Can small businesses succeed sustainably?
Posted on 2nd February 2021
What does sustainability mean to you?
Is it part of your business strategy?
Can sustainability support the growth of your small business?
Sustainability and small businesses
Many of us are still recovering from the surprise of 2021 arriving, almost unannounced, on the heels of one of the strangest years most people can remember.
Looking forward to the new year undaunted, we decided to look at whether sustainability is a relevant business issue in these challenging times.
After so many years working in the public sector, the working definition we used still seems to be a good one: leaving things for future generations that are better than we found them.
“Leaving things for future generations that are better than we found them.”
Sustainability isn’t just for big brands
The issue of sustainability isn’t just something for big brands, although more are now taking a stand on political and social issues. There is power in the argument that large companies should do more than make profits and maximise shareholder value.
However, as anyone who has worked in a corporate environment knows, it’s one thing to say that Big Business can use its power to raise awareness and do good, and a very different thing to bring about meaningful change.
The business software company, Salesforce, and professional services specialists, Accenture, have just announced an extension of their collaboration to place environmental, social and governance (ESG) data at the heart of business.
Salesforce Chief Executive, Marc Benioff, says “… today CEOs need to stand up not just for their shareholders, but their employees, their customers, their partners, the community, the environment, schools, everybody”.
Large producers and distributors can have an impact on consumption, CO2 emissions and working conditions, for example. They can implement policies to make sure more people benefit more fairly throughout the supply chain.
Take your favourite cup of coffee from a well-known brand, for example. Only around one penny of the £2.50 you pay for each cup will currently find its way to the growers in some of the poorest countries in the world.
Handing over a percentage of profits to good causes is useful and valuable to the recipients. There’s no doubt that sustainable marketing is important for millennials, who want to buy from brands that reflect their beliefs and expectations, but is it changing the world?
Sustainable choices for small businesses
We all wonder how our individual choices can make a difference.
Here’s something to think about.
There are 6million privately owned businesses in the UK and over 95% have fewer than 10 employees. Three quarters employ just one person. That means individuals rather than corporate boards are making important decisions every day that could make a big difference.
Choices could include using electric vehicles, checking the environmental credentials of packaging (yes, we know that’s difficult, but we can at least ask the question), challenging the people we buy from about their supply chain, and understanding the travelled miles used to deliver your product or service to your customers.
As a business owner who has been lucky enough to continue beyond those make-or-break first two years, you can take a continually open and questioning approach to the choices you make. After 10 or 15 years you will certainly be making better decisions now than when you started.
If you can say that those choices have reduced waste, improved recycling, pushed value further back along the supply chain and improved the quality of life for some people, then you are on a sustainability journey.
Importantly, people will want to know what you have done and what you plan to do, because it matters to them too. It will help you to build credibility and create long-term relationships with like-minded people.
So, in answer to our first question, we think the answer is definitely ‘yes’, sustainability can support the growth of your small business.
Footnote: Unilever says that brands in its portfolio that focus on taking action for people and the planet grew 69% faster than the rest of their business in 2018, so a sustainable business makes good financial sense too.
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