Everything socially responsible (packing materials that are environmentally friendly, donating money, etc) seems to cost so much money! My small business doesn’t have major corporate financial resources, but I want to be as socially responsible as possible and want to give back to the community. What are some ways that a small business without major corporate financial resources can be socially responsible and give back to the community while continuing to make a profit?

Coley, in a price-conscious world, your question is a great one. Many consumer decisions center on price alone, with no attention paid to how goods are produced or other negatives triggered intentionally or inadvertently by companies and consumers. As consumers, we buy engagement rings never thinking about whether young African children might have been enslaved to mine for those diamonds — and of course without thinking about how that might have been OUR children if we’d grown up in a different culture.

That’s consumer behavior; now let’s shift to responsibilities and opportunities for companies. Marci’s list of questions provides a strong base for you to increase your social responsibility. One way to look at this is through the prism of the Triple Bottom Line: People, planet, profit. In a perfect world, you want all three. In the real world of compromises, sometimes you’ll end up slightly imbalanced. The trick is to keep your business from ignoring any of the three (by the way, I usually replace planet with the word "community" and use it to think beyond the environment).

Some thoughts:
— Are your customers so price sensitive that they would balk if your products were sourced so that the growers or manufacturers were assured a living wage? (Costco has built a huge business on this — I’m not even talking about Whole Foods).

— Wouldn’t many of your customers applaud if your packaging were all reused materials (especially if you let them know what you’ve helped keep out of the landfill)?

— Isn’t treating your team with deep respect much less expensive than recruiting and training replacements?

— Doesn’t being out there doing work at the local Boys and Girls Clubs help bring awareness to your brand?

We entrepreneurs create our own businesses at least in part because we want to create a reflection of our souls. Maybe a little less profit and a lot more goodwill isn’t a bad tradeoff. But I’m willing to bet that if you focus on doing good while doing well, you’ll grow your bottom line too.