Welcome to this edition of Let’s Talk. Small businesses are a vital part of our economy and communities.
However, as we become more aware of the impact of human activities on the environment and society, it’s imperative for small businesses to adopt sustainability and social responsibility practices.
Not only does embracing eco-friendliness and social responsibility benefit the planet and society, but it also enhances a business’s reputation and customer loyalty and reduces costs.
In this edition, our experts share their insights on the significance of small businesses adopting environmental sustainability and social responsibility practices. We provide practical tips on how small businesses can achieve these goals and why doing so is vital for the planet, society, and the businesses themselves.
Jamie Ayers, Director, ENGIE Impact
“Small businesses face unique challenges when it comes to becoming more environmentally sustainable and socially responsible. ENGIE Impact’s 2023 Net Zero Report identifies the most significant decarbonisation barriers organisations face, as well as the strategies they are using to overcome these challenges.
“For SMEs, the pressure to deliver short-term return on investment is a major barrier to sustainability initiatives. It takes strong leadership to disrupt the cycle of ‘short-termism’ when measuring ROI on decarbonisation investments. Our research indicates three key levers will gain increasing importance between now and 2025: innovative finance models, carbon pricing, and investing in decarbonisation data maturity.
“For small businesses, alternative financing models and securing better finance rates for decarbonisation projects can be game-changers in bridging the implementation gap. As large entities work to decarbonise their Scope 3 emissions across their supply chains, SMEs will face pressure to provide data and demonstrate decarbonisation plans to their major customers.
“Taking early action to understand emissions and decarbonise operations can position SMEs as preferred suppliers and strengthen relationships with their largest customers. By embracing these strategies, small businesses can not only improve their environmental impact but also enhance their competitive advantage in the market.”
Mary Blake, Head of Talent Acquisition ANZ, Employsure
“The very first step before implementing any drastic changes, is to conduct a sustainability audit. Assessing the business's environmental and social footprint will help employers identify key areas where they can make improvements.
“Secondly, reducing energy consumption. Converting to energy-efficient lighting and switching off all office equipment and electrical appliances when they are not in use, will help with reducing any business’s carbon footprint.
“Thirdly, reducing waste by using recycled materials whenever possible and reducing paper usage by going digital.
“Lastly, supporting local communities. Employers should actively look for opportunities to buy from local suppliers.
“When employers, take these simple non complicated steps, they start their journey of becoming environmentally sustainable and socially responsible. When these steps are implemented and practiced widely, it will not only benefit the planet but will help in improving any business’s reputation and profitability.”
Ed Knott, Vice President, Asia-Pacific, DocuSign
“Tackling ESG obligations can be daunting due to its complexity. Small businesses should start by taking simple yet practical steps to reduce their environmental footprint and implement energy-efficient, waste-reducing operations. One way to do this is by going paperless.
“Prior to the pandemic, there was a reliance on traditional pen-and-paper, especially in contract management and agreements. This was costly and time-consuming.
“Covid accelerated digital transformation and streamlined workflows with the help of technology like DocuSign eSignature.
“A paperless solution made businesses faster, sustainable and impactful to the equivalent of taking almost 7000 cars off the road for a year or saving 33 million kilograms of carbon dioxide from hitting the atmosphere.
“There are a lot of inefficiencies when it comes to business spending, with unnecessary meetings costing the average business up to $156m AUD a year. Another example is a small legal firm in Australia, spending $70,000 annually on paper and transportation costs while exchanging contracts. Expenditure on paper and postage should not add to this.
“Going paperless saves at least $36 per document signed digitally. Multiply this by millions of documents executed per year, the gains can be huge – not just from a cost perspective but also productivity and revenue.
“By simply going paperless, small businesses can curb costs and take greater strides towards a more sustainable future.”
Hannah Meade, Director, Ndevr Environmental
“When it comes to sustainability and social responsibility, small businesses cannot sit on their hands and wait for the bigger players to act. These businesses represent a significant portion of the global economy and, together, can be a force for good.
“There are significant and impactful ways small businesses can create positive change, from offsetting carbon to mitigating modern slavery in their supply chains. It’s imperative that small businesses use business as a vehicle to transition to a decarbonised economy.
