As a society, we are becoming increasingly aware of the environmental and human impacts of businesses. There is a growing realisation that businesses can no longer be left unchecked, and calls for transparency, greater environmental sensibility and the protection of human rights (particularly in relation to addressing poverty levels) are on the increase.
However, many still believe this is the realm of big business. For example, Google has committed to 100 per cent renewable energy.
We shouldn’t just be relying on big business to address our social challenges. No matter your size, there is an opportunity for you to elevate the community in which you operate. In doing so, you will create a community with more spending power, which can only be a good thing for your business.
It doesn’t need to cost the earth either. Big businesses put big sustainability programs in place because they have the most to change. These campaigns are global in nature and often make the headlines. What is often overlooked is the difference that can be made within local communities. This is where SMEs have a major role to play.
Addressing the local social responsibility challenges
The Poverty in Australia 2014 report from the Australian Council of Social Service states that 2.55 million Australians live in poverty. That’s over 10 per cent of the Australian population, and it’s impacting both cities and rural areas in every state.
Overturning poverty in Australia cannot be left to politicians alone. As SMEs, we should look to support our local communities and help raise them out of poverty.
Such campaigns aren’t likely to bring home the headlines but they will impact our local communities in positive ways. More often than not, campaigns specifically designed for your local community will have the greatest and most meaningful impact and a successful local outcome.
Food for thought
Identifying where your business can help and support the local community can be challenging, but it doesn’t have to be. Look at where your offices and supply chains operate and think about what’s important in these areas.
Speak to the local council to identify where their greatest issues lie. This will provide you with a starting point on what meaningful activities you could conduct to help overcome challenges in that community.
This could be a long-term plan or a series of quick events that together have a big impact. Be sure to set achievable and realistic goals, and decide on ways in which you can measure your impact.
Look to collaborate with other like-minded businesses, NGOs, local advocates and the local council. You may find that by coming together, you can address different issues that will help to overcome the overall problem in the local community.
Although SMEs can’t develop the same big initiatives that the giants of business can, it is clear that action is needed. Businesses have to play a leading role in driving this change. Hence a growing number of businesses, both big and small, are embracing a social agenda.
Terry Hughes is the CEO of Solaris Paper, the Australian affiliate of Asia Pulp & Paper, a manufacturer of sustainably sourced toilet paper, facial tissues and paper towels.