Sustainability is never far from the top of the news agenda. Whether it’s stories about tacking toxic air in our cities and towns or the 100-day challenge by Elon Musk to bring wind energy storage to South Australia, the next attention-grabbing headline seems only moments away.
While this may all be very good for global corporations, it can no longer be ignored by smaller companies. It’s becoming increasingly important for every business of every size to add the development of a sustainability strategy to its priorities.
A well-thought-out sustainability strategy is critical to business survival as the increasing focus on sustainability provides real opportunities. As always, smaller and agiler companies are best-placed to benefit from new development or cause – in this case caring about sustainability, and for those that may dismiss the impact it has, the following might be worth considering:
Like food standards in the turn of the century, the pressure on companies to disclose exactly how they are addressing environmental issues will continue to escalate with demands are coming from governments, consumers, employees and customers. This trend includes reporting environmental and social practices and adopting formal policies relating to best practice in sustainability. It is also developing to encompass tracking and reporting on an individual product by product basis. Ultimately every member of a supply chain that contributes to an end product will have to disclose information related to sustainability and adhere to precisely specified standards.
Pressure from shareholders, government and society has resulted in sustainability-related practices making a significant difference in the choice of suppliers most corporates make. Some companies also require prospective suppliers to provide product-specific information such as details of any chemicals used in the manufacture and the percentage of recycled material in the packaging.
To be eligible to get on, or stay on a suppliers’ list for more forward-thinking manufacturers, companies must increasingly submit information about their sustainability policies and practices, actively prove their commitment.
Opportunities to ignore these requirements are limited, and some larger companies are actually requiring suppliers to deploy a corporate responsibility and environmental management system, establish voluntary goals, measure performance and publicly disclose results. Furthermore, some companies even expect suppliers to cascade this set of requirements to their own suppliers.
It should come as no surprise that most experts forecast energy prices will continue to rise annually. Increasing energy costs, especially of electricity and oil, have been the greatest source adding to rising costs for small and mid-sized businesses over the past few years. Through activities such as improved facility operation, enhanced maintenance and the use of cost-effective technologies, companies can significantly increase their energy efficiencies and reduce their costs.
Companies that address sustainability are driving innovation, and the greatest successes in this sustainability space come when companies and individuals collaborate across organisational boundaries to create new and imaginative solutions to challenging problems.
For the small business, becoming a champion of sustainability and a passionate advocate of how a responsible approach to resources can have a positive and lasting impact on the company will provide substantial returns.
Although larger companies are frequently in the sustainability limelight, smaller businesses have much to gain by developing sustainability strategies. Ultimately no company will be able to hide from these issues.
It is becoming ever-easier for small businesses to join the debate about sustainability and the smartest business leaders will now prioritise the development of a sustainability strategy.
BBM Sustainable Design is such a company that considers these five in their every instance. An architectural firm based in Lewes, they are dedicated to designing and help to create low energy buildings, using locally sourced, non-toxic, organic and replenishable materials, and creating communities. Partners Duncan Baker-Brown and Ian McKay, focused on trying to make a positive environmental impact where they could, saw that to change and innovate were not just adapt their designs, exploring with new materials and processes, was also to interrogate and optimise their own supply chain.
They felt it was natural in their profession to understand that buildings do not need tradition energy sources to perform properly as places of work or residential properties, but that they realised that they could control their carbon footprint around the entire process of design and building. The build itself would be their first consideration, what building materials should be used, but the truly sustainable way would be to design the entire process on sustainability: the way the material was sourced, the construction process and the systems in place, to finally look at the natural lifespan of the building, what its uses were and what they could potentially going to be.
Their most famous example of this is the Wastehouse, a building that plays host to a live research project and design workshop on sustainable development for the University of Brighton. In many sustainability projects, many companies aim to be carbon neutral (and in many ways a great achievement), but they managed to create a sustainable property that is carbon negative, the only public building in Europe given that distinction, constructed from household waste, surplus materials and discarded industrial refuse.
Much of their philosophy has been collected into a book by Duncan called The Re-Use Atlas: A designer’s guide towards a circular economy, which is full of contemporary insights not only in his own profession, but also various different fields that show the merging of form and function is not only common sense, but that will create an impact in our day to day lives. The book leads the reader on a journey through the four ‘steps’ to a circular economy (Recycling, Reuse, Reduce, Closed Loop), emulating the natural world with efficiency and forward thinking, featuring over 25 detailed case studies describing design exemplars from the worlds of textile and fashion design, product design, architecture and urban design.
Locate East Sussex and the De La Warr Pavilion presented Duncan Baker-Brown's talk “Can Designers Save the World…?” on 31 January 2018 at the De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-On-Sea, a talk reflecting on issues his book presents and on other inspiring projects, followed by question/answer session.
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