Be a Socially Responsible Business

Back in January, I wrote about socially responsible businesses and their triple bottom lines: financial performance, environmental performance, and social performance. My column discussed “Going Green” as one way to address the environmental commitment of a socially responsible business. This month, I want to explore the social performance bottom line of a socially responsible business by looking at some ways you can support your local community.

The high levels of charity and volunteer support given to communities by people in the building industry always impress me. This support varies from repairing homes for those in need to providing expertise and time to programs like Habitat for Humanity to sponsoring Little League and Pop Warner Football teams to helping out food kitchens, women’s shelters and children’s services.

Such generosity helped support my program for people with developmental disabilities, so I know what a huge difference this type of caring can mean for an agency or individual. But, there is another unique way to support your local community — Buy Local.

According to research by The Institute for Local Self-Reliance, buying from local, independent businesses helps build strong communities in many ways. For example:

  • Local, independent businesses give more to local charities than national chains when in-kind support is factored into the total.
  • Local businesses also ensure long-term economic stability by being more diverse, stable and committed to the community.
  • Independent businesses also increase the flow of financial capital through a community. Studies of money turnover rates show that local businesses circulate money three and one-half times through the local economy vs. only once for a big-box store. Put another way, for every $10 spent in a big-box store, only about a dollar stays in town vs. over $5 if spent in an independent business.

Local businesses also contribute to a sense of community character, create authentic local cultures, and keep our communities unique instead of just another strip mall.

Thus, one way to support your community is to use the buying power of your business at your local independent business whenever possible and encourage others to do so. It makes sense that a stronger local economy will help your business prosper as well.

Another way to support your community is to have your city government support local enterprises. For example, the city council in my area enacted a policy whereby a local company’s bid can be 5 percent higher than an out-of-area company’s, and it is still accepted as the low bid. Hiring local companies, paying local people and buying local products sounds win/win/win to me. How do you make this happen? Get involved.

Any city council can use a builder’s expertise. A builder brings unique knowledge to evaluate a city project, zoning variance, land use, etc. Many builders have found it a very rewarding experience. And while you’re on the city council, try adopting a policy like that recently enacted by the Santa Rosa, Calif. city council. They now give preferential treatment to vendors selling environmentally beneficial products. The policy will allow the city to pick vendors offering recycled or recyclable products even if their price is 2 1/2 percent more than the lowest bidder. (You might keep this trend in mind as you make plans in your own business.)

Yet, another way to support your community is to support your local farmer. Look into Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs), where you can buy food wholesale by “subscribing” to the annual harvest and then obtain weekly deliveries of fresh food. No CSA in your area? Then support your local farmer’s market. Research shows that most food travels 1,500 miles to get to you. Staying local helps reduce resource waste. Besides, food tastes better when you can get fresh, local products. It also keeps the money flowing locally.

But enough already. Don’t even get me started on supporting your local library!

There are lots of ways to address the social performance bottom line of your business. I hope these few ideas expand your creativity in this vitally important area.

Linda francis, author of Run Your Business So It Doesn’t Run You, trains and consults in the remodeling industry. She is based in Northern California. Phone: (707) 485-0162, or e-mail: