With the growing interest in sustainability in Singapore and globally, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) should start to implement sustainable practices and strategies for their businesses. For SMEs who wish to be more sustainable, here are 4 steps to kickstart your sustainability journey.
1. Reduce Risks
Look at aspects of your operations that has environmental impacts and are material to your company. It could be the use of resources: energy, water, chemicals and materials. Or discharges to the environment such as wastewater, air and chemical emissions, and waste disposal.
If these resources and discharges are not handled properly, they could be a risk to your business due to fluctuations in prices of resources, over-dependency on suppliers, change in government regulations, change in consumer demands, legal issues and liabilities, and hazards to employees.
Start now by identifying your environmental risks, monitoring them regularly and reducing those risks over time.
Some questions on environmental risks that you might ask:
- How much energy, water, materials and chemicals are we using?
- What are the chemicals that are toxic and how are they handled?
- How do we dispose or discharge wastewater, air emiisons, waste and used chemicals?
- Are we meeting government regulations and how do we anticipate future regulations to change?
- Are there incidents of leaks and spills of chemicals, and how can they be prevented?
- Are we using too much resources and generating too much waste as compared to the industry norms? What happens if prices of the resources increase or disposal fees increase?
- Do we depend only on resources from one or few suppliers, and are those resources sustainable and non-toxic?
- Are our customers demanding for greener products or are more environmentally conscious?
- What happens to our products after being used by our customers?
Keep track of those questions above and other relevant risks, and appoint someone or a team to monitor the potential risks. Take immediate actions to reduce the important and urgent environmental risks. And set a timeline to reduce other less important risks.
2. Reduce Costs
Look at your business operations and the use of resources that are material to your company, such as electricity, water, fuel, materials and chemicals. Monitor regularly on your fuel, material and chemical usage, water and electricity consumption, and waste disposed.
Find ways to increase the efficiency and productivity of your operations so as to reduce the use of fuel, materials and chemicals. Find ways to reduce the consumption and disposal so that your business can save on utilities bills and waste disposal fees.
For example, you could conduct an energy survey by taking a walk around the offices, building and facilities to observe what is happening on the ground, identify bad and wasteful energy use and habits, and identify opportunities for energy saving.
Or you could find out how your business manages waste, water and transport in your daily operations, and take steps to reduce the impact of these activities. You could also adopt energy efficient office equipment and energy saving tips.
Or you could start a recycling programme to minimise waste and start recycling at work.
There are many opportunities to reduce unnecessary wastage and inefficient practices in your business. Engage your employees and get them to give suggestions and help improve the use of resources and reduce costs.
3. Increase Revenue
More consumers are increasing aware of environmental issues, and some of them would even choose eco-friendly products over the normal ones, even though it costs more. The demand for green products and services present new opportunities for SMEs who are willing to explore this new green market.
You can survey the needs of your existing customers (or even potential new customers) and find out whether there is a need for greener products and services. Next, look at your own products and services, and explore whether it is possible to make them more sustainable or even design new greener products.
Find ways to reduce the environmental impacts of your products throughout its life cycle. In addition, you can ensure that your products meet certified eco labels, such as the Singapore Green Label or the Singapore Green Building Product label. This will enable your products to have a green premium over normal products but remember that it is still important to first meet the customerâ€™s quality and cost needs.
By exploring the demand for green products and services and being proactive to meet this need, SMEs can gain a competitive advantage by offering greener alternatives first, and thus increasing their revenue.
4. Enhance Brand
After taking the previous 3 steps, SMEs will be in a better position to build up their reputation and enhance their brand as a sustainable company.
However, in your green marketing, it is important to avoid being accused of greenwashing â€“ a term to describe the perception of consumers being misled by a company on its environmental practices or the environmental benefits of its products or services.
To avoid being accused of greenwashing and prevent negative feedback from consumers and environmentalists, it is important to ensure that the green claims of your business are true. Acknowledge the areas of your business that are not yet green and commit to work on it.
Engage your stakeholders, both internal and external, in a dialogue on your green marketing, and gather feedback from them on whether youâ€™re on the right track or seen to be greenwashing.
SMEs can enhance their brand as a sustainable company only after implementing the previous 3 steps, and also have to ensure that their green marketing is free of greenwashing.
We hope that these 4 steps will give SMEs some ideas on how to be more sustainable in their business and help them start their sustainability journey.