Is there any CSR financing available for VSEs and SMEs?

Faced with the challenges of sustainable development, corporate social responsibility (CSR) is gaining in importance. As part of a dynamic of continuous improvement, the application of CSR principles is a lever for performance, innovation and value creation. However, depending on the company's structure, available manpower and starting point, implementing CSR can involve considerable expense, particularly for VSEs and SMEs. Is it possible to find public aid, subsidies or financing to support a CSR project? Here are some answers.

What is CSR?

The acronym CSR is commonly used to designate corporate social responsibility. It is based on 3 interconnected pillars: the economy, the environment and society.

CSR can therefore be seen as a form of contribution to sustainable development that also takes into account social issues, without dissociating the whole from the economic viability of the structure.

The international ISO 26000 standard sets out the regulatory framework for corporate social responsibility. It establishes guidelines for implementing a CSR approach based on 7 key points:

  • Governance of the structure
  • Human rights
  • Relationships and working conditions
  • The environment
  • Fair practices
  • Consumer issues
  • Communities and local development

Inventory and diagnosis, training and awareness-raising, areas for progress and support, promotion of the approach and responsible communication... So many stages and actions that may seem inaccessible to VSEs and SMEs, given their apparent complexity, but also the human and financial resources required.

National grants to finance CSR initiatives

The scope of corporate social responsibility is vast. Even if certain public subsidies are not directly labeled as CSR, they can play a part in the process, particularly in terms of energy and ecological transition.

ADEME schemes

As part of the economic recovery plan in the wake of the health crisis, a large amount of funding has been allocated to ADEME (l'Agence pour la Transition Écologique). Some components are still open until December 31, 2022.

This is the case of the " springboard for the ecological transition of SMEs ", which gives access to flat-rate grants for projects ranging from a minimum of €5,000 to a maximum of €200,000, concerning climate audits, the circular economy, eco-design, waste management and renewable energies for industrial and agricultural buildings.

ADEME also offers various permanent or regularly renewed schemes to finance sustainable projects: studies and consultancy, investment, promotion and communication, research and innovation... It may be worth keeping an eye on calls for projects and testing your company's eligibility criteria. 

Assistance from the French Service and Payment Agency (ASP)

The Agence de Service et de Paiement also grants subsidies, such as " aid for investments in decarbonizing industrial production tools ". This scheme is aimed at industrial companies of all sizes that want to invest in equipment to reduce their CO2 emissions or improve their energy efficiency.

The subsidy rate, applied to the total amount of the eligible tax-free price base for goods, is 40% for SMEs and 50% for VSEs. Applications can be submitted until December 31, 2022.

Support from France Active

Among other national structures, France Active is also at the service of committed entrepreneurs. In particular, through its " Transformation Pact ", it provides support for companies committed to social utility. France Active provides support in the search for financing, and works closely with co-investors.

Local financing for corporate social responsibility

The French regions also provide public funding and assistance to VSEs and SMEs that commit to a CSR approach, as well as to associations and commercial structures in the social economy (SSE). This can take the form of loans to finance investment, or subsidies to cover the costs of CSR studies and deployment.

You should contact the Conseil Régional, the regional branch of the Chambre de Commerce et d'Industrie (CCI) or the Communauté d'agglomérations to obtain all the information you need, depending on where your company is based.

Finally, there are also banking solutions for financing companies' CSR approaches. By focusing on socially responsible investments (SRI) or making access to bank loans conditional on CSR performance criteria, some banks are helping companies to make the transition.