“With so little time left to act, small businesses also need to remember it’s not all about ‘doing’. They also need to listen to the experts by educating themselves and understanding there’s no ‘one way’ for small businesses to make an impact. It’s about choosing the ways that are right for them because the world doesn’t need more box-ticking exercises. We need more businesses, of every size and sector, to put their resources where their values are and be transparent and held accountable for it.”
Paul Flatt, Director APAC, Asset Lifecycle Management, Iron Mountain
“As concerns mount about the effects of climate change, SMEs are finding innovative ways to reduce their environmental impact. Yet, most overlook the sustainable disposal of end-of-life IT assets.
“Demand for electronic devices is creating the world’s fastest growing waste stream, e-waste. Until recently, it was commonplace for businesses and countries to export used devices with 85 percent of retired electronic products sent to landfill, despite almost 95% of e-waste components being recyclable when managed through the right process.
“Currently only 17.4% of e-waste is effectively recycled, despite it containing gold, silver, valuable glass and rare earth elements. However, disposal is not the only option. The three ‘R’s of the waste hierarchy are reduce, reuse and recycle.
“Planning for the long term by reducing the volume of products purchased is key and will reduce the amount of waste generated. Next, repairing, reusing and repurposing is a simple way to extend the device lifecycle. Recycling and remarketing goes one step further and partnering with an accredited industry expert, will prolong asset use, eliminate waste and securely dispose of confidential data before safely reintroducing devices to the economy.”
Veena Harbaugh, Global Director of Sustainability, Sendle
“For small businesses, one of the biggest barriers to achieving sustainability goals is cost. But becoming more environmentally conscious shouldn’t have to break the bank. Starting small and implementing little changes, like swapping to eco-friendly packaging from No Issue, or searching for a renewable energy provider are great places to start.
“From there, you can leapfrog to bigger initiatives and actions. For example, leveraging supplier partnerships with businesses such as Sendle, a 100% carbon-neutral shipping courier, can help you minimise your footprint without adding extra costs to your business.
“For those in retail, investing in the right-sized packaging is also an easy step, preventing waste and optimising the number of packages sent on a truck. On this front, Sendle has just launched Australia’s smallest tracked parcel for all your small business goods.
“Becoming more environmentally conscious might seem like an overwhelming exercise, but the reality is that it’s a value add to your business. Demonstrating your support in small but decisive ways shows your customers that you care about them and the world, and investing in your planet is never a bad decision!”
Will Buckley, Country Manager, Australia, Xero
“Incorporating sustainable practices into business operations not only helps you to stand out among your competitors, but can also make your business more successful. While small business owners may find it intimidating, small steps can make all the difference.
“Steps a small business owner can take:
- Monitor your energy use – focus on energy efficient appliances and remember to turn devices off. If you can, switch to green energy providers or carbon neutral plans.
- Go paperless and digital – this reduces waste but also costs. eInvoicing replaces paper while saving time and money.
- Understand your suppliers – do they also integrate strong ethical, social, and environmental practices?
- Use software such as the Cogo Business Carbon Manager app, available in the Xero App store, to help understand, measure and reduce the carbon footprint created by your business – because we all know, what gets measured gets managed.
- Support community-driven programs – this can look like sponsoring local sporting clubs, engaging with local business groups or sharing your positive interactions with local businesses online. Not only is this great for your public reputation, it feels good to help make a difference.”
Shaun Broughton, Managing Director, APAC and Japan, Shopify
“Sustainable and socially responsible practices are good for the planet and for business — 62% of Australian consumers we spoke to recently said they are more likely to buy from a brand if it has strong sustainability credentials.
“A good first step for businesses could be to offer a carbon offset with purchases, as 42% of Australian consumers were interested in offsetting the carbon footprint of their purchase for a small fee. As a way to help Shopify merchants become more sustainable, Shopify launched Planet, an app offering carbon-neutral shipping, for less than 15 cents per order to support the technologies necessary for future-proofing the planet. To do this, Shopify works with high-impact companies through the Shopify Sustainability Fund to make a real impact on our Earth.
“Beyond that, companies should look closely at their supply chains to identify where they can make improvements. This includes ensuring raw materials are ethically sourced, reducing the use of plastics and harmful chemicals in packaging and materials, and finally considering the sustainability of your logistics partners. In fact, 55% of Australians said they’d be willing to wait longer for a sustainable product to arrive.”
