This is probably the hardest sell in the whole area: How do we convince smaller businesses to engage in sustainability/CSR/corporate responsibility practices?
I’ve struggled with this for years. Having run an SME for a decade, written a policy report for the Government of the UK that touched on the area, and just spent a couple of days with small retailers grappling with the why and the how, I now have one simple conclusion:
Remove the jargon, and simply talk about saving money, better management and future opportunity.
A simple truism of course. That’s how you sell sustainability (or smarter business as I prefer to call it) to any firm.
But taking out the jargon and the moral argument matters much more in SMEs. They just don’t have time to think about anything outside of business management. That much is clear to me.
That doesn’t mean SMEs are immoral. Quite the opposite: Being less of a ‘machine’ than a large company, smaller businesses understand what individual productivity and motivation means more than any one else. One key person leaves, everything can change, fast.
And SMEs are much better connected to their communities and understand the value of relationships built over time. That’s not in any doubt.
This week I was with around 10 companies for two days. We spent the time discussing the business case for engaging stakeholders and others, how to get started, what best practice can look like, and the business case for doing so.
Most importantly, we talked about engaging suppliers. Many of the business managers, who often have two or three job titles, were sceptical that they could have any impact on suppliers when we began.
By the time we’d brainstormed for two days all of them could see how they could have an impact.
Start small, test, measure and communicate results, and see where it leads. They bought that.
The tipping point though, was when they understood progress is simply about better business management. About smarter capitalism. About helping suppliers save money. And then investing that money in further improvements.
That’s something they all agreed they felt they could sell to their CEOs and some suppliers.
It only made sense to them when we took the jargon out of the debate.
By the end of the two day workshop/training session I led, we all felt inspired that even a 25-50 person company could make a difference in their supply chain.
Selling sustainability as not just for the big brands is entirely possible.
I’ve just seen it happen. It feels good.