In collaboration with Social Enterprise Mark CIC, I am exploring the challenges social enterprises face in adopting environmentally sustainable strategies and operations. It’s increasingly clear that as a planet we need to radically reduce the amount of greenhouse gases we release, produce less waste and help the natural environment recover. Many companies are shifting to strategies which not only ‘do less harm’ but actively help replenish the resources we use as society.
But let’s acknowledge it isn’t as easy as all that. Embarking on the journey towards more sustainable and climate-conscious operations can be a daunting task for social enterprise leaders in the UK, who already have a difficult balance of running a successful socially-driven organisation. It can seem complicated, needing time and money to make the transition to greener suppliers and methods.
It’s important to note that small businesses can make a huge difference – a recent OECD report showed that SMEs produce 70% of Europe’s carbon emissions. We can all contribute to a radically reducing greenhouse gases across the world.
It’s also important to recognise that this transition is not just about reducing your carbon footprint – it’s also a strategic move that can bring significant business benefits. In this blog, I’ll explore why greener methods make sense for social enterprises and provide six top tips to help you get started on this transformative path.
- Meeting Customer Expectations: A Forbes report recently showed, more than three quarters of Gen Z and millennial consumers consider environmental sustainability in their purchasing decisions. By adopting greener methods, you not only meet customer expectations but also attract a larger and more loyal customer base.
- Attracting and retaining the best talent: Gen Z and millennials care deeply about the environmental credentials of companies they work for. Over half research the sustainability of the prospective employer before they accepting a job. Greener companies also enjoy lower turnover. All companies must make sure that its strategy, purpose, operations are meaningful and fulfilling to its teams.
- Cost Savings: Sustainability isn’t just about saving the planet; it’s about saving money too. Implementing energy-efficient technologies, reducing waste, and using less water and other resources can lead to substantial cost savings. These savings can be reinvested in your social enterprise’s mission or used to improve your products and services.
- Risk Mitigation: Climate change and environmental degradation pose significant risks to businesses. By embracing sustainability, you can mitigate these risks. E.g. being prepared for supply chain disruptions caused by extreme weather events can keep your operations running smoothly.
- Access to Funding: Investors and grants providers increasingly favour enterprises with strong sustainability credentials. By adopting greener methods, you improve your chances of securing funding that can help you grow and scale your social enterprise.
- Enhanced Reputation: A reputation for environmental responsibility can set your social enterprise apart from the competition. It can open doors to partnerships, collaborations, and opportunities that may not have been available otherwise.
We recently asked the Social Enterprise Mark community on LinkedIn what the main barriers are to adopting climate-conscious actions and operations. Responses showed that some social enterprises are unsure how to go about assessing their practices and adopting greener strategies and operations, or that it is too expensive or will take too much time.
|Unsure what to do/how to start||46%|
|Too costly/resource intensive||54%|
|Transition is too difficult||0%|
|Unsure of business benefits||0%|
In response to your answers, I’d like to suggest some tips on how to start considering your environmental impact which do not have to turn your business upside down or blow the budget.
- Conduct a Sustainability Assessment: Start by understanding your current environmental impact. You can use free or inexpensive tools to conduct either a light-touch or more thorough assessment of your operations to identify carbon reductions. This assessment should encompass energy usage, waste production, supply chain practices, and more..
- Set Clear Sustainability Goals: Discuss what you want to achieve around sustainability. Whether it’s reducing greenhouse gas emissions, minimising waste, or sourcing sustainable materials, having clear objectives will guide your efforts and help you track progress..
- Get Started: explore some easy switches for supplies you already use which could have a big sustainability impact:
- One of the most impactful things a business (or an individual) can do is move their money to ethical financial institutions. There are banks which intentionally avoid funding fossil fuels, mining and other extractive industries and instead invest in renewable energy and technologies.
- The other big switch is your energy supplier. Shifting to renewable electricity promotes its greater use across the grid and will encourage yet more future investment and lower costs. Find ways to use less energy eg. insulating your premises, or downsizing offices.
- Find simple ways to reduce water use and waste – saving money as well as carbon..
- Another area, albeit often with a bit more to consider in terms of time or cost, is transport. There may be lower carbon options for freight, deliveries, commuting and business travel.
- One area which might be a surprise – your IT servers and web hosting can be much more carbon intensive than you’d think. Greener solutions can be found where the hosts use renewable electricity and offset the emissions from cooling refrigerants.
- Release the Power of Your Staff Teams! Sustainability is a collective effort. Engage your team members by raising awareness about the importance of sustainability and involving them in the decision-making process. Encourage their input and ideas for greener practices – they might come up with interesting, innovative ways to get things done differently..
- Collaborate and Seek Expertise: Don’t go it alone. There are lots of free resources with carbon calculators, checklists and guidance. If you want more bespoke support that doesn’t cost the earth, check out companies like Green Small Business or Small99 who support SMEs on their sustainability journey.
- Measure, Communicate and Celebrate Progress: Regularly measure your sustainability efforts to track your progress toward your goals. Communicate your achievements and challenges to your stakeholders; celebrate your progress and make your staff and customers proud!
While the transition to more sustainable and climate-conscious operations may seem daunting or costly, it’s a journey that holds immense promise for social enterprises.
By embracing greener methods and integrating environmental sustainability into your strategy where appropriate, you not only contribute to a healthier planet but also unlock a range of business benefits, from cost savings to enhanced reputation. You can strengthen your social mission by using responsible practices. With determination and commitment, you can navigate this green path and lead your social enterprise toward a stronger and more sustainable future.
I hope this article gives some food for thought on how social enterprises can start to consider their sustainability and start to make changes to greener practices.