Saving the World at Work: How to Be Socially Responsible in Business

By Office Space TorontoIn standard24th September, 2009

Saving the World at WorkBeing socially responsible in business is a growing trend — one being embraced by those who are looking for deeper meaning in their work lives. For some, it’s not enough to grow a business into a commercial success or create a good living for yourself. A growing number of people want more … they want to be responsible when it comes to the environment. They want to do good for others and give back to society. They want to make a difference that goes beyond pure financial results.

“Saving the World at Work” is a book that profiles this trend.

The subtitle of the book is “What Companies and Individuals Can Do to Go Beyond Making a Profit to Making a Difference.”  That’s a perfect description of what the book is all about.

Lots of Examples

The first part of the book profiles the changes underway in society that have made being socially responsible an imperative.  The author, Tim Sanders (who also authored “Love is the Killer App”) liberally sprinkles real-life business examples throughout the book.

These examples help you in two ways.   First, they demonstrate that smart business people in a wide range of industries are embracing the socially responsible way of doing business.  Second, the examples trigger concrete ideas for ways to change your company.

For instance, take the example of Walmart.  Walmart has gotten dinged over the years for pursuing profit at the expense of good treatment of employees and communities.  It’s become a public punching bag in some circles.  I’m not here to defend nor condemn Walmart — just to point out what you can learn from them.

The book has a Walmart example that any small retailer — even an e-commerce retailer — can use to trigger ideas.  A passage in the book summarizes how Walmart committed to greening the environment — one way was by showcasing more-efficient compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) in its stores:

“[Walmart] … used its merchandising prowess to showcase the swirl bulb.  In the past, a compact fluorescent lightbulb sat on the bottom shelf, causing buyers to bend over and squint to see exactly what this funny-shaped bulb was, if they noticed it at all.  Now store managers moved the CFLs up into prime eye-level real estate.  They also used the swirl-shaped bulbs in all the light fixtures they sold, creating interest among shoppers.  Finally, they gave up precious space at the end of store aisles to post signs educating customers on how much money they would save if they made the switch.  By the summer of 2007, Wal-Mart had sold almost 50 millions CFLs.”

What I Liked Best About This Book

The part of the book I liked best is Part III, called “The Practice of Being Good.”  That title sounds a little corny at first.  It sounds more Pollyanna-ish than practical and businesslike.

In reality, it’s very practical.  This section of the book outlines how YOU can take action in your business to make it more socially responsible.  There are 3 pillars to being socially responsible, and there’s a chapter on each.  The 3 pillars are:

  • Save your People – This is about improving the quality of life for your employees and coworkers.  This section offers a list of tips for improving the lives of people in your company — everything from “mentor a coworker or employee” to “find a miserable job and give it a makeover.”
  • Save your Communities — The tips in this section range from the obvious “sponsor community organizations” to the more subtle “offer your company as a meeting place.”
  • Save your Planet — This section is about being ecologically responsible — green — in your business.  The tips again range from low-hanging fruit you may have thought of but haven’t actually implemented yet, such as “use recycled paper” — to startlingly insightful ideas such as “hire eco-friendly people.” 

Relevance to Small Businesses and Startups

Many of the companies profiled in examples are big companies — household names.  Walmart;  SAP; Toyota; GE.   So naturally you might wonder how relevant the book can be to small businesses. Wonder not.  No matter what size of business you are in, this book has something for you to learn and apply, even if by analogy.

I was a little skeptical at first on this point.  My Web designer, Tim Grahl — someone I have worked with for 3 years and whose opinion I respect — recommended this book.  He even sent me a copy to read.  Because he was so enthusiastic,  I started reading it.  But the reason I kept on reading and wrote this review is that I saw it was meaningful for small businesses.

Who This Book is For

This book is for two categories of readers:

(1) Those looking to make a difference – If you are someone who has felt a little empty in the context of business,  you will definitely want to read this book.  That empty feeling may be because you have been searching for ways to make a difference beyond financial reward.  This book will give you plenty of ideas.

Even if you already know that you  NEED to make a societal difference if work is to have meaning for you, this book will re-affirm your commitment.  You will feel energized!

(2) Marketers, startup entrepreneurs, and business owners looking for competitive advantage – If you are a marketer or small business owner trying to understand why being socially responsible is important to a growing number of your customers, you also will want to devour this book. You’ll gain insights into your customers’ thinking on green initiatives;  charitable endeavors;  and conducting business in a way that also shows high regard for others’ well-being.  When you understand what is important to your customers, and the societal trends around us, you will understand why your company must also be socially responsible if you want to appeal to this wider segment of customers. Being socially responsible is more than “nice to do” — it can be a competitive advantage.

You will also walk away with concrete ideas about how to become socially responsible in your company.  And in the process you may also learn that it just feels good to do good.

Get the Book

You can pick up “How to Save the World at Work” at Amazon or at your local bookseller. The author’s blog, Sanders Says,  also has shorter essays and provacative pieces on this topic.

From Small Business Trends