Monday 18 March 2019 8:35 am

Stop overlooking small businesses – they can be a massive force for good

Small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) make up 99 per cent of companies, and employ 60 per cent of private sector workers in the UK.

And yet, they are often overlooked when we talk about responsible business.

When SMEs take action on responsible business, they make a huge difference to London’s communities, to our environment, to workers, and to their bottom line.

Earlier this month, senior business leaders from across London renewed their commitment to spreading a culture of responsible business beyond their own companies.

They joined the Bank of England governor Mark Carney and Mike Barry, director of sustainable business at Marks and Spencer, as the charity – Heart of the City – announced its ambition to support more firms with their responsible business work.

The charity, which is funded by the City Corporation and City Bridge Trust, announced its commitment to supporting new SMEs on two-year programmes. It plans to work with 38 per cent more businesses in the next few years.

Heart of the City was founded in 2000 by the City of London Corporation, the Bank of England, and the Financial Conduct Authority.

Working with around 150 companies in London, the organisation helps develop their social purpose alongside their daily business activities. It specialises in getting small firms to take practical and affordable steps to do business responsibly, while still being successful.

To do this, it relies on the voluntary support and expertise of more than 100 responsible business professionals from some of the City’s largest companies.

Heart of the City supports SMEs to kick-start their first responsible business programme, both because they want to do the right thing, and because they believe that doing the right thing is strongly linked to the company’s success.

And there is evidence to support their decision.

Responsible business attracts customers. According to research from Deloitte, 66 per cent of consumers are willing to pay extra for products and services that come from companies committed to positive social and environmental impact.

It is attractive to employees too: 80 per cent of us want to work for a company that cares about how it impacts and contributes to society.

Academic analysis backs this up at a macro level, as higher economic growth is linked to having a large share of socially responsible firms in an economy.

For example, since working with Heart of the City, patent attorney firm Beck Greener says that graduate applicants regularly ask about its responsible business activities.

The issues facing society today are of such magnitude that no single company can possibly hope to tackle them alone.

But by engaging an ever greater number of companies in tackling social problems, climate change, and workplace issues like diversity and inclusion, Heart of the City aims to build a movement for change.

The charity’s motto is “do well by doing good”. Let’s hope that, over the next five years, we can get more small businesses doing more good.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.