For some, the term may evoke a roll of the eyes, conjuring up images of a slightly hollow nod in the direction of feel-good displays by businesses eager to be seen in a good light. The practice is sometimes cynically viewed as either a heavy-handed public relations move or the realm of the economically naïve.
However, when done well and for the right reasons, the reality of social responsibility is much different. It can work to underscore your business’ brand, increase profits over the long term and simultaneously create real, positive change within your community.
I’ve had a couple of opportunities to consider social responsibility recently. Of course, in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the numbers being reported are mind-boggling. Collective estimates for the damage caused by these storms are upwards of $200 billion – or half the total cost of damage caused by all hurricanes over the last 50 years.
Clearly, countless communities have been devastated and will spend many months picking up the pieces. And this, in turn, presents countless opportunities for laundry owners to put genuine social responsibility into action.
Self-service laundries – which have long been the social hubs within the neighborhoods they serve – will no doubt play a key role in the clean-up efforts, as residents of the impacted areas return to their day-to-day lives. Of course, clean clothes are a physical necessity; however, in extreme circumstances such as with Harvey and Irma, having freshly laundered garments and household items is where much of the mental healing begins as well.
Along similar lines, I recently interviewed Alabama store owner Ken Barrett for PlanetLaundry. And he shared his experience of washing nearly 1,800 pounds of soot-covered, smoke-damaged clothing for a local nonprofit group’s thrift store, which suffered a crippling fire.
The multi-store operator washed the clothes for free and is currently storing them at one of his laundries, until the organization can get back on its feet – simply because it’s the right thing to do.
“If they can get an insurance check due to the fire, they certainly can put it to a lot better use than cleaning clothes,” he said.
That’s social responsibility in its purest form.
Vended laundries are perfectly positioned to make an impact on their surroundings due to their authentic grounding within their local marketplaces and their ability to interact on a more personal level. Here are some ideas on how you can adopt socially responsible practices at your own business:
Connect with your local community. Take a look around at what’s happening in the neighborhood, and find opportunities to pitch in and make a positive difference. It’s that simple. In addition, why not try collaborating with like-minded businesses in your area to create initiatives that are mutually beneficial?
Give your employees the floor. Not all of your steps toward social responsibility have to be part of a world-changing masterplan. Listen to suggestions from your attendants as to how they think your business should fulfill its social responsibility, which should help them feel motivated and empowered. Perhaps hold monthly meetings to evaluate your progress and implement new action points.
Take small steps. Recycling, minimizing waste of resources, being energy-conscious and many other small gestures can all make a difference and engender a culture of positivity and social awareness.
Make it personal, authentic and effective. Laundries have an advantage over large corporations when it comes to social responsibility – namely, the owner is often the founder, who is often the CEO, so the values of the business are typically a direct reflection of your own ethical compass.
This means you can truly invest in the contributions you make, both locally and globally – and yield the maximum two-fold result of reinforcing your company’s bottom line while also feeling good about your work.
“The impact has been more than expected,” said Barrett, of his charitable work with the local nonprofit. “It helps you understand the kind of difference you can make in your own community. It was nice to get to a point in my business to be able to offer that for others.”
[For more on how you can make a difference in your own community, visit the Coin Laundry Association’s LaundryCares Foundation website at coinlaundry.org/advocacy/laundrycares.]