CSR: What SMEs Need

June 12th and 13th in Berlin. Block your diaries these days for the first international conference called “Networking for Better Corporate Social Responsibility Advice for Small and Medium Sized Enterprises”, to which our consultant Juan Villamayor has been invited, along with other 99 CSR consultants. This conference, funded by the European Commission, will be a forum for experts from all over Europe, specialized in sustainability in small and medium enterprises (SMEs). There will be discussions about how to provide better advice to European SME’s, and how we can contribute to better sustainability strategies in European SMEs.

CSR consultants are already sharing views via social media more and more often. However, it’s what SMEs do in terms of sustainability what is missed. Most often it’s big corporation language.

Consultants can act as a bridge between SMEs, exchanging experiences, know-how and points of view. This is the only way that”small” CSR best practices will be known not only in small, local circles, but also in wider platforms where they can be used by other organizations. A networking event like this has many challenges to face:

  • Spread the news about CSR best practices in SMEs. Usually it is bigger corporations’ programs the only ones that get in the picture, leaving aside useful learnings and experiences made by smaller companies. The path towards sustainability for a SME can have completely different challenges and motivations. Very often what is good for a MNC is not necessarily good for a SME.
  • Create a “best practices database” where both SMEs and consultants can contribute and profit from. Unfortunately, very often brilliant initiatives with great benefits have a limited audience. They should be accessible through this platform.
  • European CSR needs to happen at smaller scale, or it won’t happen at all. According to the European Commission, “SMEs provide two out of three of the private sector jobs and contribute to more than half of the total value-added created by businesses in the EU”. European CSR programs have to take this into account if they really want to succeed. SMEs need an environment where they feel comfortable and free to discuss how they manage their CSR and sustainability strategies. This conference should be this ideal environment.
  • Share, optimize, improve existing initiatives. For instance, there are dozens of self-diagnose tools that remain known only to few people and companies, mainly because they are local initiatives, or because they don’t have the proper forum where they can be analyzed and discussed. These initiatives should be shared, compared and complemented in order to avoid duplicities and create synergies.
  • Find the best ways to help smaller companies become part of a sustainable supply chain. In some cases sustainability comes top-down: First, multinational companies decide to adopt a sustainable strategy and, later on, they demand the same from their suppliers (often SMEs). Small and medium businesses need to be prepared for that.
  • Simplify things for SMEs: Speak their language, use their scale, be one of them.
  • Turn CSR benefits into real value. Explain CSR to SMEs by using examples that bring added value to their activities. Don’t be abstract, get specific, talk about value creation.
  • The conference should definitely go beyond consultant networking and facilitate networking between SMEs as well.
  • Help companies find new businesses opportunities that are hidden behind the curtain. Tear this curtain down and help SMEs discover a whole new world of green, sustainable activities.
  • The conference should prepare the shift from an economy based of the production of stuff to a new model based on added value and more services.This applies as well on SMEs.

Stay in tune, we will keep you posted!

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Sustainability: The Benefits of Employee Engagement

Photography by - Andrea Booher

Why should you engage your employees in sustainability? Employees are a company’s essential stakeholders, its “most valuable assets” as often stated in mission statements. John Drummond, the CEO of Corporate Culture who spoke on employee engagement at  the Economist Sustainable Business Summit on March 17 in London considers that “an organization is its employees“, and therefore, a natural component of its sustainability strategy.

In a recent blog post, CSR Consultant Celesa Horvath offered an interesting insight into the benefits of employee engagement in sustainability.

She wrote that in her experience,” early employee engagement enables the development of a bespoke approach to CR and sustainability that is relevant and sensitive to the realities of each specific organization, and which enjoys a high degree of support and buy-in from the outset.”

Engaging employees in sustainability is a perfect opportunity, especially for SMBs, to initially define – or measure the efficiency of – a company’s sustainability strategy.

Other benefits of employees engagement are:

  • Identify and promote internal talent and drive loyalty
  • Inspire staff and impact individual and collective behaviors within or outside the workplace
  • Find solutions to specific sustainability issues
  • Help achieve specific business targets
  • Impact employees motivation
  •  Help attract and retain talent
  •  Make your employees your most valuable “sustainability ambassadors”

Both John and Celesa, acknowledged the fact that the first step towards a successful employee engagement in sustainability is to ensure a clear commitment at the  Board level and a consistent message across the company in case of a ”top-down” initial approach. The role of middle management in this process is essential.

In a recent round-table about employee engagement, participants highlighted the interest of  “an integrated approach, blending top-down & bottom-up ideas” in order to improve sustainability management across departments, employee communications and to inspire the change.

The main idea here is that top management should define the strategic roadmap and then involve employees in defining the ‘how to”.

A top-down roll out may also be appropriate to meet specific ‘efficiency’ goals. Expert Glennon Franklin, Director of Strategic GreenSource, wrote in a recent blog post that “in this stagnant economy, everyone is focused on cutting costs to drive higher profitability” and that  “getting your employees engaged in sustainable business practices is a quick and efficient way to achieve those savings.”

