We asked Susie Howells, of consultancy Greenmetrics, some questions on the practical steps that small businesses can take to make themselves more sustainable. Susie will be running a half day masterclass in Crawley on 2nd October 2017, to help small businesses to boost their green credentials.
Why does sustainability matter for smaller businesses?
SMEs represent over 99% of UK businesses, employing around 60% of the workforce and contributing over £1.8bn (around 47%) to our economy. They’re spread across all the sectors, from business services to manufacturing, printing to healthcare; and from cafes to construction.
Collectively and individually, there is huge scope for smaller businesses to address some of society’s challenges, and to reap the benefits of sustainable business: saving money, building reputation, preventing harm to people and the environment - and keeping on the right side of the law!
I’ve found that smaller businesses sometimes struggle to engage with sustainability, mainly because it’s hard to find the time, money or opportunity to learn; with the perception that it’s nice to do, but too difficult with the pressures of business. This course is designed to address this, and to equip managers with the skills they need to integrate important issues into everyday decision-making.
What do you mean by sustainability?
It’s a more strategic and balanced approach to business, with a longer-term view, taking in more of the social and environmental aspects, alongside the traditional economic focus.
It’s always better to prevent a problem than to deal with the damage afterwards, for example considering the costs of preventing an oil leak vs an expensive clean-up, so we look at different examples of this. We focus on a systematic approach which helps to identify, assess and balance social, environmental and economic risks in business, evaluating and prioritising impacts in a way that enhances broader business strategy.
Don’t you think that business owners have enough to worry about?
As a small business owner myself, working alongside smaller businesses, I am acutely aware of the pressures small businesses are under – so yes I do!
But I’ve been a sustainability practitioner for over 20 years now, working with all types of business including larger corporates and SMEs, as well as the public and charity sectors. I know that it’s possible to integrate sustainability thinking into business planning and operations regardless of size, and that the benefits always outweigh the efforts.
Why bother – what are the benefits?
I can’t think of a time when there has been more uncertainty for business in terms of national and international politics, and the legal and policy framework; against a background of social challenges, pressure on natural resources and rapid technological change. Population growth, volatility of materials supply, energy prices, climate uncertainty and extreme weather events all have the capacity to affect business operations.
As small businesses, we are constantly having to compete for new work, innovate and demonstrate that competitive edge, and an authentic approach to sustainability is well-favoured in tender evaluation when going for new contracts. I’ve found over the years that businesses who do this well report better cost and resource efficiency, more positive employee and community relationships, improved ability to attract and retain good people, increased business resilience; and reputational benefits - all bringing competitive advantage.
What will you be covering in the course?
During the course, we’ll cover current trends in sustainability thinking and the legal and policy framework, bringing it all to life with up-to-date case studies showing companies who do this well, discussing what we can learn from them.
We look at what’s happening in the world that might affect your business, as well as steps you can take to improve business practice. We develop some practical tools to help in evaluating the main issues and how to prioritise, building up an action plan - with a marketing strategy to maximise its benefits. It’s quite a practical course, designed to be useful once you’re back at work.
What makes this course different?
I’m interested in what makes businesses tick, and in how people approach change, and I want to make sure that what’s learned in the workshop has a clear benefit when delegates are back at work. I normally contact people two weeks beforehand to assess current understanding, and I follow up to see how the action plans we develop during the course work in practice.
I’m looking forward to running this event at Crawley Library, a landmark in sustainable building design, in partnership with sustainable events company Muon Events and the Green Growth Platform.
Register for this sustainability masterclass online at http://muonevents.com/ggp-sia.html