SMEs and the environment – how to integrate environmental practices into your business

With World Environment Day on 5th June, businesses across the globe will be taking the opportunity to communicate the many ways they protect the environment through their business practices.

We may see some announcing new targets or programmes to tackle well documented problems such as plastic litter, global warming or air pollution. These are all important if we are to achieve a sustainable future for all – but they may seem daunting for smaller businesses who want to play a part but don’t know where to start.

In this Insight, Jo Goddard, Sustainability Director and Founder, Green & Good Consulting outlines steps that small businesses can take to realise their environmental ambitions.

It’s hard to argue against the reasons for adopting environmental policies and practices in your business. Measuring and monitoring electricity use, for example, can realise cost savings as well as emissions reductions. Employees are happier to work for environmental savvy organisations, and customers, clients and suppliers now expect such issues to be business as usual.

The business case is clearly there – but how to do small businesses start to understand and reduce their environmental impact? Well, even large companies such as Unilever don’t arrive at a set of ambitions overnight – it takes time and commitment to understand what impact you can best have in order to serve all of your stakeholders well.

Here are some steps you can take to realise your environmental ambitions:

1 – Understand what matters most to your organisation

Companies have different impacts on the environment depending on what they do. For example, a brewery will use more water and energy than a typical office-based company. As a result, they will need to concentrate more on water reductions, secondary water usage and putting energy efficiency measures in place. An accountancy firm will likely look at reducing, reusing and recycling paper (after making sure they use recycled or FSC* accredited paper). Therefore, the initiatives you put in place will be specific to what you do as a company.

2 – Talk to your stakeholders to find out what they think

Your employees, key customers or clients and your suppliers will all have ideas on which areas you can best focus on. Engaging with them and listening to their ideas with help gain their buy-in will be hugely beneficial to the success of your programme.

3 – Set goals and targets

Once you’ve prioritised your focus areas, set some goals for the first year and some indicative targets for years two and three. It’s good to have these aims in terms of budget setting, action planning and communicating to others what you’ll do and by when. You can then track your performance over time and report against your stated aims.

To help set your targets, take a look at some of Heart of the City’s handy resources to help you begin to measure and report on your impact as well as a carbon footprint calculator.

4 – Get your employees engaged

Many responsible business projects need employee support – environmental initiatives probably more so than others as people are being asked to think and act differently. So, the more fun and rewarding you make it, the more impact your project will have. Incentivise people with rewards for the employee who recycles the most or comes up with the best name for the environment programme for example. Giving people ‘environment champion’ status and asking them to form an employee action group are some ways to create ownership and drive the agenda forward.

5 – Measure your progress over time

Remember the targets that you set? Here’s where you use them to measure your performance, and you can then use this data to celebrate progress internally and externally. You may even want to enter some awards to get recognition for your progress! Good luck!

(*Forest stewardship council – ensuring that the paper forests have been responsibly managed)

Jo Goddard,
Sustainability Director and Founder,
Green & Good Consulting.

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