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What is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)?

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives aim to minimize or offset a company’s environmental and social impact.

Today’s consumers are putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to supporting ethical businesses and brands. 73% of Millennial consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable goods. Over 50% of Millennial and Gen Z consumers said they are willing to spend an incremental 10% or more for a product if it is sustainable.

That’s because doing good feels good. As consumers, it gives us satisfaction to know that the money we’re spending will go toward supporting healthy work conditions, fair trade, or reduced pollution, not just lining the pockets of executives.

What is CSR?

As a business owner, you may have considered incorporating more socially or environmentally conscious initiatives into your business planning and operations. This is often referred to as corporate social responsibility (CSR) – when a business holds itself accountable not just to do good but also to reduce harm to the environment and society.

Reported business benefits of CSR include:

  • Stronger brand image and reputation.
  • Increased customer loyalty from consumers who are keen to support ethical and eco-conscious brands.
  • Higher talent retention and attraction rates because employees are more engaged and motivated when working with a socially responsible company.
  • Easier access to funding from investors that are looking to support environmentally and socially responsible businesses.
  • Long-term cost savings due to better operational efficiency.

But while it’s undoubtedly beneficial to incorporate CSR into your business, it's vital that you are genuine and committed to your sustainability efforts.

Sophisticated consumers are increasingly conscious of corporate virtue signaling, which can cause severe backlash for your business if called out, so dig deep about why you’re embarking on CSR in the first place.

What are the four main types of CSR?

There are four broad categories that CSR can fall into, but your CSR efforts can straddle more than one.

1. Environmental

With environmental concerns getting more attention in recent years, companies that incorporate environmental responsibility into their business usually aim to reduce their overall carbon footprint or strengthen their sustainability practices.

Environmental CSR can take many forms, from cutting greenhouse gas emissions to implementing on-site recycling programs to supporting community environmental projects like conservation or tree planting.

2. Philanthropic

Perhaps one of the most “classic” forms of corporate social responsibility is in the form of philanthropic activities, where the business or its employees volunteer at local charities or host fundraising events in support of nonprofits in their community. Philanthropic CSR is about donating or contributing time in support of a cause.

3. Social

This category of CSR is rather broad and encompasses everything from supporting human rights and fair labor practices to diversity and inclusion. Some of the most common social CSR efforts denounce child labor and support fair trade, especially in developing countries.

But in modern times, social CSR can also extend to ensuring that internal business policies and processes address issues related to diversity, inclusion, fair hiring practices, and gender equality in the workplace.

4. Economic

Economic CSR is about developing an ethical compass for the business. It’s about setting standards and moral regulations for business practices that strike a balance between philanthropic, environmental, and business concerns.

The fundamental purpose of economic CSR is to ensure that when it comes to making critical business decisions – perhaps when choosing which technologies or machinery to invest in – it's not only profit margins taken into consideration but also the company's environmental and social impact.

Examples of CSR companies in Singapore

When thinking of CSR initiatives or programs in Singapore, most people may picture big corporations like DBS, Mastercard, or Grab. Lesser known, but no less impactful, are the small and medium businesses that have built successful business models around environmental and social responsibility.

Here are some examples of corporate social responsibility companies in Singapore founded on the basis of building ethical and sustainable businesses.

EDEN + ELIE

EDEN + ELIE is a local handcrafted jewelry brand that blends the best of intricate, traditional bead-weaving with contemporary aesthetics and materials. Think modernized Peranakan-style bangles, sleek pendant necklaces, and colorful medallion earrings.

EDEN + ELIE is an example of a Singapore business practicing CSR.

The brand uses high-quality glass beads from the oldest seed bead manufacturer in Japan, supporting the continuation of this heritage art form, and ensures that all the gold and sterling silver used for their pieces is ethically sourced. The business also partners with the Autism Resource Centre (ARC) in Singapore to employ adults with autism as artisans.

SOURCE Collections

As one of the more well-known ethical clothing brands in Singapore, SOURCE Collections was founded on the belief in a better way to deliver affordable, high-quality basics without incurring the high environmental and social costs often associated with fast fashion.

SOURCE Collections prides itself on its ethical, environmentally-friendly clothing

The company clearly outlines its business ethics and social responsibility on its website and is committed to promoting fair and safe labor conditions while reducing environmental pollution. They do this by avoiding synthetic petroleum-based fibers (their products are mainly Tencel and organic cotton), eliminating plastic packaging, and using only FSC-certified paper made from responsible sources for their tags and cards.

