Social and environmental sustainability concerns are poised to become important drivers of business transformation over the next twenty years. As the implications of sustainability (or lack of..) are being felt and seen throughout entire global business value chains, traction has been picking up pace within companies as they start to respond to such trends by embedding sustainability into their plans and operations. Not all companies however have been keeping up.
For large corporates, sustainability, is still, in some cases, siloed into public relations departments and seen only as a reputational risk issue, rather than a fundamental element that is being fully operationalized into core business strategies and day-to-day business. Likewise, the reporting of social and environmental values are, typically, not considered much, if at all, as business success for many companies is still measured via financial value only, although this mindset and approach is starting to shift.
When it comes to SMEs, many admit to confusion over what sustainability is and how to introduce sustainable measures into their everyday business and how to evaluate its benefits. Unless they are specifically instructed, SME chief executives can be slow to allocate precious resources to a sustainability initiative that they do not fully understand the reasons for doing so, especially when their main concerns tend to be orientated towards boosting sales over short time frames to ensure their company’s immediate growth and sometimes survival.
If, however, sustainability is prioritized and integrated into a company’s business model and operations from the outset by using robust strategies, SMEs can not only boost sales and mobilise a strong growth trajectory through developing improved buisness agility and brand reputation but they can also get ahead of the game in terms of better market positioning and gaining a financial lead on their competitors who have or still are ignoring the shifting market place.
Furthermore, by embedding sustainability into the core of business enables companies to generate greater value from its various capital assets: environmental, social and financial capital. Research also suggests that integrating sustainability leads to better business intelligence and improved decision-making, leading to a more holistic and comprehensive understanding of risks and opportunities. In addition, executing sustainability strategies enables a company to contribute towards solving challenges in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, such as water scarcity, climate change, inequality and under and over nutrition. They can also adapt to the likely strengthening of climate regulations more quickly.
In order for SMEs to take advantage of these multiple benefits—delivering operational efficiencies, opening doors to new business, attracting investors and strengthening brand reputation —the setting of a sustainability strategy, like for any growing or established buisness, is therefore absolutely essential. A sustainability strategy is a deliberate action to achieve deliberate outcomes – lower costs, drive innovation, team building, customer service, brand and reputation, sales and marketing, talent attraction, and competitive advantage. Whilst a sustainability strategy is about gathering the backward looking metrics; once turned to face forward, can gives valuable insight into cost reduction and process optimisation for the future.
A sustainability strategy also ensures that an organization’s environmental planning and strategic planning work together to understand both what the year ahead and the longer future horizon looks like in terms of accountability lifecycle and developing clear key performance indicators and budgets. Once embedded into the DNA of a company, research has shown the whole team will share and aspire to the sustainability ethos; customers and suppliers can become involved in the process and support your strategy. Sustainability therefore is not a nice additional ‘bolt on’ at the end of a process, it is an absolute fundamental ingredient and a proven method that turns treading water into moving forward ensuring your company’s prosperity and success.
Altus Impact can work with you to help you green your buisness, and help you define where your organization is on your sustainability journey as well as implement an inclusive, engaging, and mindset-changing approach to operating more sustainably. If you’re an SME looking for sustainability assistance, apply for our sustainability partnership today!