The days when companies could act how they wanted are well and truly over. We demand the highest levels of honesty, integrity and transparency from the companies we buy from and the people we engage with. And so we should.
The statistics spell it out in black and white too. 88% of consumers are more likely to buy from a company that supports and engages in activities to improve society, according to Better Business Journey, a UK Small Business Consortium.
It's becoming more important for businesses of all sizes to give corporate social responsibility serious thought. CSR sits at the heart of a business, playing a big role in its long-term growth, success and the happiness of everyone involved in it.
Why now though? Well, social media has played a pretty big part in giving individuals louder voices and one that can be seen by anyone, anywhere in the world. News and information is on-demand and immediate. And as we all know, bad news travels a lot faster than good news.
We've entered an age where businesses need to take responsibility for their actions or prepare for the repercussions, which more often than not can be reputation ruining.
BP’s 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is an example which springs to mind. News of the catastrophe went viral, near enough ruining their reputation. The calamity cost BP just shy of $5 billion, its first loss in 19 years. This just goes to show that today, without good contingency planning and some well-thought out CSR, companies are flirting with financial disaster.
This applies even more to businesses in the public eye. The media – as we are all too aware – take delight in uncovering controversy. Give any journalist the merest sniff of a controversial news story and they’ll have your share price falling faster than a lead balloon in seconds. Just imagine the job the PR team at BP had on their hands in the summer of 2010...
You've got to believe in the value of CSR, as opposed to developing a strategy because you feel obliged to. Three in five people in the UK would rather work for a company whose values are consistent with their own. Regardless of whether you plan to bring in staff or remain a one-man band, it's a facet of a business which is expected to be alive and breathing.
But what about corporate social responsibility for freelancers and contractors – bearing in mind that the only employee to keep happy is themselves? Well, just like their larger counterparts, independent professionals are businesses in their own right too, so anything to build reputation, improve relationships and win new business is worth giving the time of day.
True, it isn’t easy. Those working alone don't usually typically have access to the financial resources of big businesses – let alone the time. That said, it’s doable, and a little can go a long way.
Take a real interest in the community
Get in touch with local schools and offer work placements for enthusiastic students or even donate a day’s wages to a local charity. Developing relationships with people in your community will give your business positive publicity and open doors.
Address that carbon footprint
From driving a fuel- efficient car to and from client sites, to asking yourself if you really need to print that document – every little helps when it comes to reducing the impact your business. With 86% of UK adults stating that the environment is the most important issue for companies, you would be foolish to ignore your carbon footprint.
Make money, ethically
How you as a business operate in your marketplace is a core area of CSR. This ranges from working with and for honest businesses, delivering on your promises, to building your business around a mission or an idea which ties into benefitting others.
Make your place of work the place to work
For freelancers and contractors working alongside employees for long periods of time or for human resource consultants, focus on creating a workplace which prides itself on liberating employees.
All businesses go through peaks and troughs but for freelancers thinking about putting a CSR strategy into action, consistency is key. Regardless of whether you have growth plans, or you’re struggling to make ends meet, don’t give up on it. Time invested in CSR could prove to be invaluable – not to mention good for your self-esteem. It's something which is as good for the soul as it is for your finances, the people you work alongside and the wider world.
What does your corporate social responsibility look like?