The role of small businesses in achieving a sustainable future

Step Up, sustainability

Business, not politics or regulation, is our greatest hope to achieve change at a global scale, towards a resilient sustainable world. As there are 200 million smaller businesses in the world and only 41,000 on stock exchanges, that means that those in smaller companies can make an unprecedented impact – either positively or negatively. This may seem like a bold claim, but it is a valid point.

The impact of small businesses is felt everywhere

The life of every living human is touched, directly or indirectly, by businesses and the decisions of businesspeople. Those 200 million smaller businesses globally, employ and service almost all humanity. Outside of communist states, this is a truism – everything we consume, and experience will, at some point, have been contributed to by a business, probably several. Even in communism, it is accepted that supply bodies operate in a business-like way, albeit to deliver to a planned demand limit efficiently and effectively.

What’s more, every family is sustained by the outcomes of businesses. Even the salaries of those working in the public sector are funded by taxes from companies or people working for companies. The more wages or profit, the more tax is paid, the more public budgets grow, and the more that can be done for societies. The same is true for those who survive on public-funded safety nets, or charity for those unable to work.

Business success drives growth elsewhere

While elected officials govern, economies are only fuelled by the success of businesses. Transformation to sustainable business practice will happen quicker because businesses believe they will win more, and not because politicians say so to appease voters. If business thrives, economies do, currencies remain strong and the families in those societies can thrive. If sustainability helps businesses win more, then business will become more sustainable. The opposite is also true.

Conscious action will set your business apart

Due to the extent of reach we enjoy in communities globally, there is great potential for small businesses to determine their effects on all stakeholder groups. What is less often discussed is that this represents the most impactful source of competitive differentiation in the 2020s.

Consider the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, how your company might visibly attach its brand to the positive impact you create, and how that can be shown to contrast the negative impact caused elsewhere in your market.

Strategy can be adapted to avoid negative stakeholder effects and to achieve new positive impact. Demonstrating the right impact and accountability for sustainability will be a necessity to safeguard future company value to investors, protect market share and loyalty of desirable employees. This is because over 75 per cent are already stating their intention to move to suppliers or employers with principles that match their own, in values they consider most important.

Like the small railway track switches that flip to divert 30-ton railway carriages to safety or to peril, all small choices cascade to have greater knock-on cumulative effects. Competitive markets will move towards new positive norms, just to remain attractive.

Remain adaptable, no matter what

No matter how comfortable you may feel that your strategy is correct, and the future is mapped out in glowing lights before you, that sense of comfort is probably ill-advised. Move soon to decide how your company will make more positive impact and less that is negative. Even if only a tiny portion of the world’s small businesses choose to do better, to never knowingly do harm, and to always seek to do good, that will without a doubt change the world.