However it is  hard  to engage employees & change behaviour around “dry goals” such as ‘cost-saving’, rules or restrictions (‘don’t; ‘use less’…). That’s why positive actions, that cover both professional and private areas, usually increase employee engagement.

Why CSR Should be “Business as Usual” for SME’s?

The purpose of our blog & newsletter is not just to give our readers news about Green Den but also to educate and inform. One of the often neglected aspect of CSR is the impact it can have on small or medium sized enterprises (SMEs). The four pillars of CSR are responsibilities in the workplace, marketplace, community and environment; SMEs play a pivotal role in all four avenues. 90% of the world’s business comes from SMEs and they employ about 50% of the world’s population. The kind of change they are capable of is community-based, continued investment to uplift their key stakeholders. This is something that CSR models based on big companies can never hope to achieve. Change at the grass-root level is what every ethical business dreams of and this is where small enterprises stand to gain enormously.


Diverting away from the kitschy big-business idea of CSR, small business have the advantage of direct interaction with the community from out of which they operate. What they need to be convinced about is whether or not it makes business sense for them to be ‘socially responsible’. The answer is a resounding yes!


First of all it must be stressed that CSR is not just policy, it is a principle of doing business. It is not something that is done as an add-on, it is something that is incorporated into your way of doing business. In this scenario, it offers businesses many benefits in terms of better shareholder relationships and also acts as a powerful tool for word-of-mouth advertising.It offers SMEs added benefits in terms of strengthening their relationship within the community and acting as an example to make people’s lives better. The most important reason why small companies should engage in CSR activities is to improve their export markets. Acting as a part of the supply chain means that export products to a big company needs to meet certain standards all along the chain. This is the single more important competitive benefit that SMEs have by incorporating CSR into their business. It is especially important for small businesses in emerging economies supplying to companies with multiple supply chains.Secondly, mainstreaming CSR into any business is a challenge. By incorporating the principles of CSR in the early stages of growth, SMEs have another advantage over companies that have already reached a certain size. Forming principles, processes and structures becomes easier along with reporting and policy writing. Developing a culture of sustainability within the organization becomes more streamlined and employees know what it means to be sustainable.

Finally, it makes business sense. This is something that the larger companies are beginning to understand. When the small companies jump on this idea, the limits to green business has no bounds. In fact, the term might just become obsolete along with the term ‘business as usual’ because every business will be ethical, sustainable and profitable. This is a dream worth working towards…

The Cost of Un-Sustainability!

Does being green and sustainable always cost more?

There is a common misconception among many corporations, businesses and even consumers that being environmentally responsible always costs more. This could not be farther from the truth. There are instances when greener products or practices may cost more but businesses that incorporate social and environment safeguards actually improve efficiency, reduce waste and increase profits margins. Consumers who practice green living live more fulfilled and healthy lives. While supporting a sustainable environment, they are also ensuring they have a product or service to sell or enjoy tomorrow.

What’s closer to the truth is that being insensitive to the environment and social good will cost businesses heavily in the long run. Per the goodpurpose study, while choosing between two brands of equal quality and price, consumers worldwide value social purpose as the deciding factor over design, innovation and brand loyalty. We can safely say that without social and environmental responsibility, there is no long run!

Companies Can Save The World!

This post by Juan Villamayor originally appeared on his blog – A Touch of Green

The first goal of the United Nations Millennium Development program is to end poverty and hunger. This sounds like something that governments andNGOs are doing already (or should be doing). However, companies and citizens have an important role to play here too. In fact, businesses have tools to reach this goal in an efficient way, mainly through actions along their supply chain.

Both multinational corporations (MNC) and many small and medium entreprises (SMEs) are based in developing countries, or work with suppliers from these countries. What they do and how they do it has a tremendous impact on the lives of many people. Transforming their impact into something positive is not complex. Here are some simple ways how a company can contribute to end poverty and improve living conditions in developing countries:

  • MNC are often on the spotlight due to children labor controversy. Their responsibility is very high since they are also accountable for what their suppliers are doing. With suppliers mainly in India, Turkey and Bangladesh, the clothing retailer H&M knows this very well. This company has launched a program with UNICEF in order to protect the rights of children in cotton producing areas in southern India. Maybe that’s not enough, but it’s a step in the right direction.
  • Very often women are the ones who suffer most the consequences of poverty and exclusion, and most of the time it is due to discrimination and the lack of school education. NIKE supports “girl effect”, a program addressed to adolescent girls in developing countries aimed at improving their lives and giving them a chance for a better future. As NIKE states, “for girls in developing countries, the effects of poverty and lack of resources can often be seen through early marriage, childbirth and increased HIV infection rates. Such setbacks for women also impact their communities.”
  • Let’s take Coca-Cola. Reducing their water consumption is not only a question of sustainability but also a question of cost reduction. However, they are also aware of the fact that access to clean water is a big problem for many people. This problem affects health and complicates the lives of millions of Africans (mainly women), who have to go very long distances to get water for their daily consumption. Coca-Cola Company supports a project in Kenya to provide safe water to primary schools in Western Kenya.

These are examples of how companies can save the world and help eradicate poverty. Us, citizens and small businesses can do it too at our scale. Examples will follow soon.

You can save the world!