SMEs are the lifeblood of South Africa’s economy, operating more than 98% of the country’s businesses and contributing 39% of the country’s GDP. This contribution is expected to grow in the coming years, further cementing the importance of SMEs to our economy.
Despite this, these businesses are also most vulnerable to external economic fluctuations and the changing environment. Discussions about sustainability in business are becoming increasingly important among multiple stakeholders, particularly small businesses. This includes investors, as of last year, 88% of investors had equal importance for environmental, social, and governance practices in business operating models as they did for financial considerations.
Please see the below article detailing some of the action they can take to protect our environment.
Individuals globally have a responsibility to consider how their personal and professional lifestyles affect the environment, and to take steps to support a greener future. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have an important role to play in these efforts, too.
Making up 90% of all businesses worldwide, SMEs have a huge impact on the global economy, and it’s crucial that environmental sustainability becomes a bigger priority for small businesses.
Here are a few ways small businesses can transform their environmental approaches for the better and put sustainability at their core.
Check products and services:
Regardless of the nature of the business, it’s important to consider whether its products or services (as the case may be), and the process of how they come into existence, impact the environment. As such, a manufacturing business would want to ensure that their production processes make use of sustainable materials and go to lengths to avoid greenhouse gas emissions. It’s also important to consider the life cycle of the products a business produces – products made of non-recyclable, hazardous materials that may end up polluting the environment are unsustainable and should be reconsidered. A service business, like a laundromat for example, that uses toxic chemicals is equally problematic.
Offer customers incentives to recycle:
It may not be possible for a business to guarantee all of its products and/or their components don’t end up causing unintended environmental damage – coffee pods that are incorrectly discarded, and single-use skincare packaging that end up in rivers and oceans are some examples. To prevent this, businesses can offer customers incentives to return old product packaging for a discount on future purchases.
Embrace hybrid work models:
While most companies have adopted and even welcomed remote and hybrid work policies, small businesses tend to be more reluctant to follow suit, for various reasons. However, less time spent travelling to work means employees are contributing less CO2 emissions that harm the earth’s atmosphere, and less time spent at a desk in an office also means that businesses use less electricity to power lights, computers, kettles and other equipment.
Support green businesses:
While a business may not be responsible for the sustainability practices of its service providers, suppliers or even the brands that manufacture the office equipment it chooses to purchase, supporting businesses that do not value environmental sustainability makes them just as complicit. From the office printers to the brand of coffee, it’s important to verify their sustainability status and know exactly what you are buying into. Check the brand’s environmental, social and governance (ESG) policies first to ensure they are on the right track, and look for sustainable, ethical and fair trade certifications before making a purchase.
Cut to renewable energy sources:
As much as load-shedding has already forced businesses to embrace renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind and gas, the environmental impact of a small to medium business going completely off the grid while relying entirely on renewable energy to power its operations would be undeniably significant. In most cases, especially in light of recent government regulations surrounding solar installations, the initial investment to get an entire business off grid (or at least gradually) might be costly, but worth it in the long run.
“Where small businesses have in the past been able to fly under the sustainability radar undetected, pressure is mounting for businesses of all sizes to take accountability of their environmental impact,” says Timothy Thomas, Country Manager at Epson South Africa. “In addition to becoming more environmentally responsible, it’s also a question of resilience – businesses that put sustainability at the core of what they do are more agile and able to navigate difficulties, like load-shedding and other challenges, more easily.”