Judging by the number of people we had signed up to this table, it is certainly an area of interest to many, both practitioners and advisors alike.
So what are the key actions small businesses can take?
First up we talked about getting all the people in the business engaged in some way, which the consensus agreed within a smaller company theoretically might be easier as there are more opportunities within a small company to get your voice heard, and direct communications including chatting over a coffee is much more straightforward.
Of course when you start to engage people you need to come up with a common way of defining what sustainability means to your company, and you also need to be able to get everyone to understand what sustainability is. Include everyone in this.
As the speakers for the evening were focusing on the social side of sustainability the group reflected a while on what this means within a small company. There were discussions about the kind of working environment, treatment of employees, and discussions about workplace happiness. Ensuring that any underlying residual workplace grievances or working conditions are resolved would help to encourage and support more buy-in from employees on a wider sustainability strategy. An SME needs to get a handle on its internal management, and then can invest effort into looking into the wider social impacts of its product, services and supply chain.
Do the challenges outweigh the opportunities – all agreed that a positive approach to sustainability is of benefit to an SME, however not all SME customers will care, it might not automatically mean that the SME will win more business depending on the type of company, but it might mean that the SME will be better managed both socially and environmentally, which will bring other benefits i.e. lower cost base, better retention of valued staff, the whole company feeling ‘better about itself’.
It was noted that a company should also take stock of all the good stuff that is already happening and recognise any early efforts to improve, however small, in order to create momentum and the all important ‘feel good factor’.
In a small team, it helps to inject a sense of humour, fun, incentive and reward to encourage effort, and reward results.
It was recognised that not all companies, or SME’s are the same culturally, and all have different drivers and motivations, so what works in one company, might not work in another. It is important for each company to approach sustainability in a way that it and its stakeholders understand and will be responsive too