CSR questions answered: How to choose your focus

In the first edition of CSR Explained in 3 Minutes, we explored the question ‘What is CSR?’, and learnt that it can help you overcome challenges in many areas of commercial activity. Whilst it’s valuable to be aware of the potential of CSR, and the exciting opportunities it offers a business, the first question many people ask is ‘how do I choose which areas are right for my business to focus on?

In this blog, we’ll be answering that question, and helping you identify areas in which CSR will effectively support your business objectives.

 

Two types of CSR

When considering CSR opportunities for your business, it is useful to identify two different areas of impact:

  • The first type of CSR can be considered general, incorporating business values and initiatives that contribute to a company’s performance and long-term sustainability. This kind of CSR includes areas such as employee support and benefits, minimising environmental impact, behaving ethically and doing work in the community to promote a positive public image.
  • The second type of CSR initiatives are designed to overcome specific business challenges, such a skills gaps, supply-chain and technology development, meeting legal commitments or developing infrastructure and prosperity within communities relevant to the business.

The two types of CSR very often overlap and most initiatives fulfil multiple objectives in one go. For example, community investment, even if intended to overcome a regional challenge such as a lack of suppliers, develops a positive brand image within that community and encourages employee engagement.

 

So, where should I focus my businesses CSR?

The first, more general type will benefit any business. Promoting employee welfare, investing in positive work environments, supporting the communities who keep your business going, are all tried and tested ways of improving business performance in a sustainable way.

The second is more complex and dependent on the challenges or opportunities specific to your business. We believe these three questions can help you explore potential ways CSR could add value to your business:

 

  • Does your business have any external commitments?

The most common examples are legal requirements, such as environmental restrictions, industry regulations, using local suppliers, or employee diversity. CSR programmes can be implemented to help fulfil those commitments, and create a situation in which they are favourable to the business rather than a compromise.

  • Does your industry or the regions your business operates within represent short or long term barriers to your business?

Consider what your business needs to survive and prosper into the future. Skilled workers, the benefits of a competitive labour market, economic prosperity, access to innovative technologies, local infrastructure, the right suppliers in the right place at the right time; these are all external factors that influence how a business performs. Through programmes a business can invest in cultivating the right external conditions for success, whilst adding value to its communities. Investing in people’s professional development, entrepreneurial ideas and welfare connects a business with the individuals who will help their business flourish in the future.

  • Does your business naturally align with a ‘cause’ which its expertise and assets could add value to?

Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, Nike’s extensive sponsorship of youth sport across the world, and Kenco’s Coffee vs Gangs are all examples of CSR initiatives in which a cause is aligned with the brand, its values and its communities. In each instance, the weight of the brand and the assets they bring to the table are natural connected. Is there a cause that your business could champion?