By Dave Haxton, Sales Director, Frillo

Over the past ten years, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has become a huge talking point, gradually emerging as part of everyday life for businesses. For the FTSE 100 it’s a corporate necessity, with CSR teams dedicated to the business agenda, and contracts being won and lost because of it. For many small-to-medium sized businesses CSR can be challenging, because let’s face it, growing your business and paying the bills is hard enough. Yet, despite its ever increasing importance within business, many of us are still asking what it even means.

Some business leaders attend the latest black tie dinner or golf day, perhaps signing one of the 100 sponsorship forms or online giving requests that land on their desk each year in an attempt to meet their CSR quota. But, this doesn’t address its true meaning or purpose.

Quite simply, CSR not only covers what companies do with their profits, but also how they make them. It addresses how companies manage the economic, social, and environmental impacts of their business activity. There’s no reason to be scared of the terminology.

CSR is the exercise of businesses acting and operating ethically. Ethical behaviour requires them to act in ways stakeholders deem to be both fair and honest. Your business needs to commit to adopting (and developing) its own policies, ones that integrate responsible practices into everyday business operations. For larger organisations, this has historically related to improving the lives of workers and also the communities in which the company operates. Businesses can have a huge multinational footprint so the way in which assets are purchased, managed or maintained can affect a large number of people. However, with the development of CSR policies and its uptake amongst even the smallest of companies, it now covers issues impacting practically every area of operations, including:

• Governance and ethics
• Employee hiring
• Opportunity & training
• Responsible purchasing
• Supply chain policies
• Energy consumption
• Environmental impact

Environmental impact is potentially the most common definition associated with CSR, and it certainly is important to ensure your business is managing its environmental impact and showing a sense of eco-responsibility.

Both consumers and other businesses are increasingly making purchasing decisions based on their suppliers' environmental performance. Some government departments have even made it a prerequisite to placing an order.

The most effective way to demonstrate your commitment is to set up and manage an environmental management system (EMS). This allows you to monitor and control the effect your activity has on the environment and its surroundings. If you do it properly, you can tick the 'green' box on many of your customers' checklists. You may also find cheaper and more efficient ways to carry out your business activities along the way, not to mention gaining greater reassurance that you won't fall foul of environmental regulations.

While creating and managing an EMS may sound like another time-consuming task, once you get the basics right, you can merge it into other day-to-day tasks - in a similar way to health and safety policies or quality control are often managed once initial systems are in place.

If you adopt the right policies and integrate them as core practices within your business, CSR can actually help create new opportunities. The tenets and practice of CSR are continuing to spread through corporate enterprises. It is becoming a mandatory consideration for most businesses and doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere, anytime soon. So, rather than ignoring it or simply paying it lip service, now ought to be the time to get your own house in order.