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Adapting CSR for Small Business

Businessman Giving to the Community

Discussions about corporate social responsibility (CSR) are often reserved for large multinational companies. Their size and durability gives them an opportunity to tackle some long-term societal challenges. However, it is false to conclude that corporate citizenship is exclusively the domain of larger enterprises. In fact, many small companies do more for their local communities per capita than their larger brethren. CSR occupies a different place in these firms. Many practices, from starting a CSR initiative to tracking results, are done quite differently in small enterprises. Regardless, corporate citizenship continues to be an important part of the small business community. It is worth examining in some detail.

First Steps

For many small businesses, the idea of implementing a set of CSR policies seems daunting. What is often forgotten is how ingrained many of these policies already are in the companies' structures. Paul Hohnen for International Institute for Sustainable Development in the document "Corporate Social Responsibility: An Implementation Guide for Business" has compiled a checklist and set of reminders (pg 40) for small businesses thinking about their CSR policies. The document recommends assigning an individual, perhaps a student or consultant, to gather relevant information. It is important for small businesses to examine their policies from implementation to evaluation. Their small size actually makes tracking easier. The close relationship many employees have with the company's stakeholders (in particular consumers and suppliers) simplifies the examination process considerably. Understanding what can be considered CSR is an important first step for many small firms.

Hohnen offers some interesting examples of small CSR initiatives that might be easy to adopt. These suggestions include implementing an environmental management system, making some services or products free for local nonprofits, and sharing CSR lessons with other small businesses. Even something as simple as improving the company's recycling policies can be considered CSR. It is important for small firms to remember that the absence of a detailed CSR report does not mean the company is neglecting CSR; certain aspects of corporate citizenship might simply be taken for granted.

Identifying Relevance

It is increasingly evident that CSR means something very different for small businesses. An interesting article in Forbes by N. Craig Smith titled "When it Comes to CSR, Size Matters" offers an interesting perspective on why this difference arises. The author suggests that because company founders are often still running their businesses, CSR is a more personal matter for small companies. Ensuring commitment from management is thus not as big a challenge. Small companies and their employees also tend to have a more personal stake in the community. This notion makes programs like job training and infrastructure improvements quite relevant to the business. Small firms are less concerned with reputation-related pressures and more focused on ensuring a positive local environment.


Ultimately, small businesses should be reminded that they are often pursuing CSR initiatives even if they are not explicitly defined that way. It can be very beneficial to identify these policies if the company is in a position to do so. The goal does not have to be to tackle a major societal challenge like a multinational company. Rather, small businesses should be focused on identifying projects that lend themselves to the company's expertise. Small businesses are affected by many of the same CSR trends as their larger counterparts. Their challenge is to adapt solutions to their particular situations.