Seminar “Developing Sustainable Regions through Responsible SMEs – DESUR”

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Seminar “Developing Sustainable Regions through Responsible SMEs – DESUR” took place at the Institute of Environmental Engineering (APINI) under Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) on the 5th of March. During the course of the seminar the announcements were read on the corporate social responsibility (CSR) situation in Lithuania, responsible business networks operating in Lithuania, organic products, as well as KTU activities, including CSR in Lithuania. The attendees also had a chance to familiarize with DESUR project founded by the INTERREG IVC program. P1070926 Audronė Alijošiutė: “A small group of smart, committed, and pro-active people can change the world” Audronė Alijošiutė presented the development of CSR networks in Lithuania – from the National Network of Socially Responsible Business (NNSRB) to the Lithuanian Association of the Responsible Business (LAVA) and CSR Network Lithuania. The speaker told that all members of the Global Compact used to belong to the first CSR network – NNSRB, which was an informal voluntary organization of companies belonging to the global network, however, only 25% of companies were actively involved in the network’s activities. This fact and also that the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Lithuania of the CSR initiator in Lithuania came to an end in 2013, encouraged the most active companies and CSR enthusiasts (including A. Alijošiutė) to set up LAVA. According to A. Alijošiutė, LAVA was “established for those companies, which wished to be more active”. LAVA is an official contact representative office of the Global Compact in Lithuania and is included as a legal entity in the constitution of the Standing committee for coordination of development of corporate social responsibility, supervised by the Ministry of Social Security and Labor. It is a network of companies, in which they represent their interests. According to A. Alijošiutė, former members of NNSRB do not automatically become the members of LAVA – they must join the association and then pay the annual membership fee. Currently LAVA unites 20 companies. A. Alijošiutė also presented another network, set up by UNDP in Lithuanian in 2012 – CSR Network Lithuania, which unites 35 CSR professionals. The speaker presented the survey, carried out by the members of the network, which demonstrated that 20% of the members of Global Compact in Lithuania do not update their social responsibility reports and approximately half of the members, who do update such reports, do not provide any objective indicators, however, they all consider themselves to be socially responsible. According to A. Alijošiutė, one of the goals that both LAVA and CSR Network Lithuania have is to discover those points, which could really grant a status of a socially responsible company. P1070931 Žaneta Simanavičienė: “Where assessing corporate social responsibility, the employees should be asked if they are happy to work here” During the presentation of “Corporate social responsibility in Lithuania”, Ž. Simanavičienė told about an interregional project COGITA, carried out by KTU, aimed at improving public policy with a view to implement an integrated conception of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in small and medium enterprises (SMEs), thus contributing to the development and growth of responsible and sustainable region.  The speaker presented 18 good practices, selected during the course of the project, aimed to help the authorities to contribute to SMEs occupational skills within CSR, as well as named the ways how public administration entities could promote CSR. Public procurement, mentioned by the speaker, unleashed the discussion among the attendees that so far there are no ways in Kaunas Region to ensure more favorable procurement conditions for socially responsible companies in Kaunas Region, since the main criterion in public procurement is still the price and CSR activities cannot be measured unambiguously. Ž. Stasiškienė gave an example of how this problem has been solved in Extremadura, an autonomous community of western Spain, which was the first Spanish Region to pass CSR governing law. Nonetheless, according to Ž. Simanavičienė, CSR can pay dividends to the company in the long run only. In the conclusion of her announcement Ž. Simanavičienė presented KTUSocialResponsibilityResearchCenter, established within the framework of COGITA project in 2013, and its future goals.  P1070932 Daiva Šileikienė: “What is the most healthy for an individual, is the most healthy for the environment as well” During her presentation D. Šileikienė emphasized social responsibility of an individual more than social responsibility of SMEs (caring about health and environment, consuming organic products), however, she at the same time was pleased that there are more and more young farmers in Lithuania, who get engaged in organic farming activities and expand the existing areas. D. Šileikienė presented the results of survey on comparison of the attitude of the EU member states towards the quality of food. It turned out that the Italian people are the ones to be concerned about it the most (35% of the Italian people check labels on food products); whereas Lithuania is just a few steps behind the EU average (respectively 20% and 22%). However, in consideration of concern about food additives, it is relevant to 90% of the Lithuanian people, whereas the EU average is 60%. According to the scientist, research, carried out by Aleksandras Stulginskis University (ASU), enables to state that the quality of organic products has a great advantage over usual or chemically treated products (e.g. organic carrots contain more of carotene and vitamin C). D. Šileikienė introduced to one of the holistic techniques for assessing food quality – showed a photo of potential energy and demonstrated how you can graphically see the difference between the energy value of chemically treated and organic products. D. Šileikienė also presented the results of research, during which her students tried to find out whether it is possible to get optimum nutrition from organic products, offered at supermarkets. The presentation was closed with the discussion among the attendees on whether there are any differences between the quality of food products in Lithuania and other EU member states and whether Lithuania, as the state, is in a position to restrict the import of food products from other EU member states due to food additives contained therein.  P1070938 Žaneta Stasiškienė: “We can design an infinite number of various technologies, make super discoveries, but above all we must see an individual” Summarizing the seminar, Ž. Stasiškienė was pleased to see an individual in the center of all the announcements. In her presentation she emphasized the contribution of KTU and APINI to the promotion of sustainable development in the society through both education and research (based on innovative mind engineering) as well as cooperation with other universities (especially with ASU), municipalities of KaunasCity and other cities, and business companies. Following up with the previous speaker’s idea about CSR payback in the companies, Ž. Stasiškienė presented the survey, carried out by Ernst and Young, as well as figures and areas, in which CSR is economically feasible. Ž. Stasiškienė presented the analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) on CSR situation in Lithuania, carried out during the course of DESUR project, emphasizing the fact that companies lack personnel that would have CSR knowledge, that there is no corporate system available that would help companies to act in a responsible manner, and that there are plenty of techniques, the totality whereof mislead such companies. She also discussed the role of the Ministry of Social Security and Labor in promoting CSR as well as an ambiguous CSR awards system. She closed her presentation by presenting good practice from Extremadura, an autonomous community of western Spain, identified during the course of DESUR project, which will be attempted to be implemented in Lithuania: CSR self-assessment program ORSE, developed by the Government of Extremadura autonomous community, agro-ecological farm Red Calea, and the Office of Social Responsibility at Extremadura University. The conference announcements were followed by the discussion, during which both the speakers and the conference attendees could share experience and discuss about social responsibility. Seminar announcement material: More about DESUR project