Corporate Responsibility for SMEs – What You Need to Know

Corporate Responsibility is no longer an optional extra for businesses or just relevant to large corporations. Regardless of size, a company’s moral and social standing adds just as much value to the business as the products that they sell or the services that they offer.

“The age of responsibility is upon us - if not in terms of practice then definitely in terms of public expectation.”
John Morrison, Executive Director, Institute for Human Rights and Business

What is Corporate Responsibility?

The definition and terminology is constantly changing. Whether your call it Corporate Responsibility, Sustainability or Corporate Social Responsibility, they all share the same underlying concept that business activities have an impact on society, the environment and the economy. Therefore, businesses should behave responsibly by reducing the negative and increasing the positive impact.

“Once CR is broken down into its component parts, it reveals many kinds of corporate behaviours that are highly familiar to small businesses.”

“For example, treating employees in a responsible manner, taking concerns of customers to heart, dealing fairly with business partners, caring about the environment and the local community are all important components in achieving business success as an SME.”

Dr Roger Barker, Head of Corporate Governance, IoD

How do I develop a CR strategy?

The European Commission has developed a CSR roadmap for SMEs, providing the following guidance: ‘Implementing a CSR strategy can help focus on certain procedures and practices often leading to unforeseen benefits. For example, putting policies, visions and business cases into writing facilitates better communication inside the company and with customers and stakeholders by increasing trust and predictability.’

Whilst I believe that there is no single formula as each business is different, the roadmap will:

  1. Raise awareness of ways in which you are already meeting your CR objectives;
  2. Identify small actions in areas e.g. human resources, supply chain, community or environment that could lead to ‘quick wins’ and foster employee motivation and engagement;
  3. Align CR measures with the core objectives and competencies of your business.
    Resource Efficient Scotland provides a free advice and support programme designed to help you save money and reduce energy, water and waste. Their free online guides and webinars are great tools to get you started.

How do I implement a CR strategy within my business?

I am the owner and joint MD of Macsween of Edinburgh. Over the past 10 years we have strived to improve and systemise the way that we manage our environmental impacts and employee and community engagement. Publishing results and our experience of implementing CR strategy through our annual Sustainability Report and sharing advice on best practice at industry, consumer and policy related events.

Our priorities reflect a long-term view of what’s important; accommodating issues of concern from consumers, retailers and regulators. Responsibility for implementing our CR strategy is split between our various departments and all of our employees are guided on becoming ‘green champions’ with regular updates on performance and environmental initiatives.

Through a combination of simple measures, working with partners and using pioneering technologies, we have improved energy and water efficiency and are now amongst the first businesses in Scotland to achieve the milestone of being 100% landfill free.

Whether you have a dedicated CR team or not, it’s still possible to successfully implement a CR strategy within your business. In fact, SME’s have the advantage over larger businesses as due to their smaller size, they can adapt structures and processes at a faster rate.

What does the future hold for CR?

Vistage’s report on the Future of Corporate Responsibility for SMEs forecasts that by 2020, CR will be used as a strategic tool to manage business reputation, care for the customer, environmental impact and employee engagement. This will be a core part of the integrated business plan.

They also said that companies must achieve a step-change in the way that they develop products and services that are value-centric – not only meeting a specific need but making the world a better place for their customers.

As I’ve already mentioned, SMEs are best placed to capitalise on this opportunity due to their size and agility so it will be interesting to see how that affects the business landscape in the future.

What is your experience of Corporate Responsibility? Is it something that you’ve implemented into your business?

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