for you as a consumer can be found on http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/, and its sister site http://www.ethiscore.org which provides reports on the ethical 'ratings' of products and companies. Once you've informed yourself about the practices and production methods of your favourite shops, you can flex your consumer muscles by contacting those which don't come up to scratch and asking them to change their ways. When enough customers raise their voice, companies do listen. (Contact details for many popular clothes stores are listed in this article on organic cotton by The Ecologist. Did you know that cotton accounts for 16% of global insecticide release? Or that around 75% of cotton is produced in the developing world – where many of the pesticides routinely used are banned in the developed world? Find out more here – then put the pressure on your favourite clothes shops – or take your custom elsewhere. See the 'Ethical Consumerism' section on our links page for some of our favourite sites.)

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CSR and Constituents

You also, of course, have power as a voter. The Companies Bill finally made it through parliament late last year (albeit a watered-down version of the original proposal) to become the Companies Act 2006. Over 100,000 people contacted their MP on this one – including soulambition. The act requires that directors of public companies include information in their annual report on the societal and environmental impact of their business practices. (For more information, click here.)

You can contact your MP on this or any issue you care about via http://www.theyworkforyou.com/. You can also view any Early Day Motions they've signed up for, and contact them asking them to sign up to any you feel strongly about. Early Day Motions serve to raise awareness of various issues, particularly when they receive high numbers of MP signatures. Your MP does work for you, so use your voice!

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CSR and Employees

Is the company you work for socially responsible? Does it have fair, effective policies on fair employment, environmental impact, work-life balance, childcare? If not, speak up. Know your rights, and demand them. Get involved in the areas you really care about – lead your leaders by suggesting the formation of an environmental committee, or a work-life balance steering group, or by organising car pools. Ask your facilities manager to stock recycled paper. If the company aren't doing something you think they should be doing, talk to those in charge. And if they won't listen, perhaps it's time you moved to a company where they do.

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CSR and Your Business

"The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment."

So says Ray Anderson, the CEO of Interface Inc, who has been called the "greenest chief executive in America". The largest manufacturer of commercial carpet, Interface used petroleum and other natural products in the manufacture of its goods, with no consideration of the impact on the environment. But after reading Paul Hawkens' "The Ecology of Commerce" and realising the impact of his company on the environment, Anderson launched a far-reaching programme of change that revolutionised the way the company operated. He has turned Interface into an inspirational model of environmentally-friendly business - it has already developed the first climate-neutral carpet, based on biomimicry principles, and even recycles used carpet returned by customers, reusing the fibres to create new product. And, of course, by massively reducing its waste, it has massively reduced its costs. (You can read more about Anderson and his industrial revolution here.)

Whether or not you agree that organisations have a responsibility not only to their stakeholders, but to the communities they operate in and to the local and global environment, there is mounting evidence that being socially responsible is not just good for the bottom line, but that it may become crucial for succeeding in business at all. So...

What Can Your Business Do?

...Anything from switching to eco-friendly office supplies (see the links page), encouraging employees to car share or take public transport to work and reducing packaging/waste to reviewing your working practices as regards fair employment. Take a look at what businesses are doing worldwide to improve their ethical performance at http://www.bestpractices.org/.

Businesses in the UK can also work in partnership with Business in the Community to become more socially responsible, by getting involved with programmes and campaigns across 4 key areas:

  • Environment
  • Workplace
  • Social Impact
  • Economic Impact

Full information on the services and opportunities offered can be found on the Business in the Community website.

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