Have you ever wondered if your business is sustainable enough? It’s not easy to find your way around in this area which is the subject of many models and theories, and where it is not uncommon to receive contradictory advice.
The objective of this article is to help you see more clearly by presenting you with a recognized model, helping you create a realistic sustainability plan, and giving you many practical tips that you can apply at your convenience.
What is a sustainable business?
A sustainable business 1 is not just about making a profit. For some, this means contributing to society or defending the environment. For others, it is a question of limiting the negative impact that they could have.
Does this apply to SMEs?
Let’s start with good news: many SMBs are already more sustainable than their larger competitors. In general, they sell their products locally, participate in the life of their neighborhood and have a close relationship with their suppliers. Very often, they also ensure the well-being of their employees and defend a certain number of ideals. In a nutshell, sustainability is part of their DNA!
On the other hand, it can be difficult to measure the impact of this durability due to their small size. If a large supermarket chain decides to no longer print receipts for customers who do not want them, the effect will be immediately visible: tons of paper saved! Similarly, all a large company needs to do is reduce its employees’ air travel by 10% to reduce its carbon footprint. For a multinational, even the smallest change can have a huge impact.
For small businesses, the path to sustainability is different. In this article, we will discuss what you can do concretely, as an SME manager, to make a difference.
Where to start when you are the manager of an SME?
It’s a safe bet that you already have good reflexes: recycle what can be recycled, turn off the lights when a room is empty, etc. But, to make your business truly sustainable, you’re going to need a more structured approach. There are several models that can help you in this process, but the one that best suits the SME context is the model according to which sustainability is based on three pillars.
The three pillars of sustainability
It is one of the best-known models in terms of sustainable development. Created by John Elkington, it is based on the idea that, to succeed, companies must harmoniously reconcile the social, environmental and economic pillars 2 . If one of these pillars takes precedence over the others, the whole system becomes unbalanced and the company cannot prosper in the long term.
Determine your company’s sustainability goals
You probably already have some ideas about how you want to make your business more sustainable. It’s even likely that you already have waste reduction or ethical sourcing strategies in place. Do not hesitate from this base to define a specific sustainability objective, then follow your progress. »
If, however, you don’t yet have a goal in mind, don’t worry: don’t hesitate to find out what NGOs in your region are offering or take inspiration from the UN’s sustainable development goals . In any case, always keep in mind that the best objectives are those which, beyond corresponding to the economic model of your company, have a real value in your eyes.
Define your own sustainability indicators
Once you have defined your goals and implemented the corresponding actions, you will no doubt want to know if it is working. To do this, you must define your own sustainability indicators, based on your company’s activity and your objectives. For example, if your goal is to have “zero waste” premises, you can measure your performance by determining the volume of waste your premises produce.
Do not hesitate to regularly share your progress on your website, and to include the distinctions or certifications that you will obtain.
Create a sustainability plan for your business
Here you are with a goal and an action plan. You are even able to measure your progress. All you have to do is put everything together in a plan that you can refer to if necessary. Once you set a deadline, you can even add reminders to your calendar to monitor your progress.