Can Small & Medium Enterprises Make a Big Environmental Impact?

Adam Roberts - Marketing Consultant

By: Adam Roberts
Marketing Consultant

8th August 2019

4 minute read

Home » Insights » Can Small & Medium Enterprises Make a Big Environmental Impact?

Last year, Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends report showcased a new social, cultural and economic shift facing business leaders today.

In a roundabout explanation, this shift, dubbed “the rise of the social enterprise”, shows that businesses are being increasingly judged on their employee and stakeholder relationships (something I touched upon in my last blog), perception within their respective communities and their impact on society at large.

As you can guess from the title, let’s take a closer look at that last one.

This last decade has been building towards a tipping point for major global organisations and SMEs across all industries to pledge their efforts towards building more sustainable and environmentally friendlier operations.

In just the last five years the worldwide push for change has been staggering on all fronts. We have seen the rise of international movement Extinction Rebellion staging peaceful protests in cities around the world (2018); In 2015, the first-ever universal global climate deal was signed in Paris, with 195 countries promising to improve their carbon-cutting plans to avoid dangerous climate change. Many countries have also passed legislation to cut down or ban entirely single-use plastics as well as seek solutions to lower CO2 emissions within densely populated areas where air pollution is quickly becoming a worrying concern.

In the business world, consumer goods company, Unilever will ensure that all of its agricultural materials come from sustainable sources by 2020, even warning to sell off profitable brands that do not contribute positively to society, according to CEO, Alan Jope. The restaurant chain, Wetherspoons has become the first large business to stop using paper receipts entirely, with many other pubs and retailers, in recent years, offering e-receipts as an alternative.

Society at large is largely in agreement – but more needs to be done and we can all play our parts in delivering a greener future.

So what can businesses, particularly SMEs, do to drive sustainability within their own companies and contribute positively to the larger landscape?

Well, this is something we have been looking into at Plextek through the formation of our new internal “Green Issues” special interest group. The mission, to improve our sustainability beyond what we already routinely do by investigating and implementing a raft of practical measures that could improve our day-to-day environmental impact. We’re also taking actions to apply our technical capability and skills to drive environmental change through the launch of our EcoTech market.

The time to act is now

What could your business do? Donate profits to charitable causes? Switch to clean energy providers? Reuse plastics and other materials within the internal production process? Switch to smart meters and encourage a stricter “power down” protocol for staff (turning off after usage)? Getting rid of your own single-use plastics in the office? On a personal level, what actions could we all individually take to change bad habits and reduce (or be at least mindful) of our own consumerism?

It would be realistic to say that if your company does decide that it is going to make significant steps towards becoming a more sustainable operation, it probably won’t make much business sense. Switching providers to clean energy, for example, will more than likely cost your company more money.

The ‘business’ case for sustainability becomes less about appealing to the benefit of the ‘business’. And we simply can’t just limit green practices to a subset that involves little cost, little risk, little disruption to routine and little effort to promote through marketing and PR channels – for risk of damage to company creditability and reputation.

Instead, we must make this a ‘people’ case, or probably more likely for an SME, a ‘person’ case. C-suite level management is in the unique position to drive change not just within their own businesses but also within their respective industries with the capability to move quicker than governments. It comes from a switch in motive and in answering questions like, “What do you believe in?”, ”What do you want to be remembered for?” and “What interests do you serve?”

Last year, Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends report showcased a new social, cultural and economic shift facing business leaders today.

In a roundabout explanation, this shift, dubbed “the rise of the social enterprise”, shows that businesses are being increasingly judged on their employee and stakeholder relationships (something I touched upon in my last blog), perception within their respective communities and their impact on society at large.

As you can guess from the title, let’s take a closer look at that last one.

This last decade has been building towards a tipping point for major global organisations and SMEs across all industries to pledge their efforts towards building more sustainable and environmentally friendlier operations.

In just the last five years the worldwide push for change has been staggering on all fronts. We have seen the rise of international movement Extinction Rebellion staging peaceful protests in cities around the world (2018); In 2015, the first-ever universal global climate deal was signed in Paris, with 195 countries promising to improve their carbon-cutting plans to avoid dangerous climate change. Many countries have also passed legislation to cut down or ban entirely single-use plastics as well as seek solutions to lower CO2 emissions within densely populated areas where air pollution is quickly becoming a worrying concern.

In the business world, consumer goods company, Unilever will ensure that all of its agricultural materials come from sustainable sources by 2020, even warning to sell off profitable brands that do not contribute positively to society, according to CEO, Alan Jope. The restaurant chain, Wetherspoons has become the first large business to stop using paper receipts entirely, with many other pubs and retailers, in recent years, offering e-receipts as an alternative.

Society at large is largely in agreement – but more needs to be done and we can all play our parts in delivering a greener future.

So what can businesses, particularly SMEs, do to drive sustainability within their own companies and contribute positively to the larger landscape?

Well, this is something we have been looking into at Plextek through the formation of our new internal “Green Issues” special interest group. The mission, to improve our sustainability beyond what we already routinely do by investigating and implementing a raft of practical measures that could improve our day-to-day environmental impact. We’re also taking actions to apply our technical capability and skills to drive environmental change through the launch of our EcoTech market.

The time to act is now

What could your business do? Donate profits to charitable causes? Switch to clean energy providers? Reuse plastics and other materials within the internal production process? Switch to smart meters and encourage a stricter “power down” protocol for staff (turning off after usage)? Getting rid of your own single-use plastics in the office? On a personal level, what actions could we all individually take to change bad habits and reduce (or be at least mindful) of our own consumerism?

It would be realistic to say that if your company does decide that it is going to make significant steps towards becoming a more sustainable operation, it probably won’t make much business sense. Switching providers to clean energy, for example, will more than likely cost your company more money.

The ‘business’ case for sustainability becomes less about appealing to the benefit of the ‘business’. And we simply can’t just limit green practices to a subset that involves little cost, little risk, little disruption to routine and little effort to promote through marketing and PR channels – for risk of damage to company creditability and reputation.

Instead, we must make this a ‘people’ case, or probably more likely for an SME, a ‘person’ case. C-suite level management is in the unique position to drive change not just within their own businesses but also within their respective industries with the capability to move quicker than governments. It comes from a switch in motive and in answering questions like, “What do you believe in?”, ”What do you want to be remembered for?” and “What interests do you serve?”

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