Big figures and big achievements – or small figures and big achievements?

I have been working determinedly on improving our corporate social responsibility since 1996. The world has definitely changed during that time. When our most recent corporate responsibility report was published on 2.6.2017, I felt immensely thankful that I have had the chance to lead us in this direction for so long.

In 1996, environmental issues were the main focus. A lot of attention was paid to material choices, chemical avoidance and environmentally friendly production processes. We launched a massive long-term investment plan that aimed at high quality and energy efficiency in our production. It improved our production output. Ever since then, that has been one of the most important indicators for us, both in terms of production and responsibility.

In the 1990s, our company slogan was “Green is more than a color”. A pretty modern idea for the time! Luckily, we also had customers who wanted to be forerunners and eager developers of their industry. They provided sparring that helped us develop new, more responsible ways of working. At the time, we mostly operated in international markets. In Finland, corporate responsibility was not discussed very often. Our large international customers challenged us again and again to come up with more responsible alternatives.

A major concrete improvement was replacing solvent-based printing inks to water-based ones. Since we were among the first to try these new methods, we faced many challenges. How would we be able to achieve equally good visual results? Development work challenges the personnel who participate in it. The pressure from the customers is intense and there is no room for failure. Development projects have helped us notice how closely we need to cooperate with our suppliers and customers. That would not be possible if we had a complex organisation or unclear responsibilities. Luckily, as a small family business, we were able to tackle these challenges early on.

What has made our long-term development work in the field of corporate responsibility possible? Most of all, our own desire to progress. It really is all about attitude. We manufacture products that have a short useful life, so we have an especially big responsibility to make sure that we do our best.

Our owners’ attitude towards this has also been clear from the start. Nature and the environment are important to us. Our factory is located in the middle of a beautiful pine forest. Nature is always present. From my office window, I can see the forest. This painting provided by nature changes every season and day, sometimes every hour. It is inspiring in many ways.

The desire to develop plays a big role in Fiblon’s identity. This has always been the case. We encourage everyone to continuously develop their skills and networks. We see the development of skills as an investment. The expertise of our personnel defines us as a company.

Over the years, many things have changed. That is why we need to have plenty of flexibility and tolerance for change. Once again, the size of our organisation and the fact that we are a family business have been helpful. Decision-making is fast and simple. If necessary, decisions can be made immediately. The challenge is, of course, to get the entire company to adopt this approach. That is why we have prioritised company culture. It is important for us that all our employees get to participate in decision-making and development. We have created our own practices, the most recent of which is the CGS process – Common Goal Setting – which we launched in 2009.

This requires a lot of discussion, for which we must provide a framework. Every person must have the chance to participate when and how they want. In order to have a real conversation, we need to know how to listen. We need to understand differences so everyone can get heard and participate in their own way. As a company, we cannot change anyone’s way of working, but we can provide tools and alternatives.

When we encourage everyone to try new things, we also need to accept failures. Bringing more trial and error into our company culture so that everyone dares to try something new and make decisions is a long process, but it is necessary for our future.

In the beginning, we focused on environmental responsibility: material choices and production efficiency. Then we shifted towards social responsibility issues – mostly focusing on our personnel’s skills and approaches. During the past year, we have expanded our perspective on responsibility one step further. We have started to focus on nature’s diversity and our stakeholder group’s actions. How can we influence these things?

It is challenging – and sometimes frustrating – to be a forerunner. Many companies have only recently become aware of responsibility issues and are carrying out massive process and procedure improvement projects. Of course it feels great to present big numbers showing how much they have reduced their energy expenditure, improved their output or decreased their carbon footprint. So what should we do, if we have done all that years ago? Should we just take it easy and say we have done all we can? Well, of course not. As forerunners, we need to find new opportunities and ways to improve the responsibility of our operations – and to inspire others to do the same.

For a long time, I thought about what kind of a commitment Fiblon can make towards sustainable development. I kept going in circles around old, familiar concepts: energy, water, chemicals, materials, output, recycling, re-use. The conclusion was always the same: we have done all that years ago. Then, it suddenly became clear at a FIBS ry masterclass after a little sparring: we will help our customers make smart choices by telling them what kinds of products and solutions are the most responsible ones for their particular business.

The commitment was not accepted right away, which once again told me that we really are ahead when it comes to responsibility. When your solutions are not obvious, you need to work a bit more to convince others. That is what forerunners do, after all.

But when you have been working on your company’s responsibility for 20 years, you will have encountered a lot of situations. That is why I know that corporate responsibility work at Fiblon is not about following trends. It is about benchmarking and creating unique solutions. Without good partners, such as our customers, suppliers and responsibility experts, we would not be here.

When you are heading into uncharted territory, there is no map to follow. I would like to thank everyone who participated in the creation of our newest corporate responsibility report! There are so many of you!

The author is a second-generation family entrepreneur whose heart beats for corporate social responsibility.

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