Doing business responsibly is an integral part of the operations of any business and even an essential policy for all companies, including smaller ones. The Responsible Business Forum works constantly to educate its members on dynamic changes in this field
It is almost impossible today to find a major company that doesn’t devote attention to responsible business principles. Regardless of whether that’s because it forms part of their strategy or because they believe it’s the only way to ensure long term business success, responsible business is certainly an increasingly integral part of business operations and even an essential policy. Smaller companies are now also paying ever more attention to their sustainability strategy, and this will also be an essential prerequisite to join the supply chains of large companies, considers Neven Marinović, executive director of the Responsible Business Forum (Smart kolektiv).
To what extent does Serbia respect the need to harmonise its legislative framework and practices with those of the EU?
Serbia needs to harmonise its legislation with that of the EU to a large extent. However, even in situations in which it is not harmonised, our companies that operate in the EU will still have to be in compliance with it. A good example is the EU’s Non-Financial Reporting Directive (NFRD). By drawing on this directive, the new Law on Accounting that was adopted in 2019 introduced the obligation to compile non-financial reports in the framework of annual business reports, starting from the beginning of 2021. This means that a certain number of companies, mostly larger ones, have to report on the non-financial part of their operations, which relates primarily to sustainability operations.
Clear guidelines and standards that it’s obligatory to report on still don’t exist at the legislative level, but there are different methodologies that companies already apply. Having observed these deficiencies, the EU has already improved the existing directive and adopted a new one that envisages, among other things, the application of new European Sustainability Reporting Standards (ESRS) that are currently awaiting adoption. In this sense, requirements in Serbia should also be harmonised with the comparative new European practice and experience.
Through a responsible and sustainable approach to business, small companies can even generate some savings, such as savings on energy and materials, ensure greater employee motivation and loyalty and, at the end of the day, gain access to the kind of cheaper capital that’s essential for further growth and development
Another important example relates to the German Supply Chain Act, which stipulates that companies that operate on the territory of this country are obliged to analyse sustainable operations across their entire supply chain – from the state of human rights, working conditions, environmental impact etc. This means that every company that does business with a German partner will also be exposed to this type of assessment and analysis.
How intensively is the responsible business concept changing today, considering the Green Agenda or the increasing inclusion artificial intelligence and automation in business processes?
The Green Agenda, categorisation and other umbrella strategies and initiatives that are being adopted, both at the EU level and the global level, are certainly having an enduring impact on shifting the impetus of this topic. What was previously treated as a kind of optional subject when it comes to companies is now becoming a part of strategies, targets, management procedures and harmonisation with laws and regulations. It has even gone a step further by linking access to capital with green agenda targets or sustainability goals. In practical terms, this means that a company will not be able to finance its growth through either commercial banks or development financial institutions if it is not in compliance with good practice and ESG criteria.
Does Serbia have enough professionals in this field; what represents the essential knowledge and skills that such professionals must possess?
A certain number of professionals in this field already exist in our country, and it’s questionable whether there are enough of them. Considering that the area they handle is quite broad – ranging from environmental protection, via employee relations and company conduct on the market, to philanthropic activities in the local community – it is clear that they must possess diverse knowledge.
Nonetheless, I think the essential prerequisite for these professionals is the ability to observe things holistically, as opposed to observing from the perspective of one sector or function within a company, as well as the ability to establish an open dialogue with all key stakeholders. Of course, it is also necessary to have specific expert knowledge, which differs to some extent in relation to the industry to which a company belongs, as well as in relation to the specific focus of the position itself.
In which way does the Responsible Business Forum contribute to advancing knowledge in this area and training appropriate personnel?
The Responsible Business Forum has always endeavoured to represent a place for its members to gather and a platform for exchanges of knowledge, experience and examples of advanced practices, and it is thanks to cooperation with international partners and similar networks that it has also often been in a position to convey the latest information, trends and experiences from Europe and around the world, thus further empowering its members. Through a series of educational events, we have striven to familiarise our members with the principles of non-financial reporting, while we exchange experiences on the application of internationally acknowledged and widespread methodologies, such as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), and last year, for example, we also conducted training on an extremely relevant topic: the application of TCFD methodology related to the release of data on the impact of climate change on business operations.
I think the essential prerequisite for these [CSR] professionals is the ability to observe things holistically, as opposed to observing from the perspective of one sector or function within a company, as well as the ability to establish an open dialogue with all key stakeholders
We have prepared a series of ESG training courses to be conducted by the end of this year, which relate to the determining of material topics, due diligence in supply chains etc., as well as a series of thematic meetings at which we will familiarise members with the EU’s new sustainability reporting standards, in order to enable them to adapt to new requirements in a timely manner, but primarily to improve their reporting cycles in a way that’s standardised and internationally comparable.
Is responsible business a luxury that only large companies can afford, or are smaller companies also adopting similar trends?
Quite the contrary. Corporate social responsibility is often equated with philanthropy in our country, so in that context it’s considered that a company must have lots of funds in order to be able to also dedicate itself to that. But this is really a very important topic for small companies too, because they can even generate some savings through a responsible and sustainable approach to business, such as savings on energy and materials, ensure greater employee motivation and loyalty and, at the end of the day, gain access to the kind of cheaper capital that’s essential for further growth and development.
How much is the importance of the position of Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) recognised in Serbia today and how enticing is this job to young personnel?
I think this position is poorly recognised in Serbia and only a small number of companies have such a defined position. This is conditioned to a large extent by the size of the market, as well as the fact that many companies define their strategies at their headquarters, ultimately only implementing and coordinating them here. Our task is to familiarise young people with jobs related to sustainability and to present various opportunities in this field to them.
The Responsible Business Forum organises the “CSR practice” programme, through which 15 young people acquire knowledge about this topic each year, but also come into contact with professionals in this field who are already working at companies. Some of them receive opportunities to continue their advanced training with us, while some do so at member companies. This is one of the ways of developing and supporting this profession. Moreover, as of last year we’ve also been awarding “CSR professionals” awards, with the aim of indicating the existence of professionals in this field and highlighting, promoting and thanking them in some way, but also with the aim of pointing out the importance of their work for both companies and society as a whole.
The Responsible Business Forum has always endeavoured to represent a place for its members to gather and a platform for exchanges of knowledge, experience and examples of advanced practices
The Green Agenda is now becoming a part of strategies, targets, management procedures and harmonisation with laws and regulations, but also an important factor in access to capital
A constant need exists to harmonise Serbian legislation with changes at the level of the European Union, which is very active in adopting regulations in the area of responsible business