How to seize the opportunities of responsibility? Taking the Responsibility Accelerator to Szeged-Timisoara.

Written by Nina Rilla and Katariina Palomäki

20 May 2024

Most companies feel the pressure. Business and society are in a massive transition, and we are constantly learning new things about the effects of climate change, nature loss, threats to biodiversity and shrinking habitats, as well as about global unrest towards social inclusion and diversity. National and international regulations are increasing, and investors prioritise sustainable and thus lower-risk investments. Sustainability and responsibility are here to stay. 

However, sustainability and responsibility are both deeply complex, systemic areas that form a constantly changing and developing entity. Most organisations acknowledge that it is time to step up their corporate sustainability work and not fall behind the ever-accelerating development. But the key question remains: how to get sustainability work going and create a real impact? 

Businesses face increasing pressure to evaluate and develop their current operations to fulfil their role in solving societal challenges, and to prepare for changes that may also bring new business opportunities. Being able to comprehend more broadly what it means to be responsible and sustainable in the organisation’s specific business area requires an immense amount of knowledge – not to mention capabilities to execute a long-term, strategic, and sustained change. Companies recognise the growing need for up-to-date information on responsibility as well as sparring help to identify and take concrete actions in strengthening the sustainability of their business and recognise new opportunities.  

Especially small businesses can struggle in finding the resources and support to focus on developing their sustainability competencies and plan their corporate responsibility-related actions. To answer this need, in spring 2022 in Tampere, Finland, with the support of the TetRRIS project, VTT and 4Front developed and piloted Corporate Responsibility Accelerator that offered tools and knowledge to companies that are either just starting out, or already developing and designing their next steps towards responsible and sustainable business.  

  • The Accelerator comprehends four half-day sessions that in addition to the sparring with experts include peer discussions between the participants to help foster new ideas and support the learning process. 
  • The Accelerator focuses on changes in regulation, trends in the operational environment, key areas of corporate responsibility, and opportunities for business development, such as circular business models. 
  • The most important takeaways of the accelerator are tools to evaluate the strategic direction of participating companies, analyse the needs of main stakeholders, conduct materiality assessment, map central risks and opportunities in business development, and draft responsibility goals and roadmaps. 

The experiences of the first accelerator were excellent: Every participating company was happy to recommend the accelerator to other companies. The workshops helped the companies to increase their understanding of the current state of their responsibility work and offered concrete ideas and tools for continuing the work. The VTT team is now looking for new cooperation opportunities and participants in the next Sustainability Accelerator.  

In addition to exploring opportunities with Finnish companies, in spring 2023, the TetRRIS project seeks opportunities for the accelerator also in one of its regional pilots in Szeged-Timisoara. Discussions are already taking place with the Hungarian regional partner South Great Plain Regional Innovation Agency DARINNO and the University of Szeged. Developing sustainable and responsible business is always context-specific; therefore, the first steps are to find committed responsibility and sustainability experts with strong local expertise. One must understand the needs of local businesses and be motivated to work with companies towards a more sustainable future. Though the Accelerator concept has now been developed and piloted, modifications are always needed to fit the local wishes and demands. 

Gaining regional capabilities in sustainability and responsibility demands like-minded actors who will together develop their expertise via co-creation and commit to a shared value-creation process. This kind of co-learning process can be facilitated via the local ecosystem, which collects knowledge and expertise, and facilitates further engagement of sustainability experts. Strong sustainability dialogue within the ecosystem helps the region to engage in a fast-moving sustainability wagon.  

As the main goal of the TetRRIS project is to first take and second advance responsibility thinking in the regions, we are looking forward to the next steps of the Responsibility Accelerator in supporting Hungarian and Romanian SMEs towards increased sustainability awareness! 

Read more on the Responsibility Accelerator and VTT’s approach to sustainable business development here.

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About the Author

Nina and Katariina work at the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.

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