Social responsibility makes sense in business

Scottish Business in the Community. Picture: Contributed
Scottish Business in the Community. Picture: Contributed
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CSR is more than a philanthropic gesture, says Murray Allan

The rationale for business involvement in corporate social responsibility (CSR) has changed very little over time. The term CSR is only a few decades old, and yet businesses have been committed to helping shape sustainable communities they serve for much longer. For many of the world’s modern corporations, making a positive contribution to society is core to their CSR aims, not just as a marginal afterthought, but running through everything they do.

However it is important to move CSR away from being solely the domain of the big players. As the head of membership at Scottish Business in the Community, I talk with businesses of all shapes and sizes and I’m particularly struck and enthused by the number of SMEs (small and medium sized enterprises) increasingly becoming involved in the responsible business agenda. CSR is often considered the domain of the largest companies with corporate-sized budgets and dedicated staff resources to match. However the real impact will only be made when every small business is given the opportunity to contribute positively to the social and environmental landscape of Scotland.

Government figures show that SMEs account for more than 99 per cent of all private sector enterprises, more than half of the total number of jobs created by the sector and for almost 40 per cent of the turnover. Whilst much of the work of Scottish Business in the Community is with our corporate members, who themselves play a significant role in this agenda, we believe there is a great opportunity to engage with many more SMEs in shaping more sustainable communities and embedding responsible business behaviours. And on this scale we want to see them get involved, not just for philanthropic reasons, but for exactly the same reasons as their larger counterparts – because it makes sound commercial sense.

Many of the small businesses we work with see benefits in becoming more closely aligned to their communities and to local markets. Whether helping their local community group with resources or expertise, or helping school pupils to better understand the world of work, the experience is positive and rewarding on both sides. As an added benefit, participating SMEs are often well placed to secure new contracts from larger organisations that, as part of their own CSR policies, seek to have like-minded businesses in their supply chain. This has heightened since the release of The Procurement Reform (Scotland) Bill last year.

There is a role here for big business to make a larger impact. Few small businesses have the dedicated resources to develop their own responsibility programmes but it is easy for them participate in programmes which are already in place. Rather than corporates simply requiring their contractors to deliver against their CSR agenda, they are now able to help them to play their part.

SBC works with a number of its corporate members to help their supply chain and there are many examples of partnership in action from our members. Asda’s “Enterprise Growth Award” recognises larger businesses that support, engage and do business with SMEs in order to contribute to local economic growth. SBC’s expanding Hub Network across Scotland allows businesses of all sizes to work together on the responsible business journey. Crucially this allows SMEs to engage at a level that suits them, and it is this partnership of large and small companies that is so important in ingraining sustainable growth into the heart of the community.

Our tool, the Better Business Healthcheck helps small businesses decide on the responsible business actions most suited for their needs and establishes a tailored step-by-step guide to acting more sustainably. SBC’s Business Connector programme links highly skilled individuals seconded from the business world in order to benefit communities at a grassroots level. Mercat Tours, our 2014 SME of the Year, works closely with us helping other businesses to deliver responsible business practice.

Last month SBC launched “The Responsible Business Journey for Scotland – A Call to Action” with the aim of developing a sustainable Scotland, an inclusive Scotland with empowered communities. In order for this to succeed, there must be an increased understanding of how businesses can integrate social and economic concerns into their operations through their customers, employees, suppliers and local communities. It is fundamental to Scotland’s sustainable social and economic growth.

Whether large or small, there is a role for every business and we will continue to talk to them to achieve real community impact and business benefit.

• Murray Allan is head of member services at Scottish Business in the Community


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