New project to develop sustainability reporting capacity for SMEs

11 January 2012

A new project initiated by the Catalan Chambers of Commerce is uniting small businesses in Catalonia with a commitment to sustainability and GRI reporting. The Transparencia project guides the suppliers of large companies in implementing sustainability reporting and management practices. 64 suppliers of 11 multinationals are participating. This number is set to rise; and to inspire other chambers of commerce, business associations and multinationals to embed sustainability among their suppliers and member companies.

GRI’s Global Action Network program has partnered with the Catalan Chambers of Commerce to deliver GRI sustainability reporting training for the project. Certified Training partners and specially-trained local consultants guide participants’ through their first GRI sustainability reporting cycle.

In troubled economic times, effective sustainability reporting can add value for small businesses and the large companies that depend on them; helping to protect against risks, identify opportunities, and build the sustainability profile of an entire business group.

Narcis Bosch, CEO of the General Council of Catalan Chambers of Commerce, explains the motivation behind the project. “The present economic situation has sent a clear message: Those businesses that want to remain competitive in the long term must prioritize increased transparency, stakeholder dialogue, and responsibility for the major impacts of their activities.

“In Catalonia we already have interesting examples of large companies that are very committed to Corporate Social Responsibility. But we detected a triple threat to Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs), which represent 98 percent of our business: the absence of CSR practices and their benefits, difficulties in applying CSR methodologies within organizations, and the tendency for large companies to ask their suppliers to implement CSR strategies without many SMEs knowing why or how to do so.”

Building sustainability reporting capacity in small businesses can still involve some impressive figures: companies in the Transparencia project add up to more than 71,000 workers and 27 billion Euros of turnover. “Chambers of Commerce should help businesses to be stronger and more competitive,” adds Bosch. “They should provide SMEs with the opportunity to incorporate CSR as a tool for improvement. They should do so simply and clearly, with suitable tools – like GRI reporting.”

The project highlights several important questions in sustainability and corporate reporting. What tools can SMEs use to boost their chances of survival and growth in a time of economic crisis? How can multinationals incorporate sustainability in their supply chains, among companies that they do not necessarily have direct control or influence over? How can sectors, and regions, focus on the sustainability issues that are most relevant for them? And how can groups of companies build advocacy and visibility for their progressive attitude towards sustainability?

Catalonia has a tradition of innovation and independence in times of challenge. Regarding the last two questions, Bosch says: “SMEs are an excellent example of involvement and interaction between business and a region. We are particularly interested in identifying Catalonian businesses as leaders in innovation, competitiveness and sustainability. As the Transparencia project involves the collaboration of the government of Catalonia and European Social Fund, it is a unique opportunity to demonstrate shared responsibility between government, chambers of commerce, large companies and their SME suppliers to promote a better model for doing business in the region.”

Traditional wine producer Codorníu is one of the large companies involved in the project. “Addressing sustainability in our own annual report, and helping some of our SME suppliers to do so, helps people to understand the sustainability of our and others’ operations,” states Eduardo Mas, Sustainability Quality Manager. “It also helps us spread sustainability culture within our own team, one of the most important steps for implementing our sustainability strategy.”

Mas highlights the inclusive, collaborative nature of the project. “From the moment we took the decision to participate, we made it clear that we were inviting suppliers to join us – not forcing them. We want them to progress in sustainability together with us. In fact, an important part of our sustainability success or failure is strongly conditioned by our suppliers’ performance. In the long term, we will be able to implement objective and specific sustainability criteria to assess suppliers.”

Marcial Navarro Segura of fellow participants Damm Group – a beverage manufacturer and distributor – also outlines the interconnectedness of suppliers’ and buyers’ performance: “Promoting the sustainability of our suppliers is also an investment in our own CSR. Until now our sustainability efforts have focused primarily on our employees and reducing the environmental impacts that result from our activity. While these two strands will remain a focus, we aim to deliver a more global CSR policy by working closely with our suppliers and stakeholders.”

Chambers of commerce, multinationals and business associations worldwide are invited to take a lead from the Catalan example. This is expected to be the first of many similar projects that see GRI supporting groups of small businesses in their sustainability efforts. By engaging with GRI’s Global Action Network program, SMEs produce their first sustainability report. The skills they learn can help them to integrate sustainability into their strategy and operations – to become a better business, with better prospects. Narcis Bosch pays handsome tribute to the GRI-trained consultants who help to deliver the program and make Transparencia a success.

“Without the cooperation and effort of the 6 specialist CSR consultants that support the SMEs, we would not have the results that are on the table today,” he says. “Their dedication and commitment to sustainability and the participating SMEs has been indispensable. To the whole team: Thank you very much.”

Find out more about the Transparencia project
Find out more about the Global Action Network project Contact the Global Action Network team:
Read more of the interviews with Transparencia participants

Font: www.globalreporting.org