Be The Socially Responsible Business
After 22 years in Lexington, you’d think I would know everything about the city. But it was only recently that I became aware of its prospering local businesses and the work they do to support their community.
During the height of the coronavirus pandemic and social unrest in 2020, we turned our attention to corporations’ actions (and sometimes lack of action). As consumers, we wanted the companies and brands we supported to match their words with action and transparency. As a result, companies have shifted their business practices to find ways to be socially responsible…and it’s becoming the norm–even here in little ole Lexington.
Practicing corporate social responsibility (CSR) is just as beneficial for your business as it can be for the community. With perks like increased brand recognition, improved investor relations, high employee engagement and risk mitigation, CSR will equip you to set your company apart from the competition.
In August, I started my internship at Awesome Inc and began working as a student research assistant on a project studying how CSR affects people with disabilities. We looked at Lexington businesses that are members of Green Check Lexington, a certification program providing businesses and organizations with the resources they need to become more sustainable.
Businesses can join Green Check for free by committing to sustainability efforts in the areas of waste reduction, energy efficiency, and water quality. This research has helped me see what a socially responsible business looks like, and I’m grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to work with a company like Awesome Inc.
CSR is a business model that encourages companies to be conscious of the impact they have on all aspects of society including financially, environmentally, ethically, and philanthropically . CSR also looks at how companies balance their relationships with their stakeholders–customers, employees, or community members who are impacted by companies’ actions–and their shareholders– investors or people who own shares of the company. When I started my internship at Awesome Inc, I noticed immediately that they built CSR into a large part of its business model.
Awesome Inc’s most notable form of CSR is the Fellowship, a mentor-driven program designed to accelerate Kentucky’s high-tech startups.
By participating in the Fellowship, startups have access to metrics accountability as well as design, videography, development, legal, and accounting services for the duration of a year. The founders aren’t the only ones that gain from these services; the community benefits, too.
The resources provided through Awesome Inc’s Fellowship enable companies to grow and create jobs in Lexington and throughout the state. As of October 2022, more than 500 jobs have been created by Fellowship companies.
Awesome Inc encourages its employees to fit work into their lives rather than fit their lives into work.
From team retreats to flexible work-from-home options, Awesome Inc strives to be inclusive and considerate of all employees’ unique situations. The Awesome Inc team doesn’t take themselves too seriously either; team members take breaks from work to play ping pong, munch on Oreos and form genuine friendships around the office.
Finally, Awesome Inc practices environmental responsibility by being a bike-friendly business. In the garage, you can find electric scooters, bikes and bike racks free to anyone who works in the space. Not only does this encourage exercise, but it creates an eco-friendly alternative to driving.
But Awesome Inc isn’t the only Lexington company practicing CSR. The Green Check website highlights 50 companies making CSR a big part of their business practice. Two that stand out the most to me are Bullhorn Creative and A Cup of Commonwealth.
Bullhorn Creative is a branding agency focusing on building confident brands with language and design . The agency has offices in Lexington and Washington, DC and became a Certified B Corporation in 2017. Having a B Corp Certification means that a business is meeting high standards of verified performance, accountability, and transparency. B Corp companies ensure fair and flexible employee benefits, facilitate charitable giving, and strive to create a diverse and sustainable supply chain .
Bullhorn Creative meets the B Corp standards through their Good Works Program, a program that prioritizes projects with a “growing impact, a global context, and a local focus.”
A growing impact includes small nonprofits, governmental and Black-owned startups or small businesses. A global context means that all of the company’s work aligns with a global movement using the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. And finally, a local focus means that Bullhorn Creative partners with organizations based in Kentucky.
Through the Good Works Program, Bullhorn Creative helps organizations identify their core brand by creating foundational language, logo, typography, colors and photography. These assets are then delivered in brand guidelines so organizations can apply them to their brand .
Bullhorn Creative also promotes sustainability in a multitude of ways. One way is through encouraging alternative transportation to limit the emissions put into the atmosphere. The company reimburses bus fares and supports efforts to bike and walk to work.
Additionally, the company has been investing in technology to make video conferencing more seamless to reduce the environmental effects of travel. Around the office, the company practices smart water and energy consumption. Employees participate in quarterly sustainability projects and get creative with ways they reduce, reuse, and recycle .