Greenbox

As a passionate purveyor of healthy snacks, Greenbox offers nutritious products and curated boxes perfect for personal consumption and gifting. Some of their offerings include Peanut Pretzel Muddy Bites (unsalted peanuts, pretzels, cashews, and dark chocolate chips), Sriracha Multigrain Chips made from soybean, adzuki bean, and quinoa, and Shiitake Mushroom Chips.

Greenbox approaches CSR from both a social responsibility and an environmental angle.

Their business motto is “happy healthy people and planet," and their CSR efforts cover responsible sourcing of ingredients, inclusive hiring (working closely with ex-offenders and refugee organizations), and the use of FSC-certified sustainable packaging.

Three simple ways to initiate CSR and sustainability in ecommerce

If you’re daunted by the prospect of embarking on a CSR initiative for your ecommerce business, don’t be.

There are simple, low-cost ways to run a more sustainable business in many areas.

  1. Packaging: Excessive plastic packaging is a common culprit for pollution in many ecommerce businesses. Reducing the amount of packaging or switching to recyclable or biodegradable materials can go a long way to minimizing waste.
  2. Sourcing: Using low-impact or ethically sourced materials in your products is one key way to support sustainability. Innovations in this area include fabrics made from bamboo fibers and vegan leather made from mushrooms. If you are a reseller, it also means ensuring that the companies you're sourcing from have fair employment practices.
  3. Giving back: Is there a social cause you care passionately about? Then why not support or partner with them for your mutual benefit? Whether it's animal welfare, equal access to education, inclusiveness for ex-offenders, or more, you are more than empowered to make a difference through your business.

Remember that with CSR, it’s important only to bite off as much as you can chew. It won't do you good to build a business that is overly focused on CSR at the cost of healthy profits – that is the exact antithesis of sustainability.

It’s ok to start small (perhaps by using more eco-friendly packaging or donating a small portion of your profits to a local charity) and ramp up later to incorporate more CSR throughout the rest of your supply chain.

FAQs about corporate social responsibility

What is CSR?

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a management concept that incorporates social and environmental concerns into a company’s business planning and operations.
A socially responsible business has policies and practices that promote the well-being of their communities and environment, not just their bottom line. In addition to actively benefiting society, the CSR business model also aims to reduce negative impacts.

Why is CSR important?

CSR is important for building sustainable businesses. Beyond the ethical and moral responsibility of doing good and reducing harm, sustainability in business can deliver several benefits. These include a stronger brand reputation; increased customer loyalty and sales; higher rates of talent attraction and retention; potentially easier access to funding that supports social enterprises; and long-term cost savings due to reduced waste and better efficiency.

What are the elements of a good CSR initiative?

According to Impakt Corp., the best CSR programs tend to share five elements: business-based social purpose, clear theory of change, quality and depth of information, concentrated effort, and partnering with experts.

So before embarking on a CSR initiative, it may be helpful to ask yourself the following questions to ensure you’re getting the most out of your efforts:
  • How does the CSR initiative reinforce your company's business purpose or leverage your operational strengths?
  • Is there a way to measure the social or environmental impact of your CSR initiative?
  • How much do you know or understand about the issue(s) you would like to address with your CSR initiative?
  • How many resources (including time and money) are you able and willing to commit to your CSR initiative?
  • Are you partnering with relevant experts to maximize the benefits of your CSR initiative?

What are some ways to achieve CSR and sustainability in ecommerce?

Particularly for ecommerce, business owners can look at issues related to packaging, sourcing, and delivery. In particular, looking for low-impact or sustainable materials, partnering with ethical manufacturers, and employing carbon-neutral delivery methods could help.

As for internal processes, business owners can also look at going digital to reduce paper use (environmental CSR) or practicing inclusive and fair hiring practices (social CSR).

Incorporate sustainability into your ecommerce business with Shopify

We at Shopify are keenly aware of the impact that ecommerce has on the environment, which is why we’ve rolled out options for our merchants and buyers to offset carbon emissions from their Shopify deliveries. Simply install the Shopify App Offset onto your ecommerce store if you’re a merchant, and ask your customers to check out via Shop Pay.

Our Shopify Sustainability Fund also invests in the most promising and innovative solutions fighting carbon emissions and pollution. The portfolio includes technology that eliminates carbon dioxide emissions, a company that grows kelp forests to absorb carbon dioxide from the oceans, and research into alternative biomass fuels. Learn more about our environmental investments and our commitment to reversing climate change.

 

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