Serving the needs of customers and society
More than 99 per cent of businesses in Canada are small and medium-sized enterprises (SME). As a major driver of the economy, SME leaders play a critical role embedding practices that contribute to the social good for all Canadians.
In 1968, when Dick Kouwenhoven, a recent immigrant from Holland, bought Hemlock Printers, a small printshop in Burnaby, B.C., he embedded a social conscience and commitment to the community into the company’s corporate culture long before issues like sustainability and diversity gained the attention they command today.
“We have always had a strong corporate ethic around being a positive contributor to society, being involved in the community and communicating values within the company,” says Richard Kouwenhoven, Hemlock’s president and chief operating officer, and son of the late founder.
In the early 2000s, when the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) set standards for responsible forest management and certified forest products like the paper used in the printing industry, Hemlock took advantage of the opportunity to become an FSC-certified printer, enabling the company to combine its values with a leadership role in sustainability.
“FSC was the first organization that provided a way for us to add value to the service we provided our clients who were concerned about the impact of their print decisions on the environment. We dived deeper into our supply chain and became the best resource for them to make more informed decisions,” he says.
In addition to staying true to the company’s own philosophy, its pursuit of certifications from a range of suppliers and environmental organizations – including being the only Canadian printer to offer Green-e certified stock, paper manufactured at mills powered by renewable energy – helps differentiate the company in a very competitive business environment, says Mr. Kouwenhoven.
He believes established businesses have the biggest opportunity – and a responsibility – to use their knowledge and influence to serve the needs of their customers and society.
“Every business should look at the biggest areas of opportunity to make a difference,” he says. “If we think of the environment and society as a team effort and identify areas where businesses can apply their insight and resources and be part of the bigger solution, then we are truly being entrepreneurs.”
Small and medium-sized enterprises like Hemlock have a contribution to make to build a better future for all Canadians, says Mr. Kouwenhoven. Businesses looking for ways to be successful in the long term should move away from looking at initiatives around sustainability and the environment as a cost and view them as an indicator of how well the business is adapting and leading, he says.
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