A finding last year by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that global warming needs to be kept to 1.5° to avoid catastrophe renewed calls for sustainability in business.
In Australia, where the debate about our own response to climate change rages on, business leaders are coming to terms with the role they have to play in ushering in change.
For small-to-medium enterprises, which often don’t have the resources to roll-out large programs, becoming more sustainable can often be a tricky problem.
Nevertheless, businesses getting things done sustainably have been on the rise in recent years and analysts are predicting 2019 will reward those with something to say about the environment.
Cle-Anne Gabriel, a lecturer and researcher in sustainable development from the University of Queensland Business School, says Australia’s SME community is emerging as an important element in broader efforts to transition to a more sustainable society.
“We’re expecting small businesses, which are a lot more agile and can change more quickly, will be better at responding to changes in the market,” Gabriel tells SmartCompany.
“One of the problems we’re having is that we’re judging small businesses using metrics and standards developed for large conglomerates — the truth is small business can have a much more meaningful impact.”
So what can SMEs do to be more sustainable without breaking the bank? SmartCompany spoke to some business owners to find out.
A local focus
Zoe Lamont, the owner of Sydney-based florist Petal Post, tells SmartCompany she’s embedded a sustainable focus into her business by looking local.
Petal Post has just finished a bumper Christmas trade and is preparing to expand into Melbourne in 2019.
To cut down on waste, and support healthy cashflow, Lamont has gone against the same-day delivery grain and sells her product to-order, supplied by local Sydney growers.
“We only supply locally grown flowers, by doing that we have a minimal carbon footprint, and a lot of our customers are interested in where their food or flowers come from,” she says.
Lamont doesn’t think being sustainable needs to break the bank, explaining that as a small-business owner she gets more business from customers looking to spend their money with responsible companies.
All of Petal Post’s suppliers are local, including everything from product boxes to the art that accompanies each order.
“Choose the right people to partner with and get the right product from those people,” Lamont advises.
Gabriel says SMEs have a supply-chain advantage over larger firms as they’re able to have more control over who they do business with and where they’re located.
“It also means that other people in the supply chain, other businesses, are now thinking they might have lost out and are thinking about their own impact on the environment,” she says.
The little things count
Lauren Crystal is the managing director of digital branding agency Your Creative, based in Melbourne.
For Crystal, being a sustainable business has had the biggest impact on her ability to recruit and retain valuable staff members with similar values, but it’s also helped with clients.
About two years ago, Your Creative appointed an eco-officer in a bid to ensure the business kept moving forward on sustainability initiatives.
Crystal says the journey hasn’t always been straight forward, but she’s learnt SMEs can do a variety of things, big and small, to move the needle.
“In a small business, especially a growing one, the most important thing is getting buy-in from everyone,” she tells SmartCompany.
“If you think about all the factors it takes to run a small business, you can start analysing the ecosystem you’ve created and see where you can do more.”
Looking for something to do without breaking the bank? Your Creative has a compost program in its office for all food-waste that comes through the business.
It cuts down on the company’s footprint, and according to Crystal, the only cost was a $5 Kmart container.
Crystal also works with a recycling business to ensure used stationery is recycled each year.
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