Finally, Bullhorn Creative promotes a positive work culture. A company is only as strong as its weakest employee. By fostering a positive work environment and promoting employee health, employees are stronger, more motivated, and more prepared to tackle tasks. At Bullhorn, they take turns making breakfast for each other on Fridays, participate in group outings, and more .
A Cup of Commonwealth is one of the most beloved coffee shops in Lexington. It engages in CSR through the Pay it Forward Board and sustainability efforts.
Pay it Forward
The Pay it Forward Board allows customers to purchase a drink voucher for anyone to redeem at any time in the future. When purchasing a Pay it Forward drink, people write stipulations on a cup sleeve. These can be goofy and lighthearted like “Free drink for anyone who jumps up and down while rubbing their belly and patting their head.” Or they can be more serious and say things like, “Free drink for a healthcare worker,” or “Free drink for a teacher.” This initiative is one of the ways that A Cup of Commonwealth celebrates and embodies its commitment to community .
A Cup of Commonwealth collaborates with nonprofits and individuals to create a culture of activism for the planet. The coffeeshop features coffee from farms that grow beans with sustainable farming methods and uses all-natural cleaning products . Customers who bring their own cup or thermos also get rewarded with a discount on their coffee order. Finally, A Cup of Commonwealth has signs posted around the shop to encourage proper recycling, as well as conveniently located bike racks just outside the shop door.
Why Does Your Business Need CSR?
Practicing CSR can be just as beneficial for the community as it can be for your business.
Customers are more savvy than ever and more aware of the impact that companies have on their community. Many consumers even base purchasing decisions on the ways companies engage with CSR . Authentically positioning your business as a company that cares about social responsibility can help customers view your business more favorably.
Another way is through investor relations. CSR strategies tend to positively impact how investors feel about an organization and how they view the worth of the company. In a study by Boston Consulting Group, companies that engaged in CSR had an 11% higher valuation over their competitors .
The third way that incorporating CSR in day-to-day operations can benefit your business is through employee engagement. Employees are more likely to stick around for a company they believe in. Volunteer projects and activities outside of work have the ability to strengthen relationships among employees and increase retention .
Finally, by practicing CSR, companies are more likely to avoid unfavorable activities that would lead to lawsuits and bad press. CSR is an easy way to mitigate risk for your company.
What You Need to Know
A business’s most basic responsibility is to be profitable. If a business is not profitable, it won’t be able to sustain itself, its stakeholders or its shareholders. However, being profitable is no longer enough to satisfy consumers and investors.
In today’s market, businesses need to learn to effectively and authentically engage in CSR through concrete action. Companies like Awesome Inc, Bullhorn Creative, and A Cup of Commonwealth are shining examples of this. Whether it’s to differentiate yourself from your competitors or to put a little good back into your community, you should be looking for ways to incorporate CSR into your company–no matter how big or small your business may be.
 (https://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/corp-social-responsibility.asp#toc-types-of-corporate-social-responsibility) Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Explained With Examples
 (https://greenchecklex.org/business-directory/bullhorn-creative/) Green Check Lexington Member Directory: Bullhorn Creative
 (https://www.bcorporation.net/en-us/certification#:~:text=B%20Corp%20Certification%20is%20a,chain%20practices%20and%20input%20materials.) About B Corp Certification: Measuring a company’s entire social and environmental impact.
 (https://bullhorncreative.com/goodworks/) Bullhorn Creative - Good Works Program
 (https://bullhorncreative.com/blog/sustainability-report-2017/) Bullhorn Creative - Sustainability Report 2017
 (https://www.acupofcommonwealth.com/pay-it-forward) A Cup of Commonwealth - Pay it Forward
 (https://www.acupofcommonwealth.com/sustainability) A Cup of Commonwealth - Sustainability
 (https://myscp.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jcpy.1109) Good Guys Can Finish First: How Brand Reputation Affects Extension Evaluations
 (https://www.bcg.com/publications/2020/supply-chain-needs-sustainability-strategy) Your Supply Chain Needs a Sustainability Strategy
 (https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=4144689) Corporate Social Responsibility and Employee Retention