Chelsea Harding, Head of Growth, Patch Agency
“Small businesses face unique challenges when it comes to implementing sustainable and socially responsible practices. Starting the process is the first and most important step. When it comes to sustainability, one brand that truly inspires me is TALA. From their use of eco-friendly materials to their ethical production practices, they are leading the way in providing sustainable options to their consumers.
“Here are some tips, inspired by brands like TALA, to help you on your journey towards sustainability:
- Conduct a sustainability assessment: Start by assessing your business operations, identify areas of your business where you can reduce your environmental impact, and prioritise actions accordingly.
- Source responsibly: Choose suppliers and partners that share your values and commit to ethical and sustainable practices. Consider the social and environmental impact of the products and services you offer.
- Engage with your community: Build relationships with your community by supporting local organisations, participating in community events, and promoting sustainable practices.
- Communicate your values: Share your commitment to sustainability and social responsibility with your customers, employees, and stakeholders. Consider developing a sustainability report or including sustainability information on your website and social media.”
Gulrez Tyebji, Managing Director ANZ, Reebelo
“E-waste is the fastest-growing waste category on the planet, with 52M tons produced worldwide last year and only 20% properly recycled.
“Smartphones thrown into landfills or water channels are a major contributor, with damaging toxins polluting the air and water supply; adversely harming marine life as well as infiltrating groundwater.
“This dire situation must serve as a wake-up call for businesses of all sizes to bear their own responsibility.
“Reebelo is a refurbished tech retailer on a mission to empower consumers to build more sustainable consumption habits and save money in the process. As APAC’s fastest growing marketplace for sustainable tech, we’ve emitted 1,410 tonnes fewer greenhouse gases, saved 197 Million litres of drinking water, planted 15,000 trees, and saved five tonnes of e-waste in the process.
“For businesses keen to make the switch to refurbished devices, I’d encourage you to make a careful assessment of your needs versus your wants and align them with your budget. Do your team members need the niche features in the latest iPhone? Could they keep their old model or opt for a refurbished model instead?
“With so many business benefits to using refurbished devices, doing the right thing has never been easier.”
Pierre Lenders, Head of Sustainability, Capital Fund Management
“As the disastrous effect of depleting natural resources and global warming continues to take hold, using natural resource as if they were limitless and free is not sustainable – and this has affected the profits and sustainability of ‘old-world’ businesses, like oil, gas and the automotive industry. Additionally, over time this will prove to be transformational for small businesses across the food, apparels, transportation, and real estate industries as well as larger institutions in banking, insurance, as well as many other segments of the economy.
“If we add in the effects of the rise of digital technology, and how it has changed the way we live, shop and do business, it’s clear that old world businesses face an entirely new set of challenges from newer businesses with very different value drivers. Small businesses seeking to become more environmentally sustainable have several key drivers at their disposal. These are the businesses which create and sell intangible assets, like brand value, intellectual property or even active users of new technologies. Intangibles are outpacing tangible assets, and the kinds of businesses which are most profitable are changing.
“Tracking accountability on decarbonization metrics and using alternative data sources to help monitor your carbon footprint are two important strategies for small businesses seeking to become more socially responsible. As companies continue to ‘green’ as part of a transition to a low-carbon economy, we believe analysing and acting upon alternative data sets in a systematic way has never been more relevant to identifying and investing in the winners of the low-carbon revolution.”
Anna Bordignon, Director, Munch
“Start by making simple, smart steps such as having a Code of Ethics and a Supplier Procurement 10 point questionnaire around sustainability/ethics. Set up your office with reusable printing inks, separate out your office rubbish and use eco dish soaps, hand soaps, dishcloths and brushes for the office kitchen. Simple easy starter steps. Don’t bite off too much as we all know small businesses owners do it all and time is super precious.”
Kate Dillon, Founder and CEO, She Lion
“Now more than ever, it is our social responsibility to look for ways to support local small businesses and to keep the local economy thriving and as onshore as possible.
“A 2021 Shopper study reported that more than 62 per cent of Australians want to try and support local businesses where possible. What can you do to support this wish? While changing your logistics and having everything locally sourced will take time and effort, each incremental change is a step in the right direction. Are there parts of your product supply chain that you can consider moving back onshore?
“This effort will reduce your freight carbon footprint and help to keep money in Australia (in turn, keeping jobs in Australia), which goes hand in hand with environmental and social responsibility.”
