Responsibility is key for London’s SMEs

Keytree’s award-winning scheme is helping thousands of people across London to access free meals that would otherwise have gone to waste

By Noa Burger, Head of Responsible Business, City of London Corporation

The Square Mile is home to 18,000 businesses, employing almost half a million people. The vast majority of these businesses are small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). They employ almost half of the City’s workforce, so their impact on lives and communities should not be underestimated.

We know that expectations of business are changing and there is a huge opportunity for organisations to benefit from being on the front foot. Businesses that play their part to tackle social and environmental issues are stronger, more sustainable and more relevant to society, giving them a competitive edge over their rivals.

This is true for businesses of all sectors, and all sizes.

Research we undertook last year showed that SMEs already have that advantage. The public trust small and local businesses more than any other kind of firm.

SMEs are seen as more ‘human’ in how they treat staff and customers, more visible and relatable and more likely to demonstrate ethics in their supply chain.

The challenge for SMEs is time. Today, many large corporations will have dedicated teams working on their responsible business strategies. Most SMEs won’t, but this doesn’t have to hold organisations back. In smaller firms, sometimes all it takes is one person catching the bug to shift the way the organisation operates – how it governs, how it engages and progresses its staff, how it improves the lives of its customers and the wider community, and how it protects the environment.

SMEs should play to their strengths and put their employees at the heart of what they do. Focus on the issues staff care about, empower them to take the lead. After all, they are your best ambassadors and can tell the most compelling – and sincere – stories of who you are as an organisation.

For practical help getting started, Heart of the City is the place to go for SME support. They are the UK’s largest responsible small business network and offer a one-year free Foundation Programme to SMEs in London.

The other tool at our disposal is sharing inspiring stories of what other SMEs are doing to impact positively on society. One of the winners of last year’s Lord Mayor’s Dragon Awards, the City’s premier responsible business gongs, is an encouraging example of how an SME has used its unique expertise to make a real difference.

Design and technology firm Keytree’s award-winning scheme is helping thousands of people across London to access free meals that would otherwise have gone to waste. The SME won the Innovation Award for its initiative with charity Plan Zheroes. Keytree has designed an interactive website that provides an easy way for companies to donate their surplus food to charities instead of sending it to landfill.

The company was inspired to work with Plan Zheroes after witnessing the huge amount of food thrown away by local restaurants and cafés outside its central London offices. The platform has now reached over 700 business, charities and volunteers, primarily London based. Approximately two tonnes of food per month – the equivalent of 4,000 meals –  is distributed to Londoners in need.

We want to see businesses follow Keytree’s example and our ambition is for a more inclusive, responsible and competitive financial and professional services sector that creates lasting value for London and the UK.

We’re working with City businesses to make responsible practices that benefit society as part of everyday business. We want to celebrate financial and professional services companies that make a positive difference to people and to inspire the City to widen its role in society. We hope that this work will also strengthen public trust in the sector.

We want to support City businesses, of all sizes and of all sectors, to develop responsible and fair business practices that will restore and earn the trust of the people they employ and serve.

Where there is the desire for action, a passion for change and an urge to make a difference – any firm can create a positive legacy, no matter how big or small. 

Applications for the Lord Mayor’s Dragon Awards Business of Trust Champion category are open until July 30. For more information visit