“Business profits from solving social problems” according to Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter and companies world-wide have understood this underlying business opportunity and are actively engaging in Sustainable Business Practises. 

We read and hear frequently about what large Corporations are doing to take action against Climate Change and how they are supporting UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. 

But what about Small and Medium-Sized Companies (SMEs), that account for about 90% of all businesses worldwide? How can SMEs get started on sustainable business practises and seize the related business opportunities?

While there are many tools out there, I would like to share 4 simple steps that I have successfully applied during my consultancy work for companies in Europe. 

# 1 Identify existing actions 

Organising a participatory workshop with a diverse group of staff can be highly effective to identify existing actions by making use of collective intelligence. It’s important to have people from different company areas and a gender mix, so that their input is as diverse as possible. This important first step will help in identifying existing actions on sustainability: you may be amazed about all the things your business is already doing! 

This type of collective exercise also helps to engage your staff on sustainability issues and to identify future “sustainability champions” within the organisation – people within your organization who are particularly sensitive and motivated to work on sustainability actions – and who may be willing to “volunteer” in order to move things forward. 

#2 Create a Benchmark   

As you do for other areas in your business, it’s important to keep an eye on what the market and competition is doing: do the same with sustainable business practises. Check out your competitors, discuss with your clients, your suppliers and pay close attention to upcoming societal and consumer trends and choices. Someone from your team that is particularly skilled, motivated and sensitive to the subject can do this benchmark or you can hire an external sustainability consultant to do it. 

#3 Mapping: bring it all together 

Once you have identified what your business already does and what everyone else in your market is doing, bring it all together. Ideally, this can be done through a second collective intelligence workshop (as in #1). This exercise will help you identify key focus areas and potential next steps you could take to start new, or consolidate existing sustainable business actions. 

“Less is more”: Focus on what’s important for your business and make sure this remains at the top of your agenda.

Ideally, don’t wait too long between steps 1 and 3, as trends and new initiatives are nowadays developing very fast. Try to keep it within a 3-month time frame. 

#4 Build from there, learn and adapt 

Once you have mapped existing actions and identified focus areas and new actions, build from there to move forward. Choose a few existing actions to be developed further and a few new actions to be developed from scratch. Ideally, ask your “Sustainability Champions” (identified during steps #1 and #3) to help bring these actions forward to help you in engaging other employees along the way. Make sure they have full support from top management to keep them engaged. 

As for any strategic action in your business, ensure a continuous learning and improvement cycle by monitoring what you do, building in feedback loops in order to adapt your strategy and implement corrective actions. It’s important to be open for experimentation and “celebrate failures” to learn and improve! 

Networking outside your company will help you learn from others that have started the journey before you, to avoid “re-inventing the wheel”. You could start by attending conferences, round tables or coffee mornings about sustainability organised by your local business chamber of commerce, or the authorities, or take a look at the events organised by major sustainability organizations such as Global CompactGRI or B Corp. 

Choose what’s easiest and most suitable to your business to start this networking and learning phase. 

Summary 

It’s quite simple to start on sustainability even if you are a SME with limited resources and time. Identifying what your company and your market do with respect to Sustainability will help you recognize key next steps to move forward. Tap into collective intelligence within and outside your business. Focus on a few, important things to get started and learn and adapt along the way. 

As motivational speaker and author Simon Sinek says: “Dream Big. Start small. But most of all, start”! 

Using a freelance sustainability consultant to support you in getting started can be a great option to bring credibility and drive to your first steps in sustainability! 

If you are curious and would like to find out more, I’d love to hear from you! 

#SustainableBusiness #BusinessForce4Good #Sustainability #SDG #SMEs #SmallBiz #SimpleSteps #Empowerment #Collaboration 

Written by:

Marena Eirich is a citizen of the world empowering organizations towards Sustainable Business practises. @marena_eirich. Feedback is a gift, thanks in advance!

First published on the website The Sustainability Tribe on March 19, 2018

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