With big businesses embracing sustainability as a fundamental business strategy, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are left to wonder if and how sustainability fits into their business model.
Limited by precious time and money, is sustainability merely a distraction for SMEs? Only large enterprises can have an impact, right? Wrong. SMEs comprise more than 95 per cent of all businesses in Australia; suffice to say, collectively SMEs are of monumental importance to local and global communities and environmental impact.
Here are some tips to help you ensure your sustainability strategies have positive impact, all the while adding business value now and into the future.
Build a foundation
Establish a sustainability leader: a team or an individual who helps champion new ideas, facilitate the translation of ideas to action, and follow through on goals. You may want to consider a rotating system for sustainability leadership. A voluntary green team is often a logical starting point. The Green Team at eBay, for example, began with the grassroots efforts of 40 employees.
Big business has the ability to embark on large-scale and expensive projects. Consider Ikea’s global campaign to use 100 per cent renewable energy by 2020 or Woolworth’s goal to eliminate organic waste from their general waste stream by 2015. Such efforts have great impact; however, it is not possible for many SMEs to take on such projects.
Define sustainability as it applies to your company. Ask yourself, is your business most concerned about emissions, waste, water, supply chain, community, or something else?
Big changes start small. If your business is concerned about saving energy, start by putting friendly reminders around the office encouraging employees to turn off lights and computers during lunch and when they leave for the day. If reducing waste is a priority, set all printer defaults to double-sided or locate a recycling bin near the printer. If most employees drive to work, allocate free parking spots to those who carpool or install a bike rack outside the office.
At ClearFresh Water, where I am Sustainability and Administration Manager, we recently implemented an innovative strategy for the servicing of local customers by way of an electric bicycle. As a significant cost of business for us, transportation is a logical focal point for sustainability efforts. Using the e-bicycle for local servicing is both environmentally beneficial (think emissions and air quality) and an excellent way of reducing operating costs (think petrol and vehicle maintenance).
Consider using an app such as CK Ranker to assess your environmental and social performance. This app is designed to help SMEs gauge sustainability efforts and compare performance with large industry peers.
Link sustainability to your core business
Identifying how sustainability strategies relate to and benefit your core business provides these strategies greater chance of long-term viability and acceptance.
Measure the business value of your strategies using appropriate metrics, including employee retention or productivity, brand reputation, customer satisfaction, cost savings, and profit. The metrics you use depends on your goals and initiatives. Be consistent in how you track and analyse data over time.
Initiate two-way communication with stakeholders
Whether you use social media, newsletters, annual reports, conferences, or another means of communicating sustainability efforts and results, transparency is key. But don’t stop here. Go one step further and facilitate a conversation with your stakeholders.
For example, engage employees with regular company-wide, interactive sustainability meetings. Ask questions in your customer newsletter to encourage comments, and publish the most interesting responses in your next newsletter. Create a prominent comment section in your blog (and don’t forget to respond!). Participate in relevant Twitter parties. Converse with other businesses by participating in monthly Green Drinks organised in 800 major cities around the world.
Two-way communication is a great way to engage stakeholders, showcase initiatives, and assess the effectiveness of your programme, even when budgets are limited. Best of all, it inspires new ideas.
Implement a plan to translate this wealth of ideas to concrete strategy. Consider keeping organised digital records of key concepts in a location accessible to all employees. Review and edit the records regularly with the aim of creating new initiatives or building upon existing ones. This ensures your sustainability efforts are constantly evolving to have maximum business value and maximum environmental and community impact.
About the Author
Lauren Ferrucci is Sustainability and Administration Manager at ClearFresh Water, a leading water filtration system provider in Sydney, Australia. ClearFresh is the first and only water filtration provider to use an electric bicycle for local cooler servicing. Learn more at www.clearfresh.com.au. Lauren majored in Environmental Studies with a minor in Communications and Media at Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts.