You would imagine that it would be easier for a small business to implement sustainability practices than for a larger business, but according to Sustainability4SME’s latest research, it’s not. Small business actually struggle with the implementation of sustainability for many reasons. And the preliminary findings of Sustainability4SME seem to be consistent with the United Nations Global Compact 2013 Global Corporate Sustainability Report of 2013. When proactively considering the idea of joining forces with other businesses around the world in an effort to improve the world’s sustainability issues, many of these businesses start out with very good intentions but fall flat on their faces. The question is – why?
Common Barriers to Sustainability for Small Businesses
According to the largest small business sustainability research in the United States to date, performed by Sustainability4SME, the barriers to sustainability for small businesses include:
- Employee apathy – 23.5%
- Leadership initially not on board – 5.9%
- Local regulatory policies – 17.6%
- State regulatory policies – 11.8%
- Federal regulatory policies – 17.6%
- Lack of information on how to implement sustainable or green initiatives – 35.3%
- Upstream supply chain unwilling to support – 17.6%
- Upstream supply chain unable to support – 23.5%
- Initiative was too expensive to implement – 23.5%
- Initiative was too complex to implement – 17.6%
- Initiative interfered with other business processes – 35.3%
Not surprising to many is that the top two barriers to sustainability success for small businesses include “Initiative interfered with other business processes” and “Lack of information on how to implement.” Initiative interference is considered to be a critical barrier to achieving sustainability for small businesses.
And one reason that this may be such a barrier to small businesses is because many small businesses get in over their head at first. The right intention is there, but the sustainability planners within these businesses start with large projects which end up flopping due to the fact that they are too large scaled.
History and records show that businesses that start out with small cost-effective sustainability projects have the most success at achieving sustainability. These small initiatives are later followed by more successful larger initiatives. Another notable barrier is overcoming employee apathy. To achieve sustainability success, it is important for businesses to educate their employees about the importance of bringing change with sustainability and getting everyone on board to this concept.
Overcoming Sustainability Barriers to Small Businesses
Overcoming the lack of information barrier is easily achieved with small business leaders such as your local chamber of commerce, industry associations and trusted advisors to educate people about sustainability through newsletters, education and in messages.
Initiative interference, initiative too expensive and initiative too complex are easily overcome by, again, starting with small sustainability initiatives first. Then later after your business has had some success with those small steps towards sustainability, you can then implement larger initiatives.
Upstream supply chain unwilling to support sort of falls into the category of employee apathy and leadership initially not on board. These things are easily bypassed and eliminated with education. If your supply chain is unable to support, then your business should begin looking into the exploration of other vendor options. Choose a vendor that meets your present and future sustainability goals and needs.
The bottom line is that two important key factors in small businesses achieving sustainability boil down to education and starting small. Begin with educating the masses within your business and then take small baby step initiatives towards your businesses sustainability goals. You may feel like you need to start out big, but remember that little things are big things when it comes to sustainability.
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