For the last year or so, corporate social responsibility (CSR) has been the buzzword on every business’ lips. What is it? How do we do it? How much will it cost? And what are the benefits? Well, broadly speaking CSR is about assessing and taking responsibility for your company’s effects on the world around you and more often than not, it refers to businesses who go above and beyond the call of duty. No longer is it enough to use energy efficient lights bulbs and put some recycling bins in the staff room, if you want to jump on the CSR bandwagon and reap the PR benefits then you need to think outside the box.

For example, a customer is likely to buy a pink umbrella for a couple of pounds more than a black one if they see that some the proceeds are going to Breast Cancer UK. Consumers are more likely to buy from American Apparel because they know that their garments haven’t been made in sweatshops and they like to buy Pampers nappies because it means they’re helping vaccinate children in developing countries.

With a string of bad news stories over the last year (Horse meat, Primark’s sweatshops, tax avoidance) we’re now in an era where customers are becoming better educated about their purchasing decisions and the impact it has on other people and places. In addition to this, employees are seeking greater job satisfaction or a higher purpose to their careers. As such, companies need to start incorporating CSR if they want to keep and build their customer and employee base in increasingly competitive markets.

Fortunately CSR doesn’t have to be about giving something for nothing, but can become an integral part of your PR and marketing strategy. When a business goes into partnership with a non-profit organisation, it creates an opportunity for positive visibility. So take the chance to report on the difference you’re making. A USP like this can be the difference between having an ok product and making it a household name. Plus, you might inspire others to do good too!

As we’ve previously mentioned, employees can get easily bored doing the same thing day in and day out. Empowering them to make a positive difference in your local community might be exactly what you need to foster team spirit, boost staff moral and attract more good seeds to your business. Again, something like community action offers a great photo-op to plaster all over your website, social media and local newspaper.

Internally, you should check out your suppliers, distributers and other associates. Are they ethical? Do they limit their environmental impact? Do they provide good working conditions? After all, everyone you work with can impact your reputation and if they mess up your name is likely to get dragged through the dirt too.

But remember that overall these things shouldn’t be hollow promises. Don’t just pick a charity that offers the best exposure, choose one that’s relevant to you and your business. If people think that you’re faking it just for the camera you’ll probably end up doing more harm than good. You need to actually make an impact, raise hopes, enrich your community, increase awareness and try to leave the world a better place than you found it. That’s the point of CSR.