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Small business, sustainability reporting: It can be done
05 December 2012
​Photography: ToniVC (CC License)

​Small businesses in rural Spain have been learning how to report their sustainability performance. Some of the participants in the Sustainable Rural Management project have now published their first reports – and have been telling GRI about the challenges and benefits of reporting, from a small company’s point of view.
​The project – led by Catalan non-profits Garrotxa Lider and ADRINOC - aims to enhance the economic, environmental and social performance of small companies in Catalonia, the Balearic Islands and Aragon. As part of its Business Transparency Program, GRI has joined this effort by providing training and coaching to 100 rural companies – many of them micro-enterprises with fewer than 10 employees.

Of the companies that have now published a report, many represent vital sectors for a rural economy – agricultural production, particularly of foodstuffs (32 percent), and tourism (29 percent). The food producers include makers and retailers of high-end, quality produce, like local cheeses and wine.

These are truly small businesses. Over 80 percent of those with published reports have fewer than 50 employees; 50 percent have no more than 10. But there is still significant money involved. Emphasizing the crucial role played by small enterprises in Spain’s economic and social development, 50 percent of all the companies taking part have an annual income of over €300,000.

So what do the companies themselves say? Several of those that spoke to GRI mentioned that they had considered sustainability and social responsibility before the project, but had not made the connection between these commitments and reporting. GRI’s training helped make this connection explicit, and revealed its value.

According to Caritas Diocesana de Menorca, “The major benefit for us has been integrating a process of continuous evaluation that improves our day to day management.” 

This view was supported by Grupo Balear de Ornitologia y Defensa de la Naturaleza, also from Menorca. “The reporting process has made us more conscious and more objective about our daily operations. It helps us to reduce costs and have a coherent message, and increases our solidarity with the local economy.”

Several businesses commented on the strengthening of ties with the local communities where they operate, including in terms of reputation and communication. “The overall benefit that the report gives us is transparency; a more transparent face to the local community and our clients,” says Vinicola del Sarral y Sección de Crédito.

“It enables us to be transparent about the management and current status of our company with our consumers, clients, employees, and others,” adds Formargeries Montbru; while Productes Alimentaris Macau stress that, “In terms of the local economy, reporting has strengthened our role in the territory and community.”

As for the challenges, data gathering and stakeholder engagement were not always straightforward.

“One difficulty was to gather relevant and sufficient data from the past,” says GOB Menorca. “We had to really dig through our archives.” To understand and measure performance, you have to start somewhere; although this process does become easier with time, small businesses don’t necessarily have the record-keeping practices of bigger organizations. 

For some participants, linking up views and information from different areas of the company was another new and unexpected task. “The ability to select material topics and indicators meant involving different sections of the company, which was a large effort to coordinate,” say Caritas.

When it comes to stakeholder engagement, it is tempting to think that there are always large numbers of easily-identifiable people who are ready to share their opinions with a company: Everyone likes to have their say. But this isn’t necessarily the case, according to landscape and forestry management consultancy Socarrel: “It was a challenge to decide on our key stakeholders, collaborate with them to get what they consider to be the most important topics, and filter those to the material indicators for us to manage and report.”

Ultimately, the businesses saw the value of sustainability reporting: all intend to continue, mostly biennially but some on a yearly basis. “The experience of this first year has taught us that a sustainability report cannot be done exclusively at the end of the year,” says Formargeries Montbru. “It is an exercise that needs to be done with a thorough, ongoing process; deciding on the key information, managing that information, and then continually analyzing ways to improve.”  

The outcomes of the project so far are gratifying for two of the managers involved in delivering it. For Susanna Alsina I Coll, Foundation Manager of Garrotxa Lider, “The sustainability report has already become an important management tool for our small companies; it has helped them identify their risks and opportunities, and equipped them to anticipate future needs that may arise.”

Enrique Torres, GRI Senior Manager – Training and Coaching Programs, is in no doubt about the results: “This project, and the responses to it, shows that sustainability reporting is both possible and beneficial even for micro-enterprises. It is the perfect counter-argument to the idea that sustainability reporting is only for large corporations.” 

Watch a video about the Gestión Sostenible Rural project.