Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Business Week asks why SMEs would report

Its been a big week for media interviews here at GRI. Today I heard from a journalist working on a story for Business Week on small and medium sized enterprises and sustainability. She was wondering why SMEs might start reporting. Here is the just of my response:

There seem to be two very different drivers for reporting based on where the company operates/originates (that we have detected!)

SMEs from USA, Canada, Australia, Western Europe: the driver for embracing sustainability and producing a report is usually a competitive differentiator when it comes to products and services – ie., these are companies that produce “green” or “sustainable” or “natural” products and services, and they use reporting to walk the talk on what they are doing. The value of reporting to these companies is brand enhancement and better communication channels with key stakeholders such as customers, communities, providers of capital, and employees. Of course this is a broad generalization - an exception I know of would be a group of Chilean fruit growers are trying to break into the UK and US organics marketplace, and they are finding that sustainability reporting is helping convince buyers that their product is genuinely “sustainable”.

Emerging markets SMEs (Africa, Asia, South America, Central and Eastern Europe) seem, for the most part, to be driven by efforts to enter – and be competitive – in the global marketplace. Buyers are forcing a plethora of ‘codes of conduct’ and other related initiatives (formal and informal) at them and they must show that they do adhere to sound environmental and labor/human rights practices in order to compete. As we have seen with the recent product safety and quality scandals in China – buyers are held responsible for what happens in their supply chains in the court of public opinion. This does seem ironic in a sense, as buyers have been shifting their contracts over the past decade or so to emerging markets where goods/services can be produced at lower cost – in part because the local governments do not impose stringent regulations when it comes to environment and social performance by the corporate sector. The regulation is still coming down the pipe – but in a different form and from a different authority – the international buyers (whether these be B2B or consumers directly). Companies with their eyes on the future are staying ahead of social audits and the like by getting a better idea of their social and environmental impacts and starting to manage potential risks.

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