Brad Drysdale, Principal Solutions Engineer, SnapLogic
“The buzz around artificial intelligence (AI) has grown exponentially over the last decade and shows no signs of dissipating. But could AI help small businesses become more sustainable and socially responsible?
“In a word, yes. Our customer Melbourne-based sustainable packaging leader Pact Group applies intelligent integration and enterprise automation to strengthen its sustainability initiatives. By implementing our AI-powered iPaaS solution, which on its own, makes efficient use of elastic Cloud compute resources to ensure carbon emissions are kept to a minimum, compared to older, legacy solutions; Pact Group can handle data flow between platforms with ease. This makes data management faster and more scalable than ever before.
“In turn, Pact Group is further empowered to drive its vision to lead the circular economy through reuse, recycling and packaging solutions. Since implementing SnapLogic’s self-driving solution that utilises machine-learning algorithms, the company has bolstered operational efficiencies, saving both time and money. SnapLogic has proven to be such an innovative, sustainable and reliable solution, that Pact Group is now looking at using it in other areas of the business like human resources.”
Anjani Amriit, Conscious Leadership and Women’s Empowerment Expert, Anjani Amriit
“In recent years, there has been a growing trend towards businesses becoming more environmentally and socially responsible, and small businesses can play a significant role in this movement.
“Here’s how they can achieve these goals:
- Reduce waste and conserve resources. Adopt simple changes like switching to energy-efficient lighting, recycled paper products or investing in renewable energy sources to reduce their carbon footprint.
- Support local communities. Give back to their communities by partnering with local organisations, championing charities, or volunteering. This fosters a sense of community and goodwill for the business.
- Implement fair labour practices. Implement strategies to ensure employees are paid fairly and given opportunities for growth and development. This helps to build a positive reputation for the business and creates a healthy work environment for employees.
- Choose environmentally friendly suppliers. By selecting suppliers with sustainable practices, small businesses can reduce their environmental footprint and support a more sustainable world.
“Small businesses have a significant role to play in promoting environmental sustainability and social responsibility. By taking these steps, small businesses can make a positive impact on the environment and their communities while also building a strong and responsible brand to stay ahead of the game.”
Brodie Haupt, CEO and Co-founder, WLTH
“With a study from PWC in 2021 indicating that 83% of consumers think companies should be actively shaping ESG best practices, it’s clear there is a growing demand for companies to act responsibly. For small businesses, this could involve developing a sustainability plan, conducting an environmental footprint audit, or even simple things like monitoring and reducing energy consumption in the office. Awareness is key, ensuring company values of sustainability are passed on from the top down, and communicated to your customers.
“Internally passing on these company values can be done by encouraging your employees to participate in your sustainability efforts. This could include implementing a recycling program, encouraging carpooling, or educating employees on sustainable practices, including how waste and recycling is managed in the workplace.
“Businesses could also look into partnering with like-minded brands and organisations. At WLTH, we are very transparent about our sustainability goals and partner with organisations like Parley for the Oceans, which gives us the opportunity to clean up beaches around Australia and take action toward our sustainability goals.
“In order to be a successful, socially responsible business, you need to authentically care about the environment and its related issues, not jump on the bandwagon or “greenwash” to attract new customers and investors.”
Christopher Dean, CEO, Choice Energy Pty Ltd
“Small businesses play a significant role in the economy, but they also have a responsibility to reduce their environmental impact and contribute to social responsibility efforts.
“At Choice Energy, we know all too well the importance of this responsibility and help businesses day-to-day with practical solutions such as solar to not only lower their environmental footprint but improve their bottom line.
“As a business owner myself, I’m familiar with the dedication, resources, and investment required to enhance a business’s environmental efforts and social responsibility. It’s a journey and we are still evolving.
“Here are some practical tips for small businesses:
- Engage in ongoing education keeping up with the latest trends
- Continually optimise your supply chain and logistics, from how you source products through to the partners you work with
- Implement a recycling program with organisations like Ecobin to empower and educate your staff while doing the right thing for the environment
- Reward your employees with branded keep cups
- Engage your employees and listen to their ideas about how you can make your business more sustainable. As they may see wastage that a business owner won’t
- Implement company policies around energy efficiency, including simple measures around ensuring lights are switched off at the end of the day.
