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Committing to a sustainable corporate life
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Committing to a sustainable corporate life

| Text and Photo: Anders Jakobsen

Danish business leaders to be coursed in social responsibility - known as CSR. This autumn sees the beginning of a major project, which involves sending 12.000 business leaders from small and medium sized companies on a course. They're to be taught how to be considerate and how to be better at showing local social responsibility in a voluntary and systematic way. It's called CSR - Corporate Social Responsibility, and it's the largest project of its kind in Europe.

Very simply put, CSR aims to increase the ability for people within a company to be responsible and independent. Employees and the business should show a voluntary commitment to society - both locally and globally. It's about acting ethically, to respect human rights and to take care of the environment. 

People & Profit

Companies have already been through a number of trial projects. But things really got going with the start of the large project, "People & Profit" on 1 September. The Danish Minister of Economic and Business Affairs, Bendt Bendtsen, opened the conference where a number of participants described what had so far been very promising experiences with CSR.

Many pointed out that CSR is about showing real commitment towards your colleagues, your local environment and for more global challenges like pollution, child labour and human rights. If you're successful at this, a positive side effect may be better economic results. But what really counts is that the people involved feel happy with their surroundings - whether they're colleagues, customers, clients or service providers. 

Environmental demands

In other words, it is about getting all workers and thus the entire business to shift up a gear. Not by force, manipulation or stress, but through desire and commitment from each individual worker. And this could become a necessity for a lot of businesses, the Minister said, by pointing to a study from the Harvard Business School commissioned by the Danish Commerce and Companies Agency.

"It shows six out of ten companies today face customer demands for environmental commitment, among other things. In that respect, Denmark is in a strong position, and we have proven that social responsibility pays.

It gives both a better reputation and an increased bottom line bonus. And we can also see that companies taking part are very good at both keeping happy employees, and at attracting new, talented and committed people. The study also shows that big companies buying products, prefer providers with a good reputation. Then they know they will not run into unexpected problems", Bent Bentsen said.

"Recently we have seen on Danish TV some examples of businesses which have run into major problems, because they use sub contractors in the far east which definitely don't show concern for social responsibility, human rights, the environment and so on. This can become very expensive for those businesses, because customers 'vote with their feet' and go elsewhere to shop", said Bendt Bendtsen. 

Three important factors

The study unveils three important factors, which are particularly instrumental in making green and social investments attractive:

It is easier for businesses which are committed to CSR to attract new customers. It reduces the danger of getting involved in corruption, pollution and child labour. CSR also improves the internal innovation of both workers, production and products. Things move much faster, because workers are far more inclined to launch themselves into the development of new products and methods of production. The head of marketing at the savings bank Middelfart Sparekasse, Jeppe Schyth Olsen, put it this way:

"We've chosen a path where employees have a lot of responsibility, without a lot of middle management spending time checking up on the employees. Since 1996 we've created a culture of self-leadership for employees, as well as a value-based management. In this culture everyone is deeply engaged in doing a good piece of work", Jeppe Schyth Olsen said.

A third element is the physical environment. A haulage contractor business which joined the project, noted a reduction in fuel consumption by a considerable 40 per cent, because the drivers had been coursed in how to drive in a more economical way. In the long run it is not least important that a company constantly develops new products and production processes, which cannot simply be exported or copied. But it is also important not to be afraid of co-operating with other companies to develop something new and perhaps bigger - for instance through a network - instead of simply competing with each other. 

Down to earth

Project co-ordinator Jacob Gowland Jørgensen from Rambøll Management has been involved in the execution of the project. He underlines the importance of getting CSR-projects down to earth. It's important that not only the big companies work with CSR -“the common trading business must also be included in the process”:

"We work with the principle that there must be something there which really matters to everybody involved. Useful networks for instance, don't come about by themselves. Our experience is that when people see that this really has meaning to their company, it becomes an integral part of their business.

Denmark's great lack of labour has made CSR even more relevant.

"Companies which stand out as being a force of good in a local society, will in return get a lot of job applications - that's our clear experience. Companies which still exist in a 'solar eclipse' are also about to discover this fact, and they're doing something about it. CSR is very concrete, there is no hocus pocus!", said Jacob Gowland Jørgensen.

Voluntary co-operation

Advisor Ib Maltsen at the Danish Confederation of Trade Unions is a specialist on CSR. He told NLJ that the unions will definitely support CSR as long as it is implemented in a sensible way:

"It can be utilised in many ways in companies, and as long as it happens in close and voluntary co-operation with the workers, and if it even gives a plus to the bottom line, it is quite splendid. It is the best way of motivating workers and to make them more independent and responsible."

"But it must not become something which businesses use simply as a gimmick, and in order to keep a bunch of clever consultants busy. Perhaps we need someone to keep an eye on these companies - but the best way to this is through internal voluntary cooperation with the employees and their organisations. Through our Danish system of labour agreements we can actually do this, and we are very positive towards CSR", says Ib Maltesen.

Arrived in helicopter

The Danish Minister of Economic and Business Affairs, Bendt Bendtsen, arrived in style with a helicopter to the CSR-conference in Middelfart (picture above).

Facts

The project "People & Profit" offers courses for 12.000 leaders in small and medium sized Danish businesses, where they learn how to get involved on a local level, as well as how to develop both their employees and their businesses.

The project is run by the Danish Commerce and Companies Agency in cooperation with the consulting firm Rambøll Management, with support from the European Social Fund and state contribution through the Ministry of Labour as well as the Danish Labour Market Administration.

The project has published a practical guide to social responsibility for businesses.

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