by Karen Gildea , Managing Partner , Amick Brown

Sustainability has been a recognized business strategy for the past decade or so.  Strategies to reduce the adverse impact that a corporation had the on the environment were the areas of focus.  Choices to invest in renewable resources, to institute recycling policies and reduce contributions to the pollution of our air and water were key.

Over the past 10 years the objective of sustainability has been shifting from a direct focus on environmental impact to a more far reaching objective that still includes environmental goals, but has also brought broader social concerns into focus as well.

In addition to environmental impact, companies are now paying attention to their employee’s and customer’s well-being and the well-being of the communities that they operate in.  Corporate Social Responsibility or CSR, has become a key business strategy for many global companies with 75% of them tracking and issuing CSR reports.  It is time for all responsible companies, big and small to get on board as well.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) defines Corporate Social Responsibility as “Recognition of the impact a corporation has on the lives of its stakeholders (including shareholders, employees, communities, customers, and suppliers) and the environment; can include corporate governance, corporate philanthropy, sustainability, and employee rights and workplace safety.”

There is a generally recognized principle of the 3 P’s when considering Corporate Social Responsibility:

  • Profit (Economic) – a company must be profitable to be sustainable into the future. A profitable company produces products and services that provide benefit, they pay employees and purchase goods and services which is good for the economy.
  • Planet (Environmental) – a company should have a sustainability strategy to minimize its negative impact on the environment and expanding the use of renewable resources.
  • People (Social) – carrying for employees through pay and benefits, helping them achieve a work/life balance, providing growth opportunities and treating them fairly will make them more productive in the organization. This will create a more sustainable workforce.  A company should also expand its focus to its surrounding community, suppliers and customers – the goal of which is to create a sustainable customer base.

Andrew Savitz represents this concept most concisely in his book “The Triple Bottom Line ”“A sustainable corporation is one that creates profit for its shareholders while protecting the environment and improving the lives of those with whom it interacts.”

Companies do not need to be large corporations to pursue CSR objectives.  Small businesses can and should participate as well.  By including a focus on providing long term value in addition to the pursuit of growth and profits, businesses big and small can advance their CSR impact.

The best way to start is to begin thinking about it – document it as a business strategy.  Think about it in terms of the 3 P’s and start small and simple.  Some ideas:

  • Profit – this one need not be further addressed as it is already a primary objective
  • Planet – with a little thought and planning, small businesses can establish internal processes that support a sustainable environment – simple approaches include:
    • instituting recycling
    • consciously reducing energy usage
    • evaluating suppliers and goods purchased based on their sustainability efforts
  • People – evaluate internal HR policies and employee relations for improvement opportunities:
    • recognize the needs of the employees in balance with the needs of the business; (e.g., flexible work schedules, support training opportunities, etc.)
    • ensure labor compliant and non-discriminatory business practices
    • look for volunteer or charitable opportunities in the community

A move toward CSR does not need to have a negative financial impact on a small business.  There are things that can be done without added cost.  Give it some thought and start small.

Do well by doing good!