“Enhancing your business sustainability can seem overwhelming, but I can assure you, if you approach it little by little, it is possible. Good luck!”
Mahima Tamang Shrestha, Co-founder and Director, PurpleTreePR
“As a small business that works entirely remotely, PurpleTreePR is committed to becoming more environmentally sustainable and socially responsible, and we take small steps towards achieving these goals: We promote a paperless office environment where all of our communications and documents are shared digitally, reducing the need for printing and paper use. We encourage our team members to work from home, reducing carbon emissions from commuting and transportation. We minimise the need for in-person meetings and instead opt for online video conferencing tools such as Zoom, Skype, or Google Meet. We prioritise working with clients who prioritise sustainable business practices and environmental conservation. And I am happy to be working with clients such as Taxi Butler and Sendsteps, who are equally invested in sustainable living and encourage their employees too.
“Taxi Butler has a unique approach to sustainability. They invest in planting trees on their employee’s birthdays, which is a great way to give back to the environment while celebrating their employees. They are also invested in reducing carbon emissions by using biodegradable packaging.
“This kind of commitment to sustainability is important for businesses, and it’s a great example of the positive impact companies can have on the world. Working with Taxi Butler and other clients like them is exciting because it means we are partnering with businesses committed to doing good in the world.”
Michelle Fragar, Founder and Director, BRANDiT Agency
“Considering that Small Businesses account for over 98% of businesses in Australia, the importance of every small business owner has never been so prevalent.
- Go paperless in the office and for quotes, there are so many great digital tools to help you reduce printing and waste.
- Take your brochures and make them presentable on monitors so sales staff can present without printing.
- Look at the packaging you’re using on your products? Is it overkill? Is it just for the influencers to “unbox” how will this be viewed in a few years?
- We have all had clients or businesses that we just didn’t like their vision or what they stood for, just like our personal lives it’s important to set boundaries in business and learn to say no.
- What is your business doing to give back, be part of the global community and support local initiatives? There is always an option for every type of business to help. You just have to look around and want to care.
- Look at a Wellness Program for staff to bring out their best. By helping staff find a work life balance, we in turn do our part on helping society find a calmer balance.”
Mark Innes, Senior Vice President, APJ at Coupa
“Being environmentally sustainable and socially responsible have become key priorities for businesses, and in particular, CFO’s. But with the current economic headwinds, it can be difficult to prioritise these initiatives whilst also continuing to push productivity and profitability within the business. At Coupa, we are of the belief that businesses can continue making positive strides towards their ESG missions, by looking at their business spend processes and understanding the impact of each dollar spent.
“Sustainable Business Spend Management (BSM) is all about making more inclusive and sustainable spending decisions. Legislations continue to be put in place due to the lack of ESG progress in the country – particularly with the need to diversify the supply chain, dissuade modern slavery and increase e-invoicing. So for small businesses, even the initial step of choosing suppliers who follow sustainable practices and use eco-friendly products and packaging is important in meeting legislated obligations.
“Utilising a platform that puts ESG data at your fingertips, such as Coupa, enables small businesses to easily pivot spend in order to make a bigger impact, faster.”
Greg Taylor, Founder, Step One
“For us, being environmentally sustainable and socially responsible is key to our business and I do believe more consumers look for brands who are playing their part in these departments too.
“My top tips for a product based business would be:
- Can you use better materials? For example, we opted for organically grown Bamboo viscose over cotton to make Step one Underwear as cotton can use up to 25, 000 litres of water to make a single T-Shirt. Step One Bamboo plantations are all FSC accredited meaning we adhere to strict environmental standards suchs as ensuring our Bamboo is naturally irragagted with rain water and we add biological mould to any waste water so it can then be used for irrigation.
- Can you use compostable packaging to reduce plastics? Packaging is a massive waste and often ends up in landfill. Can you use something that is recycled or compostable? Our packaging is made of corn starch and confirms to very strict internationl guidelines to ensure that it will compost in certain time frames in home environments.
- When using factories overseas, do you check to see the the factories you are using are BSCI certified? Yes, every factory must maintain a current certficated of BSCI accrediation.
“Lastly, do your research and try your best to use companies who are transparent and who are doing the right thing in all facets of your business. If every business cared enough to made this change, it would do wonders for the environmental and the world we live in.”