Kate's Comment

Thoughts on British ICT, energy & environment, cloud computing and security from Memset's MD

Good deeds make good business sense

“Corporate Social Responsibility”; yet another of those buzz-phrases that seems to be bandied about ever more, but there is more to it than perhaps first meets the eye and there are many ways in which socially responsible practices are good for business. What’s more, IT businesses seem ideally placed to lead the way.

Many large corporates now have a CSR budget – essentially an allocation of funds that have to be put towards “good things” like supporting the local community or implementing more environmentally friendly processes. Sadly, for many of those organisations it can end up just being a soulless line on the P&L amounting to little more than a financial donation, but many companies, especially in the high-tech sectors, are making real changes to how they operate in an effort to be more socially responsible.

It is not just about getting a good night’s sleep either; as we all know consumers increasingly care about the impact of the products they buy on other people and environment – the rise in fair trade and free range products being cases in point. Companies are ideally placed to further encourage such measures too simply by virtue of being a collective of people. In the UK many IT companies seem very open to such initiatives; for example, with encouragement from Compassion in World Farming, Google and AOL have switched to only using free range eggs in all their staff catering. A small and low-cost step, but lots of little steps add up! Quite why high-tech firms seems to be more open to such changes is not readily apparent, but I expect it comes down to younger, forward-thinking companies being more open to change.

There are many innovations coming out of the CSR drive as well. In the same building as us, just upstairs from our office, is a company called Magic Taxi (www.magictaxi.co.uk). They are a search-engine with a difference; every time an advert is clicked on (the main source of revenue for most search engines) half of the revenues goes towards some of the leading UK charities. Most of their users are obtained by getting large companies to install the Magic Taxi search toolbar into the standard PC setup which costs the corporate nothing, but helps them spend some of that CSR budget they were struggling to make good us of.

It is by no means only large orgnaisations that can and should be acting in a socially responsible manner either, and there are plenty of cheap measures small businesses can implement. Take Memset for example; party by accident we ended up hosting quite a few charities’ Web sites for free (it did not seem right to charge them), and just recently we have formalised the offer and to provide free hosting for any charity’s Web site (even if they need a cluster of dedicated servers!) in exchange for an acknowledgment on their site. It is far cheaper for us to provide some free service & expertise than to make an equivalent cash donation, and we get paid back by our name being spread more widely. Another example is power usage; we are committed to investing in energy-efficient server systems & technologies, such our Miniserver™ technology, which saves us and our clients money (electricity is our single largest cost) and helps the environment at the same time. CSR really can be a win-win for business and society alike.