National SME Project
National Federally-funded SME Project
St James Ethics Centre (the Centre) has been commissioned by the Federal Government through Treasury to expand sustainable, responsible business practice nationwide. A particular focus of the research is to develop resources to support responsible business practice (RBP) among small to medium enterprises (SMEs). Unlike corporations, SMEs traditionally have greater levels of trust, connectedness and responsiveness to their communities in Australia and it is likely that they currently underestimate their collective power.
The Federal funding will allow the Centre to engage many more Australian businesses in identifying and adopting more responsible business practices – particularly small and medium sized companies, whose resources are often more limited. The Centre will aim to source, refine and develop resources or tools to engage and promote these practices for SMEs.
Stage 1 Outcomes (complete)
In 2008 the first stage of this national research project into responsible business practice in SMEs was conducted by Allen Consulting Group for St James Ethics Centre and presented at the 9th National Business Leaders Forum on Sustainable Development in Canberra on 20 May 2008.
Download the ‘Small and medium-sized enterprises and responsible business practice’ report by Allen Consulting Group.
The report findings from the first stage of national research serve to inform a more detailed and applied second stage of the project. The report provides analysis based on an international and local literature review and a small number of stakeholder consultations, including SMEs and thought leaders in responsible business practice and was intended to be a preliminary inquiry into this subject, providing information about and recommendations on how to expand and strengthen the state of responsible business practice in Australian SMEs. This report was structured around two main tasks:
- understanding and engaging SMEs in improving their responsible business practices
- understanding what role other stakeholders can play to support and guide SMEs towards more responsible business practices.
Key findings to come out of this research were:
- personal values of the owner/manager are a key factor in affecting leadership and engagement with responsible business practice or CSR in SMEs
- responsible business practice needs to be not thought of as an additional burden, but as a core part of the SMEs daily operations;
- the need to reach SMEs through their existing networks and specific sector/industry associations when promoting or communicating responsible business practice;
- practical, action orientated language should be used to engage SMEs that is specific to their business as opposed to the terminology used by the large corporates in their CSR frameworks;
- instead of mandating or forcing responsible business practices, government and industry should engage in leadership initiatives that will guide, support and encourage SME responsible business practice.
- there is a range of innovative initiatives already underway in Australia although the extent is difficult to measure due to the lack of data and coordinated effort.
Stage 2 Outcomes (underway)
Stage 2 of the National SME project was launched in October 2008 involving stakeholders from business (CRI Leaders Network), government and civil society. The second stage of research takes a more practical focus, drilling down in to current initiatives and gaps. The research is segmented into a series of ‘deep dives’ or key points of intervention, reflecting the diverse nature of SMEs and each piece of work aims to be trusted, respected and aspirational.
Where possible an action-based research approach has been employed – ensuring that the voice of the SME is included in resource development – harnessing the collective power, creativity and goodwill of SMEs and ensuring authenticity for the Project. This has included the use of focus groups, surveying existing models and test driving new approaches which have been developed in consultation with SMEs.
Work underway currently includes:
SMEs in their supply chain
Ernst & Young are currently reviewing the sustainable supply chain practices of leading corporates (from the CRI Leaders Network), with a view to providing guidance to SMEs in accessing their supply chains, while also looking to simplify and reduce bureaucratic requirements that might be barriers to entry. This element of the project will also be working with Federal and State government procurement to share best practice in supply chain management and will include focus groups of SMEs and corporate and government procurers. The materials developed will in addition enable the SME to communicate sustainable business practice to other stakeholders such as local customers and will be aligned to the GRI G3 Framework.
The Centre is in the process of developing an online platform which will allow SMEs and business of all sizes to build their sustainability profile. This profile is designed for use in the procurement process as well as allowing SMEs to demonstrate their sustainability credentials to customers and other key stakeholders. The platform is now known as the Good Business Register.
The Good Business Register was launched on 1 December 2009 - visit the Good Business Register now!
SMEs in their place or community
This segment of research is focused on identifying developments in local communities that are engaging and supporting the local business community in improving social and environmental outcomes. A mapping exercise is currently being undertaken, highlighting examples such as King Island Sustainable Futures, Towards Sustainability in South Australia, Sustainability Streets in Melbourne, Sustainable Advantage in NSW, the Sustainable Communities Initiative being piloted in several states. Find out more...
SMEs in their sector
This strand involves the mapping of product areas to identify the major areas of unsustainable practice and develop appropriate interventions. The areas being developed are the building sector, garment industry and fresh food with a focus on the potato, as well as generic models for use across all sectors, including those into international supply chains. Find out more...
SMEs and their support networks
Building the support networks of professionals and service providers through working with those businesses that provide essential services – for example accountants, lawyers, banks, IT/communications providers, chambers of commerce and the government funded business advice services.
Support networks will play a crucial role in taking the tools and resources being developed as a part of this national project out into the SME world.
Telstra and CPA Australia have committed to supporting the test drive of the Good Business Register.
These strands are contributing to the development of a “hub for responsible business practice” which is brought to life through this website - which aims to draw together the key resources and support networks.
Guiding Principles of the National SME Project:
- St James Ethics Centre – the trusted hub, holding the strings
- Make the way clear
- Help SMEs be strategic with CSR
- Avoid duplication
- National benefit
- The voice of the SME
- Commitment across the breadth of RBP
- Triangle of change
- Strategic and systemic
The Brotherhood of St Laurence has developed 3 tools to assist SMEs - especially those that have involvement in international supply chains:
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Disclaimer: The compatible application listed above is an example only. St James Ethics Centre does not endorse any particular software developer or specific application.