What does the future of sustainability mean for small business?

Nature of Business radio, created and hosted by Chrissy Coughlin, is a weekly show on business and environment.

This week I had a great opportunity to speak with Matt Gardner, Co-Founder and Director of SustainServ, a global sustainability consultancy with offices in Zurich and Boston. We talked about the current state of corporate sustainability. What does it really mean for companies -- particularly the small and medium-sized ones? How has it evolved? What is going to happen to companies who are not paying attention? What is happening with supply chains? And what does the future look like? All fun and interesting questions.

There is little debate that the world of corporate sustainability is a fast moving landscape. This is a particular challenge for small and medium-sized companies (the lion-share of SustainServ's client base) who are often left in a quandary of if/how/and when to keep up with it all. So ten years ago, Matt and his two Co-Founders, Bernd Kasemir and Stephan Lienin (all PhD Chemists) saw a real opportunity to help these companies weed through all of the confusion create a new sector of companies (often suppliers to the larger ones) to be better corporate citizens

We hear the world sustainability a lot. And when many of us think of it, we think of the three intersecting circles –economic, social, and environmental. A perfect balance. And a noble goal. But realistic? Possibly, yes. Common? Nope.

But the good news is that companies are getting better at this balancing act and will, as Matt discusses, continue to show improvement as they develop a greater commitment to transparency. And regardless of how much internal regard a company might have for "environmental", if they are tracking their impacts at the outset, they are going to be in better if not good shape. Especially when (not if) the customer asks you what you are doing about your greenhouse gas emissions or better yet what they specifically were for the year. You better have a good answer because those days are gone when you can wing it.

Still, it's difficult for some companies to keep up with it all. They must be motivated to do so. Certainly there are companies that are leading the charge and setting examples for others but the majority of companies out there are in the middle of the pack needing serious guidance so as not to lose too much ground. Matt points out four factors that tend to nudge companies in the sustainability direction. They include:

1) Market opportunities

2) Business Factors (process, infrastructure efficiency)

3) People factors (CEO simply wants to run company in a sustainable manner)

4) Regulation (Probably the biggest motivator)

Matt reports from the trenches that companies are increasingly committed to understanding it all. They are getting it. This commitment and understanding of course is key to maintaining a sustainability program long after its initial implementation. And we must not forget the other key motivator -- business survival -- the ultimate form of sustainability! These small and medium-sized companies are often suppliers to the big guys and these big guys are providing increasingly detailed checklists (like Wal-Mart and Nike) and mandating that their suppliers follow these guidelines or they will look elsewhere.

This, of course, just scratches the surface, so, click play and listen away!

George Papoulias edited this podcast.

 

 

Small business photo via Shutterstock.