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Business Sustainability – what does it mean for small business?

sustainabilitySometimes new businesses struggle to understand the language used in the press or by business advisers. Here at Cornerstone we are always keen to ensure we make the working environment easier to understand. Starting up can be hard enough as it is without making it unnecessarily complicated.

‘Business Sustainability’ is a term used in a number of different fields and is regularly used by organisations supporting the growth in SMEs and ensuring rates of failure are kept as low as possible. But what does the term really mean in practice?

The Financial Times describes it thus: ‘…a process by which companies manage their financial, social and environmental risks, obligations and opportunities’. This is more readily understood as managing a business’s impact on ‘profits, people and planet’. It is a term most relevant to the bigger corporations, but could business sustainability have a positive impact on the smallest of businesses and sole traders? Basically, you can look at it in terms of a business’s resilience. How readily can your company survive the unexpected? The shocks that can affect even the best-laid business plans?

There are examples of best practice to inform the development of business resilience over time and ensure that the work you do has all the support systems in place before the unexpected happens.

• Stakeholder engagement: learn from customers and competitors, ensure you are listening to your customers and anticipating any changes in their needs. This will encourage customer loyalty
• Ensure you are ‘environmentally efficient’ right from the start. For a small business, this might include using as little paper in your admin as possible, reducing waste and looking at heating and energy systems in your home office or workspace. Travelling on public transport to meetings, or walking or cycling to local clients can also help (although this clearly doesn’t work so well if you have to carry product samples).
• Examine the environmental and social impact of what you are doing, and check the continuing impact on a regular basis. This will ensure you recognise potential efficiency savings early on and, importantly, keep you in touch with any regulations that your business must comply with.

As the Financial Times states, businesses that are sustainable are usually more innovative and adaptable to changes in the environment around them. As a business grows, its sustainability affects its reputation and its ability to attract good staff. If you make a genuine commitment to your environment and community your business might be better able to access the expanding  ‘green’ market.

Business sustainability may seem to be just one more thing on that very long start-up list, but it is actually just a part of the business planning necessary to ensure your business can survive where others falter.