Sustainable development, as a concept can be traced back to the 1980’s. It emerged in the context of a growing awareness of an imminent ecological crisis and has become one of the driving forces in business of all sizes in recent years.
I write as COP26 concludes with a watered-down, but still progressive if slower, group of commitments.
But what does sustainability mean and what is the impact on business and especially small business?
For businesses, the challenge of sustainable transformation is balancing the need to keep business in motion while making changes to reach your sustainability ambitions. It's a complex subject, for businesses of any size it can bring challenges but with those come opportunities.
Becoming sustainable doesn't happen overnight. It needs to be planned, thought out and normally takes many smaller steps, sometimes challenging and some into the unknown, to really take sustainability to the next level and beyond.
Sustainability should now be on the agenda of every business large or small, seeking to collectively be part of the challenge to tackle the climate crisis. Working towards the target of a net-zero economy by 2050.
From small businesses to global corporations, business owners and leaders are now placing sustainability as a firm priority. Large corporations are allocating huge budgets to ensure their environmental credentials meet the expectations of customers, investors and the community at large.
The BBC is covering the sustainability issues, ambitions, and opportunities https://www.bbc.com/news/topics/cnvwkvd5q11t/sustainability
This throws up opportunities for smaller businesses that are offering sustainable solutions. The sustainability sector has and is generating a whole range of service and product providers. These range from management software to education. Delivered by companies like our friends at ‘The Sustainability Academy’ https://thesustainabilityacademy.co.uk/ offering an extensive range of digital courses and content. Specialist finance with its own set of awards through to companies like ‘Stroodles’ https://stroodles.co.uk/ with their unique ever-growing range of eco-tableware. Both edible and biodegradable. But it doesn’t stop there, ‘Zanshuri’ www.zanshuri.com have designed and manufactured efficient, powerful, and economically beneficial computers using less electricity than a light bulb! Ideal for use in countries where electric power is more problematic or for companies wanting to reduce their carbon footprint. Or ‘Ardau’ www.ardaupower.com able to provide generation 100% low-cost energy with no emission/zero pollution by recycling garbage/waste. So, as you can see the challenge of business sustainability brings with it huge opportunities.
Inevitably for numbers of businesses, sustainability implementation may incur extra costs in the short term. But you can now access a range of suitable grants and loans. These will potentially enable you to turn your plans into a reality.
Local government authorities and business support agencies often provide loans, for small businesses, sometimes on favourable terms. Take a few moments to register with Grants Online, this is a database of grants and funding sources covering a huge range of providers and includes environmental and energy categories.
Meanwhile, the majority of banks including Lloyds, HSBC and Barclays offer loans specifically to help businesses become more sustainable or to develop green products, services or clean technology.
But what about the positive marketing implications of being able to proudly promote your sustainability credentials?
To gain the greatest value out of your sustainability story don’t focus on ‘Me’. Instead, develop stories around ‘Us’. From your customers to your suppliers, everyone should be part of your sustainability story. Benefit from partnerships, displaying your formal sustainability accreditations in your communication, and partnering with recognised national bodies will add credibility to your company’s activities and achievements. Take the opportunity to integrate your sustainability goals and plans into your business messaging. By working with others, you will be able to share and build wider momentum for increased sustainability.
In conclusion, sustainability brings both challenges and opportunities to all those that engage. Whether your business is large or small, I believe we all have a collective responsibility to manage our footprint and impact on the wider world around us and should take inspiration from those already pushing forward with exciting projects. Take the time to look at more sustainable product provision, saving energy, and managing logistics. As an mentor of mine used to say, “there is always a better way to do things” If you are a smaller business, come together with your colleagues to explore how and if you can work more sustainably.
Then ensure you share your story with your clients, investors, and suppliers, so you can go on the journey together. We all have a responsibility; just small steps can collectively make big impacts.
A big thanks to Ian Hunter
Business Growth and Funding Specialist, Enterprise Architect, NED, and SME Mentor