Complications of Communications

SME was a new piece of jargon for me as I entered into the Adaptive and Responsible Small Medium Enterprise (SME) module. I have learnt that they usually they have below 250 employees or an annual turnover which does not exceed 50 million euros.

In addition to learning this new terminology, I have been able to understand the importance of different communication methods within a business or company. I am studying the International Master on Sustainable Development and Corporate Social Responsibility (IMSD), which means I am particularly interested in the approaches available to align the core values of business with those of the employees and customers, and vice versa. Throughout the EOI school, we as the IMSD masters have made a name for ourselves as being “irritating” in trying to communicate our environmental and sustainability values to the rest of the school. On a recent university trip to China, It was noticed that a huge amount of food waste was being left on the tables after lunch in the Shanghai Jiao Tong University canteen, which in a country which a huge divide between rich and poor made me feel uncomfortable. In China, $32 Billion worth of food is thrown away annually in the form of food waste. (1) Why should we be able to waste so much food when other people are living below the poverty line? This lead to a request to the canteen staff to provide us with a bit less food each day so that we could consume everything and leave nothing to go to waste. The next day I was pleased to see less food on each of the traditional round Chinese tables, with enough to happily feed each of the 50 students travelling abroad. Unfortunately, this was not taken so well by the rest of the group. People complained that there was no longer enough to eat, and were subsequently asking, “why has the quantity of food reduced so dramatically?”. They quickly learnt that the IMSD were responsible and came to looking for answers…

Upon returning from China and starting the SME course, I have learnt some very valuable lessons, which apply to both SMEs and life in general, and if I had known the prior to the trip to Shanghai I would have acted in a different manner concerning the food waste.

Firstly, Identifying the stakeholders of an SME is crucial. Who will be impacted by your enterprise’s decisions and how could they react or challenge your business decisions; including employees, suppliers, shareholders, customers, environment, communities. Secondly, when striving to run a sustainable and socially responsible business making sure the stakeholders are engaged to your business values is a vital element. There are several ways of achieving this but I believe an open dialogue and communication is the first and most important step.

When trying to engage employees to the company’s values, it is important to understand what being sustainable means to them, and how it impacts their work life. Through open forums for discussion and debate on what employees expect from the company and how can both sides be satisfied through coherence of values, questionnaires on best practices, and an internal code of conduct outlining the expected sustainable methods required by the employees and methods of motivation.


In my job prior to joining the EOI, I volunteered as an Environmental Champion, implementing the ISO 14001 standard throughout the company. This included reducing the consumption of energy across the site, simply requesting the individuals help the environment by turning off their computers at night, during lunch times and breaks didn’t have much of an impact. We therefore decided to increase the motivation of the employees with a competitive element. Installed in the building were devises measuring the electricity consumption by floor and quadrant on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. By publishing a weekly graphic of energy consumption levels in each area, it invoked the competitive nature of individuals and made a dramatic change to the energy reduction.

Furthermore, perhaps the most reliable way of guaranteeing employees are aligned to the company’s values is by hiring like-minded people. This can be achieved by specifying in the job descriptions the values and characteristics of the company which provides a clear purpose and direction for anyone applying to the role, and helps to filter for suitable candidates.

Going back to the case of food waste in China, if I had asked the other students why they were not eating all of the food provided we could have come to a solution which was beneficial for all stakeholders; asking for alternative options, or proving knives and forks to allow easier consumption of the Chinese meals.


1 China Food Waste. World Watch. [Online] 2015. [Cited: 23 03 2017.]

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