People first, environment last. New study gauges social responsibility priorities for small New Zealand businesses

People first, environment last. New study gauges social responsibility priorities for small New Zealand businesses

Small businesses do care, but it seems they place more emphasis on helping their staff and the local community than on the environment. That’s the main finding from a survey of 2,170 small businesses, undertaken by BNI New Zealand. With corporate social responsibility often deemed to be the domain of large corporations, the BNI Givers Gain survey was designed to study the social responsibility attitudes and activities of small businesses in New Zealand. 

How small? The survey found 65 percent of participants have less than five staff, while 16 percent have between 5 and 10 employees and. 

A little over 66 percent of respondents believe that doing good for their community will contribute to success in their business. The top ranked altruistic activity (74.8 percent) was making financial donations to worthwhile causes, followed by allowing staff flexible hours (66.3 percent), training (64.5 percent) and sponsorship (56.4 percent). 

Meanwhile concerns over ecological activities and the environment were piled at the bottom of the list. That may be the case, but the survey also found that three quarters of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that their company ought to be concerned with environmental issues and needed to take responsibility for protecting the environment. 

The disconnect may be that SMEs have a very localised focus, so big issues like the environment are seen as the preserve of bigger organisations – in effect, it appears that most small business operators don’t really know, see or understand how they can make a difference in that area,” said Mr Southwell, national director of BNI New Zealand. 

Small businesses were evenly split when it came to choosing how to demonstrate their social responsibility. Half of the respondents agreed, or strongly agreed, that they would rather donate their time than money. 

When times are though, it seems, perhaps not surprisingly, that social responsibility slips down the ladder of priority. More than 40 percent of respondents suggest they become less engaged in social responsibility activities when times are tough. However, for 20 percent of those surveyed, social responsibility was not negotiable, whether in good times or bad. 

The designer of the study, academic director at Wellington Institute of Technology, Alan Cadwallader, said a re-occurring theme from the study is that while SMEs understand the importance of social responsibility, they lack appreciation of the role small business has to play in making socially significant contributions.

“This may be another reason why it is possible that their participation in environmental and ecological practices is quite low.” 

Cadwallader believes that on the whole SMEs are quite disconnected in feeling that they have an impact on the environment. 

“In many ways the results are similar to studies done in Europe – so New Zealand small businesses are not that different from their international counterparts. 

“Like small businesses internationally, the central focus for New Zealanders in terms of social responsibility is their staff and behaving in a way that is socially supportive of their staff.”

Idealog has been covering the most interesting people, businesses and issues from the fields of innovation, design, technology and urban development for over 12 years. And we're asking for your support so we can keep telling those stories, inspire more entrepreneurs to start their own businesses and keep pushing New Zealand forward. Give over $5 a month and you will not only be supporting New Zealand innovation, but you’ll also receive a print subscription and a copy of the new book by David Downs and Dr. Michelle Dickinson, No. 8 Recharged (while stocks last).