Although Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) reporting is still a mainstay for many businesses to demonstrate their responsible business and sustainability credentials, a more connected world has enabled those with passion, background, commitment, and means, to spread awareness and educate us in the many aspects of sustainability.
For instance, those in the social enterprise sector have chosen to pursue the social perspective of sustainability. These entrepreneurs are helped by Social Enterprise UK and elevated by the Social Value Act of 2012. Others have focused on the ‘green economy’, with documentaries such as the Blue Planet, and celebrities including David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg helping to elevate the environmental perspective of sustainability.
In the financial sector, Larry Fink, the CEO at BlackRock, the largest asset management business in the world wrote that, ‘a company cannot achieve long-term profits without embracing purpose and considering the needs of a broad range of stakeholders,’ and Mark Carney, the former Governor of the Bank of England, recently released a book entitled ‘Value(s): Building A Better World For All’, which strengthened the need for a different way of thinking when it comes to the economic aspect of sustainability.
Furthermore, several studies in recent years by Accenture and Deloitte
helped to pull these arguments together, concluding that businesses with a clear purpose and value-led culture outperform those that don’t, stating that:
‘Purpose-driven companies witness higher market share gains and grow three times faster on average than their competitors, all while achieving higher workforce and customer satisfaction.’ (Deloittes 2019)
All these factors help to bring what has been in the background for far too long, into the foreground.
However, the classic model of Economic, Social and Environment (often used to provide the conceptual structure used to approach it), can make it difficult to understand how sustainability applies to the business world, unless you are involved in it daily.
“Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability
of future generations to meet their
own needs.” (Brundtland Report 1987)
Although common definitions such as that in the Brundtland Report make sense, they don’t clarify the situation.
So maybe a better way especially for micro and small businesses is to consider sustainability in the following way:
‘A sustainable business is an enterprise that has minimal negative impact, or potentially a positive effect, on the society and environment in which it operates.’ (Source Unknown)
We should not forget that sustainability is also about being around for the long-term and being sustainably successful.
What Needs To Be Done To Deliver Sustainability?
There are many organisations involved in shifting mindsets when it comes to a different way of working that involves a more value-based, inclusive approach – such as Doughnut Economics, B-Corp, and Social Value UK.
Although it is worth being aware of these, by far the most powerful approach behind all of them is that of collaboration, working with all stakeholders (e.g. customers, staff, suppliers, communities, and shareholders) to achieve a better future for all.
Let’s look at a few of the initiatives and organisations involved in making a difference in the South West that could help you better understand, and start to be sustainably successful.
• Regenerate Devon Summits led by the Social Enterprise Networks of Essence, Local Spark of Torbay, and PSEN mobilising communities and business groups to work together.
• Exeter City Futures is targeting Net Zero in the city by 2030.
• Lightfoot, who are building a community of sustainable car and van fleets by changing driving behaviours to cut emissions and save cost. You can read their recent success story here.
• Dynamic Servers – this 100% green website hosting business identify areas for reducing the impact of our digital carbon footprint. They outline their approach in this blog post from June 2020 entitled ‘The Environmental Cost of the Internet’, and in their newsletter from February 2021.
• Printers that have a green ethos at heart, such as Ashley House in Exeter, and the St Austell Printing Company in Cornwall
What Is The Ideal Way Forward For SMEs?
Never assume your customers and other stakeholders don’t care about aspects of sustainability just because they don’t ask!
Be aware that some buying decisions are based on what the business shows it cares about, rather than their prices, and many decisions are made long before contact!
Never be put off by the thought your business is too small to make a difference. Imagine the combined impact that 500,000+ micro and
small businesses could make in the South West.
Commit your business to shift towards sustainable success by building the capacity to cope with change as the future unfolds.
As a starting point, why not commit to becoming Net-Zero by a date suitable to you and your business? You don’t have to wait until 2030 to get there, or for policies and fully funded support to arrive from the ‘powers that be’!
Simply take a look at the blog by ‘Work for Good’ for a relatively simple starting point to the United Nations #RaceToZero.
Alternatively, you can read the Dynamic Servers blog post again and start to reduce your digital carbon footprint by deleting some of your archived emails.
In short, by concentrating on what sustainable success looks like for your business, you will by default engage with and embed sustainability in every sense of the word as it applies to your business.
Let’s use the power of influence and work collaboratively with stakeholders to help make a difference in the South West business community, and ultimately the world.