Act sustainably and talk about it
A new directory helps small and mid-sized businesses to attain social and environmental goals
Many small and mid-sized enterprise (SMEs) in rural areas would like to strengthen their social and environmental activities – but are often prevented by staffing and financial constraints. A new directory provides them with a catalogue of measures they can take in just a few steps and without extensive preparation, checklists of issues which are particularly relevant to them, and how to formulate goals successfully and to communicate that success. The directory, “Nachhaltiges Handeln in Unternehmen und Regionen” (Working sustainably in businesses and regions), shows how regional organizations such as government offices and chambers of commerce can support SMEs locally in sustainability matters. The directory is the result of a three-year, German government-sponsored project completed in 2017, “RegioTransKMU – Regionale Transformation durch sozial-ökologisch handelnde Unternehmen” (Regional transformation via social-environmental action by businesses). It was coordinated by the environmental scientist Dr. Chantal Ruppert-Winkel of the University of Freiburg’s Center for Renewable Energy (ZEE), and its project partners, the Öko-Institut e.V. in Darmstadt and the Steinfurt district in Nordrhein-Westfalen.
SMEs employ more than 60 percent of Germany’s workers and generate more than 30 percent of sales. That makes them an important factor for a successful transformation to an economy which is both more environmentally- and people-friendly. Against the backdrop of society’s expectations and the legal framework on one hand, and demographic change and the resulting need for skilled workers on the other, one central question arises: What can make country areas and SMEs as employers so attractive that people want to live and work there – and what role does the SMEs’ social and environmental activism play?
To find the answer to this, the researchers asked around: in businesses and in some 1000 households; they asked experts, and potential employees – high school students, students in higher education, and trainees. They reached the conclusion that caring about the workers and environmental awareness were key characteristics of many SMEs, but that businesses often had too little structure for the corresponding activities and were not adequately able to integrate them into their external image. The household surveys in particular showed that people were interested in the social and environmental activities of their region’s SMEs, but often felt that they were not sufficiently informed about them. This reveals greater potential for stronger external communication under the motto: Act sustainably and talk about it. Regional networks in particular could prove to be useful here. A sustainable regional brand can also present a good opportunity to help reach important target groups locally.
In an earlier German government-sponsored research project, titled “EE-Regionen: Sozialökologie der Selbstversorgung,” Chantal Ruppert-Winkel and her team compiled a directory aimed at helping local government expand renewable energies.
Website and materials:
Article in the research magazine uni’wissen 01/2013:
Dr. Chantal Ruppert-Winkel
Center for Renewable Energy
University of Freiburg