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Ask The Expert: How can small businesses create big social change?

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Ask The Expert: How can small businesses create big social change?

Published: November 22, 2019

Dave Matkin, interim director of commercial banking at Unity Trust Bank, discusses the ways small businesses can achieve their commercial aims and have a positive social impact at the same time.

In today’s business climate sustainability and corporate responsibility are becoming a ‘must have’ for any successful firm, so it’s important to invest some time thinking about the impact you are having on society through your actions.

Whether you already consider yourself a socially responsible business or don’t know where to start, there are a number of relatively straightforward activities you can look at across your organisation – a few small changes can play a big part in reducing your costs, minimising risks in your supply chain and creating a positive societal impact.

Reduce your carbon footprint

Think about how your business manages its use of resources. Are you tracking your paper usage? Do you have recycling facilities? Are your employees spending time travelling when voice or video conferencing could work?  Many organisations have moved away from single use plastics and invested in reusable bottles. ‘Cycle to Work’ schemes are becoming more widespread – and bring obvious health benefits too! These are great ‘first steps’ around reducing your environmental impact and can easily lead onto more ambitious employee-led initiatives.

Engage your suppliers, setting clear guidelines around how you expect them to deliver your service , including any sub-contractors they use.

Talk to your energy supplier about renewable energy and ask to be switched to a more reliable, sustainable source of energy.

Benchmark your sustainability activity to really understand what you do well and where there are opportunities for improvement. Currently many of the industry standards will be voluntary for smaller organisations but this position may change as the UK moves towards Net Zero Carbon Emissions by 2050.

Support volunteering and mentoring

Last year, an estimated 11 million UK employees were given paid time off to volunteer for charities or organisations. There’s no denying how valuable employee volunteering activity can be to local community organisations and charities, and it’s also widely recognised as a key contributor to increased engagement and satisfaction.

Some companies align their community engagement to their business purpose. Others focus on broader societal issues, for example, hosting sessions to improve CV writing, employability and financial inclusion for school leavers or those out of work. Mentoring schemes are another great way to have an impact – whether that’s boosting the skills of your future workforce or supporting smaller business and community organisations.  Whatever you do, engaging your people to better understand their local communities and encourage them to use their skills and experience in this way is a win-win!

Choose a ‘charity of the year’

Choosing an annual charity partnership can be an effective way to engage employees across different departments – having a common goal and encouraging them to work together to achieve organisation-wide fundraising and volunteering goals. Try to define a specific outcome so that everyone can recognise how their actions are making a difference.

Work towards the Living Wage

The Living Wage is a UK wage rate that is voluntarily paid by more than 5,000 UK businesses. It’s calculated to meet the costs of living for employees and their families and is a higher rate than the government’s National Living Wage. ­­

Paying the Living Wage can increase the well-being of your employees and because they feel valued, can increase retention rates whilst reducing recruitment costs. It’s also an indicator of a socially minded, responsible business which can differentiate you from your competitors.

To secure a Living Wage accreditation, you need to pay the real living wage to all directly employed members of staff, commit to paying contractors the same and then complete a short, online application form.

Consider employee ownership

The EO sector is booming and currently worth nearly £40 billion. Evidence shows that they routinely outperform their more conventionally-owned competitors. As well as assisting in profitability, EO schemes produce engaged and loyal workforces due to them having a personal stake in the success of the organisation.

While employee ownership (EO) isn’t the right move for every business, it can reap big rewards. The John Lewis Partnership has been owned by staff since 1929 and today, has around 84,000 partners. In the 12 months to January 2019, it totalled gross sales of £11.7 billion, making it the largest EO business in the UK.

As a commercial bank with a social conscious, Unity Trust Bank recognises the importance of investing in a robust CSR strategy and ensuring a firm’s entire business model is ethical, fair and makes a positive impact in the communities it serves.

Our brand was founded out of a vision to create a bank that would support its customers to enrich society as a whole. Today, we remain true to our original principles as we strive to become the bank of choice for socially minded businesses and organisations across the UK.