In this two-part series, Dayna gives us the lowdown on sustainability strategies and how SMEs can benefit from adopting eco-friendly business practices.
It is estimated that the English commercial and industrial sectors generated a staggering 32.2 million tonnes of waste in 2016 and households similarly racked up a total of 22.8 million tonnes in the same year. Although we’re making tracks towards becoming a more sustainable country, it’s now more important than ever to curb unnecessary waste, protect our ecosystems and appreciate the risk of exhausting our natural resources.
In January 2018, the Government introduced a 25 year green plan to improve the environment and a key aim is to increase resource efficiency to minimise waste. Looking ahead, it’s important for businesses to join the effort to reduce our carbon footprint, and organisations of all shapes and sizes stand to benefit from adopting eco-friendly measures. It’s no surprise that many SMEs are put off by the perceived high costs of tweaking business plans to adopt sustainable steps. However, the financial, reputational and social advantages of green initiatives deliver an ultimate win-win for business owners, employees, stakeholders and consumers alike. So, how exactly can SMEs benefit from sustainable practices?
Reducing the environmental impact of business processes
Whether you’re a sole trader, working in a partnership or own a small business, small changes to any level of your supply chain can make an immediate difference to the environment. By embracing sustainable business processes, you can uncover market opportunities and boost positive brand association for your business as UK consumers demand environmentally-conscious products and services.
If your business relies on packaging, you can opt for post-consumer recycled materials. These are materials that have served their intended purpose, have been diverted from waste disposal and recycled to make a new product. There are a great range of sustainable materials on the market, from eco packing tape to compostable packaging made from mushroom ‘roots’ and plant stalks. Packaging is usually the first thing consumers see, so you should not understate the benefits of using green materials. Making a conscious effort to show your consumers that you’re committed to sustainability can help you stay ahead of the curve by differentiating your business in a commoditised and competitive market. Ooho, a biodegradable and edible blob designed to hold liquid, is a fantastic example of sustainable packaging that is not only cheaper than plastic but a quick way to get everyone talking about your brand. You can check out some other unique sustainable packaging designs, created by Swedish design studio Tomorrow Machine, here.
Sustainability means different things to different sectors and business models. There isn’t a ‘one-size fits all’ plan. It might be the decision to use organic or fair-trade goods, biodegradable products or locally-sourced ingredients. Pleased to Meet You, Wylam Brewery and Redhouse are amongst Newcastle’s pubs and venues that have pledged to ban plastic straws and replace them with paper ones, joining the likes of McDonald’s and Wetherspoons. Even just making a simple change can show a commitment towards doing your bit for the planet. There are companies, however, that take sustainability one step further and mold their business plans around being green. Take a look at Patagonia, the outdoor clothing brand that recycles bottles and unusable manufacturing waste to produce fibres for new garments, and their second-hand clothing initiative to help reduce waste. If your business is less dependent on natural resources, you’ll have more of a competitive edge as well as a greater chance of success in our changing world.
Whatever you do, don’t forget to share your eco endeavours! Consumers value commitment and consideration for driving positive environmental change.
Being a socially responsible SME
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) refers to a business making a positive contribution to the environment and the local community through voluntary ethical practices. Typically CSR is mistakenly reserved for larger companies, but the benefits that SMEs can reap from responsible strategies are often overlooked.
Integrating sustainability into your business can generate returns that play out over the long-term. Implementing a green CSR can be a cheap and effective way of boosting your reputation among consumers and in industry. You create valuable B2B relationships, as organisations prefer to collaborate with others who show their commitment to the environment. Plus, CSR is becoming standard for attracting outside investment.
A strong CSR may also have a part to play in your business attracting and retaining talent. PwC found that 86% of millennials would consider leaving an employer if CSR values no longer matched their expectations. From a HR perspective, there’s a strong case for adopting green strategies across your business. Engaging your employees and contractors in responsible practices has been shown to strengthen loyalty and productivity, as recognising their environmentally-friendly efforts gives people purpose beyond their official job role. Satisfied and proud employees are more likely to discuss a business with outsiders, so it’s good publicity for your brand too.
One way you can implement a strong eco-friendly CSR is to make sustainable actions achievable, such as using recycling bins in your workspace or opting for biodegradable refuse bags. By making reducing waste part of your business’ day-to-day, you make it your mission to be ethically responsible for your impact on the environment.
WRAP, a charity aimed at supporting the government, businesses and communities to waste less and recycle more, offers small businesses a summary checklist on waste to help you adopt measures that will reduce waste as well as improve profits. They also provide practical advice for reducing environmental impacts of waste at events a guidance on how to take action on waste in the food and hospitality sector.
Aside from lowering your impact on the environment, being green builds consumer trust, sends out a positive message to communities and can benefit your bottom line. By marketing yourself as a green business, you show customers that interact with you that you’re making a difference to the things that matter to them. As a result, it’s worth checking out the simple practices that you can implement across your business to become more sustainable; being green doesn’t have to cost the earth.
Stay tuned for an overview of the sustainability awards up for grabs, energy efficient premises and equipment in part 2 of this series.
See you next week!
This blog post was written by Dayna Chapman. Dayna is a final year MLaw student at Northumbria University and currently working in a Business & Commercial firm in the Student Law Office. Before beginning her career with a Training Contract in a commercial firm, Dayna hopes to travel around India and Pakistan to explore her grandfather’s heritage. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking and yoga.