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SMEs and CSR in Ireland: where to start?

Elisha Collier O’Brien

Policy Manager with Chambers Ireland

The ‘corporate’ in CSR makes it sound like it only applies to ‘big business’. But often we find that SMEs are doing as much to enhance their communities. Similarly to respect their environments as multinational corporations (MNCs) and Large indigenous companies (LICs).

So many SMEs are already engaging in corporate social responsibility (CSR), but just aren’t calling it that.

If your business donates to charity, supports a local team or club, offers employees volunteering time, is adopting environmentally-friendly measures or organises fundraising for charity then you’re already doing ‘CSR’ in Ireland!

If not, don’t panic, it’s not too late to get involved in responsible or sustainable business practices. For the last decade, many businesses were so focused on survival. So much so, that only now they are considering how they might be able to do more in their communities. In other words, to think beyond the immediate.

Promoting CSR In Ireland for SMEs is vital

For us as a business organisation, raising awareness about CSR in Ireland among SMEs is vital. They are the overwhelming majority of businesses at over 99%. In fact the state’s biggest employers with 70% of employees in Ireland working for an SME.

In Chambers Ireland’s 2018 Corporate Social Responsibility Awards an SME, Earth’s Edge beat off stiff competition. They won the ‘Excellence in Volunteering’ category against large indigenous companies. This was a first in our awards and was a real achievement by this small Irish company. This proved that size doesn’t matter when it comes to responsible business practices.

Getting started in CSR or ‘socially responsible’ business can be intimidating. But there are five simple considerations to help you get started on this journey.

1. Look at what you are already doing

Don’t assume that because you don’t have a programme in place that you are not doing anything. Think about the environmental measures you are taking. Or consider whether or not you have supported staff in charity work or fundraising. Finally consider whether or not you take on student placements

2. Take a look at the five pillars of CSR in Ireland and think about where your business can make changes

The five pillars are: Environment, Community, Workplace, Marketplace and Communications. You don’t have to tackle them all at once, but the headings are a great way of mapping where you stand and setting out areas that you might not have thought about before. There may be some areas that really align with your core business and these are a great place to start. Also, there is a wealth of detailed information online about policies businesses can implement under each of these headings.

3. Engage with employees 

Talk to staff about your ambitions and see if they have any ideas as employee engagement is important for the sustainability of Irish CSR in a business. Many of them might already be working with a charity in their own time or have causes that they are really passionate about, so may have great ideas or useful experience. See if any of them are interested in becoming ‘CSR champions’ within the company and if they will help to set goals and engage others.

4. Take small steps and set realistic goals

You don’t have to take on too much or try to do everything at once. For CSR in Ireland to be a sustainable part of the business it should be manageable for you and employees. Long term commitment to CSR is far better than a few months of over-zealous efforts.

5. Communicate your work

Once you start to engage in socially responsible business practices, make sure you aren’t hiding it from the people that will care the most; your customers, staff and trading partners. Today’s consumers are increasingly interested in the impact businesses they engage with are having on the environment and society, they want to hear about the positive things a company is doing in this space and will likely thank you for telling them.

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