Exporting with Purpose: Sustainable Growth Ahead

Teksti | Annemari Kuhmonen , Melisa Heiskanen , Pekka Heino

In the face of changing competition and geopolitical challenges, small and medium-sized export businesses must prioritise growth and responsible practices. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is vital, highlighting the need to consider environmental, social, and governance factors in all business operations. The ”Export Skills Basecamp” virtual reality learning platform for continuous learning from Laurea UAS’ VIVA project (www.vivaboost.fi) aims to assist resource-constrained exporting SMEs in integrating CSR principles into their competence development. Companies, however, bear the primary responsibility for learning, applying VIVA’s teachings, and tailoring the platform to their needs.

stock photo.
Photo by Medienstürmer on Unsplash

Foundations of Corporate Social Responsibility

The ”Export Skills Basecamp” platform simplifies corporate social responsibility concepts and frameworks, making them easily accessible to SMEs. It takes a user-friendly approach, breaking down complex concepts such as the green transition, carbon neutrality, Green Deal, ESG criteria encompassing environmental, social, and governance aspects, SDGs representing the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals, and the circular economy.

The green transition combines environmental responsibility with profitable business opportunities and aims to achieve carbon neutrality by balancing greenhouse gas emissions with removal or offsetting actions (Jäättelä 2023a). Estimations suggest that this transition can potentially generate 85-100 billion euros in export income for Finland by 2035 (Ibounig et al 2023), significantly enhancing companies’ export prospects, as indicated by findings from the Chamber of Commerce’s Export Leader Survey (Toivakka 2023).

Furthermore, the European Green Deal promotes environmentally friendly practices, climate commitments, sustainable products, and ethical trade. ESG criteria serve as a checklist for environmental responsibility, fairness, and ethical operations. SDGs involve conducting business while addressing global challenges like poverty, inequality, and environmental concerns. In a circular economy, businesses minimise waste, maximise resource utilisation, and prioritise durability, reusability, and recycling. (European Commission; Heinimäki, Jäättelä & Korva 2022; Ministry of the Environment of Finland; Anckar et al 2022; Silvola & Isotalo 2022; Jäättelä 2023b.)

A Call to Action – Practical Approach of Export Skills Basecamp

Incorporating these concepts into CSR strategies helps businesses fulfill ethical and social responsibilities while staying competitive in a world where sustainability is increasingly valued by different stakeholders, and where legislation mandates responsible business practices. The “Export Skills Basecamp” virtual reality platform introduces these components to SMEs through customisable practical tasks. This helps SMEs gradually adopt sustainable practices in their export activities, showcasing environmental responsibility.

Now, let’s explore a specific task offered by the “Export Skills Basecamp” – the Green Export Leap. While this 12-month challenge is adaptable to suit the unique needs of different exporting SMEs, it serves as a catalyst for proactive measures. These measures encompass areas like reducing carbon footprint, transitioning to renewable energy sources, ensuring supply chain sustainability, and implementing circular economy practices.

The challenge also places a strong emphasis on factors such as employee well-being, effective green communication, and a steadfast commitment to continuous improvement. This task is just one of many in the platform, aimed at encouraging SMEs from diverse industries to embrace sustainable practices.

Using Personas to Promote Responsible Exporting

The VIVA team has carefully compiled their findings on how following CSR principles leads to sustainable exports. These insights are represented by various VIVA personas in the virtual reality environment of the “Export Skills Basecamp”.
The personas cover a wide range of export focuses, including geopolitical awareness, risk management, Know Your Customer (KYC) compliance, contract optimisation, responsible education, financing strategies, resilient AI services, and technological innovation. Each persona provides a unique perspective on integrating CSR principles into export competence development.

Key Lessons from VIVA’s Diverse Personas

VIVA’s personas highlight the vital role of CSR in international trade, emphasising ethical conduct, sustainability, and responsible business practices:

  • Joe, the Geopolitical Savvy Exporter, stresses aligning geopolitics with CSR for ethical global initiatives.
  • Anna, the Risk-Aware Exporter, prioritises comprehensive risk management for ethical and sustainable business.
  • Emma, the KYC-Compliant Exporter, focuses on ethical and legal compliance.
  • Henrik, the Contract Optimization Specialist, emphasises fair agreements for responsible business relationships.
  • Sebastian, the Responsible Exporter, aligns business with ESG factors for ethical international trade.
  • Laura, the Green Exporter, prioritises the contribution to more sustainable future.
  • Jan, the Export Financing Strategist, diversifies financing for ethical financial management.
  • Maija, the Resilient AI Service Exporter, embraces adaptability and innovation for sustainable growth.
  • Viktor and Erik, the Technological Innovation Duo, prioritise sustainable innovation for ethical trade.

These personas represent diverse approaches to CSR in exporting, reflecting how CSR principles are put into practice in real-world scenarios. They have been derived from discussions with Finnish exporting professionals and embody both existing knowledge and areas they seek to learn. Collectively, these personas underscore that a dedication to CSR not only nurtures responsible business practices but also propels SMEs toward a more sustainable future in international trade.

Viva’s Blueprint for Responsible Exporting Success

Lessons from a two-year observation during the post-COVID era and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine emphasise the importance of adopting sustainable practices.
VIVA’s blueprint for responsible exporting success consists of three key components:

  1. Strategic Integration: Enhance CSR strategies by mastering geopolitical analysis, effective risk management, KYC compliance, fair contracts, sustainability, responsible education, financial acumen, adaptability, and innovation to thrive globally.
  2. Responsible Conduct: Prioritise ethical business practices such as fair contract negotiations, incorporation of ESG factors, financial competence, and innovation to build responsible and sustainable international trade relationships. Also, focus on employee well-being.
  3. Continuous Improvement: Embrace adaptability, innovation, and sustainable technology to foster ethical, sustainable, and technologically advanced growth in international markets.

In summary, CSR acts as a guiding compass, helping businesses maintain moral integrity, safeguard long-term interests, benefit society and the environment, and enhance resilience. It promotes adaptability to changing conditions, including market disruptions during crises, and includes risk management and contingency planning to bolster resilience. Additionally, it prepares businesses to comply with new crisis-related regulations and standards from governments and international bodies, reducing legal and reputational risks.

The Triple Impact – Environment, People and Business Excellence

In conclusion, responsible exporting requires a blend of strategy, ethics, and constant improvement. It is not merely about ethics, but a strategic path to global success, combining economic prosperity, environmental sustainability, and the well-being of workforce. SMEs are aiming for measurable impacts on their bottom line and employees.

For Finnish exporters, The VIVA team strongly recommends making use of the “Export Skills Basecamp” at www.vivaboost.fi for practical guidance. While there are no shortcuts, the potential rewards are substantial.


URN http://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi-fe20230919132420

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