In our consumer-centric world, we are using twice as many material goods today as we did 50 years ago (The Story of Stuff, 2007). We are focused on efficiency, modernity and fashion but at what cost? Cheap and accessible has created the “throw away” mentality, which has had a devastating toll on our Earth’s natural resources; the western world produces almost as much food waste as total food production in Sub-Saharan Africa (National Geographic). Clever marketing has made remaining ‘on-trend’ a larger priority than thinking of others; in America, more money is spent on fashion accessories than college education. Equally, westerners give less than 1.9% of their income to charitable causes (NCSS). The stats go on. The consumer industry is in the driver’s seat, deciding which direction society will take and up until now, they have been focusing on profit margins and brand recognition, over educated and conscious consumption.
However, last year Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) rose staggering amounts, with investment surpassing tens of billions of dollars. The changing global mentality that corporations must be socially conscious has put pressure on them to act with sustainability in mind. After all, businesses are shaping the way our world will look for the generations to come. As more and more companies step up to the plate and accept their philanthropic responsibility, it is becoming increasingly difficult for businesses to ignore this duty if they want to retain their competitive advantage. Unfortunately, Startups are not being well represented in the realm of CSR, yet!
Large corporations and businesses instigated CSR because they were conscious of the influence they hold in shaping society. Even more so, Startups are the future; every year, some 472 million entrepreneurs start 100 million Startups around the globe as pioneers and leading developers of tech, design, science, community and so much more (Get2growth). Whilst as individual businesses their influence is limited, as a collective they are the drivers of change. So why aren’t they known as the drivers of CSR?
A common misconception is that CSR is limited to giving donations or working on large-scale projects that Startups may not have the capacity for. Small or new teams often see CSR as a risk; it may spread their resources too thin, allowing them to lose focus of their priorities and passions. However, CSR, when executed correctly, will benefit the company itself too. It will embody who the Startup is and what they do because CSR is not only about sustainability for those around you, but for your business too. This long term thinking, can often feel unachievable or be overlooked, but it’s about finding ways to give that don’t require cutting off an arm and a leg.
CSR should be implemented because you believe in bettering our planet and creating a sustainable future, but this shouldn’t stop you from reaping the benefits that it brings to your company too. Here are a few incentives which may make you more inclined to take it up…
Over 90% of global consumers now expect businesses to operate in a manner that addresses social and environmental issues , whilst a further 84% say they seek out socially responsible products wherever possible (Global CSR study, 2015). The consumer mentality has altered, and in order for brands to be successful, they need to align themselves to the modern market where consumers are holding producers to account. In fact, Startups may even benefit more from putting purpose before profit, as 66% of participants in the survey said that they were willing to pay more for products from socially responsible companies. Consumer trends have proven that brand loyalty is paired with belief in the brand’s values and actions, and that’s why economic risk taken by making a product ethical, is rewarded with increased customer loyalty and justification to charge more to balance the costs.
Like consumers, employees have adapted their approach to prioritise the impact they are having on the world around them. According to an Apparo survey from 2017, organizations that encourage their employees to volunteer during paid business hours increase motivation and create employees who feel that their company respects their development. These employees can feel energized by the opportunity to be creative with their skillset for a good cause and are therefore more passionate about their role as a whole. So rather than spreading a team too thin with distractions, CSR brings focus and motivation to employees.
Startups are proud to be the leaders of problem-solving; searching for undiscovered perspectives on their chosen industry is often what brings them success. So, putting the sustainability lens onto the creative side of the business ensures that the product is innovative, original and eco-friendly. Looking at our OneCoWork Community, we were excited to see this outlook applied in practice. Jeff Zaltman, CEO at Air Race E, explained that focusing on electric air racing meant that they were able to prioritise clean power without compromising on the racing sport that they love. Speed, quality and excitement of races will only be accelerated by the use of the ground breaking and innovative technology. The concept has attracted industry leaders, such as Airbus, as this sustainable twist to air racing could be the basis for electric powered transport in the future.
It may seem untrue that CSR can help increase profit margins when the original concern of Startups is that they don’t have enough money to implement it in the first place. But, to combat this myth we need to remind ourselves that CSR is just about realigning your business strategy to have a positive impact. Many big corporations such as General Mills have pledged to reduce energy usage; after installing energy monitoring meters into their factories they cut down their usage by 20% in under 4 years, whilst also saving $600,000 at the same time (General Mills)!
Currently, it is still fair to say that implementing CSR into your brand will make it stand out as a socially conscious enterprise. However, thanks to the changing consumer mentality, one day, CSR will no longer be a tool of brand differentiation but a necessity. Competitive brands such as Pepsi and Coca Cola are matching every pledge the other makes, with a current claim of zero net water usage, and that’s the way it should be. CSR is providing companies an opportunity to step up to the plate before it’s too late, let’s make sure it’s Startups leading the way.