On the way to better corporate responsibility expertise for small businesses

In the years 2022–2023, we carried out training in the corporate responsibility competence of micro-enterprises in Northern Ostrobothnia to improve the ability of entrepreneurs to respond to changes in the operating environment and customer demands in the future. The aim was to make responsibility a part of the systematic development work of micro-enterprises and the communication of responsibility. We provided quick and practical training to increase the responsibility competence of micro-enterprises and to utilize it in the company's operations. The development of companies' responsibility competence will continue with a project aimed at facilitating companies' strategy work and foresight.
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The impacts, change and benefits of the “ViVa – Green responsibility in micro-enterprises” project were analyzed by comparing the results of the questionnaires completed by the participants in the initial situation and the final situation. By simply raising awareness of different sustainability themes and their contents, participants began to better understand what sustainability is and how their own company operates in sustainability matters. As responsibility competence developed, it became easier to identify the company's responsible actions. Indeed, the coaching brought a change in the attitude of entrepreneurs towards promoting sustainable development.

Peer-to-peer group work helps to prepare concrete development plans

The coaching included peer group work, in which small groups of three people together developed concrete action plans for each other's responsibility goals, in the sparring of experts. Participants developed a plan of concrete measures to develop social, ecological and economic responsibility.

Social responsibility includes everything related to people. In concrete terms, it means training the staff and continuous development of competence, investing in the well-being of the staff and, on the other hand, investing in the well-being of the entrepreneur, issues related to occupational safety and, of course, products and services developed based on the needs of customers.

Ecological responsibility involves all actions related to improving the state of the environment. One can choose more sustainable energy solutions, reducing consumption, taking life cycle thinking and circular economy principles into account in the design and manufacture of products, recycling, reducing waste, etc.

Economically sustainable development means balanced economic growth without indebtedness and overconsumption of capital reserves. Sustainable business takes into account the carrying capacity of the environment and future generations in its decision-making and choices. The company's financial responsibility starts from a responsible way of managing even small things and they have been found to have a positive connection to financial success, image and brand.

Building a more sustainable future with foresight expertise

As the world is changing at an accelerating pace, more and more expertise, methods and tools are needed to promote responsible business and achieve positive social impact, competitive advantage and financial performance. The “VATUPASSI Responsible Future” project, launched at the beginning of October 2023, seeks solutions to identify and understand responsibility as a cross-cutting theme in companies’ strategy, product and service process development, and supply chain.

Responsibility is considered and integrated into everything the company does. This does not refer to beautiful advertising slogans, but to a strategic business approach that affects all the decisions, actions, and actions of the company. This is reflected, among other things, in the company's goals and values; the company's sustainability strategy should reflect its core values and commitment to responsible operations.

As a result of the VATUPASSI project, the companies' foresight expertise and ability to change respond to changes in the operating environment will be greatly improved. This is also reflected in risk management; the company should identify and assess sustainability risks in advance and take them into account in its strategy. Responsibility in strategy can mean completely new business opportunities, which must also be identified in advance.

Responsibility reporting as a company's strategic tool

With increased regulation, the requirements for accountability to financial institutions and investors have increased. Investors and banks will demand understanding, actions and transparency from companies on sustainability issues as a condition for financing. The reporting requirement will apply to an increasing number of companies. Although the requirement does not directly apply to micro-enterprises or small enterprises, it has an impact on the entire supply chain, for example. Large companies and public operators as subscribers require responsibility reporting as part of their own supply chain and responsibility reporting work.

Micro and small businesses in particular need support in the area of responsibility. The need to identify and develop responsibility competence in a deeper way has emerged. The VATUPASSI project will investigate the aspects of ESG reporting (Environmental, Social, Governance) as well as the factors influencing the assessment from the perspective of the company and create guidelines for small businesses to support ESG reporting.

The target group of the project is micro, small and medium-sized enterprises and business service organisations in the area of operation of the project in the south of Northern Ostrobothnia. The main implementer of the group project is University of Oulu, Kerttu Saalasti Institute and co-implementers are the City of Kalajoki, Nivala-Haapajärvi region NIHAK ry and the City of Ylivieska. The City of Kalajoki is also responsible for implementing measures in the Raahe region. The project is co-funded by the European Union and the funding has been granted by the Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment of Northern Ostrobothnia. In addition to the implementers, the other funders of the project are the Raahe Region Development and the Kerttu Saalasti Foundation. The project will be implemented from 1 October 2023 to 31 March 2026.

From Responsibility to Competitive Advantage ¬– a guide to responsibility development

As a result of reflections on the materials and tools and peer group work used in the micro-entrepreneur's responsibility training (2022–2023) was born a “Competitive Advantage of Responsibility – A Guide to Creating a Responsibility Plan for a Small Business”. The guide offers practical approaches to how micro and small companies can assess their own sustainability situation, consider measures to promote sustainability in their company and start sustainability communication. The guide can be downloaded for free here (only in Finnish).

Author: Jaana Jeminen, designer, M.Sc. (Econ.), project manager, VATUPASSI- and previously ViVa-project, University of Oulu, Kerttu Saalasti Institute, Micro-entrepreneurship Centre MicroENTRE

Photo: Simon Berger, Pexels