MANY IRISH BUSINESSES have great ethical and environmental standards - but aren’t doing enough to promote those practices with their customers as part of their company brand.
Bernadette Phelan, from Business in the Community Ireland, said enterprises of all sizes could benefit from looking at their own sustainability practices – then comparing them to leaders in their field.
“Sustainability should be in the DNA of a company,” she told TheJournal.ie.
Fundamentally, it’s about taking responsibility for the impacts that are made in you doing business. Ideally you want to be positive in the impacts you make … or at least be ‘neutral’.”
Many small and medium enterprises (SMEs) already had good sustainable business practices because it made financial and ethical sense, but they needed to get better at talking about those activities to gain a real competitive advantage, Phelan said.
Her organisation, a not-for-profit group which promotes corporate social responsibility, takes a much broader definition of sustainability than its traditional association with the environment and waste.
For them, it covers everything from creating a workplace where staff feel valued, to reaching out to the public through community work.
The organisation recently launched a service aimed at SMEs and here are three major reasons why Phelan said businesses across all industries should be thinking about sustainability:
1. Your reputation
“A key benefit of sustainability is about enhancing your reputation and your brand – that’s as valuable for you if you are a small companies as if you are a big company,” Phelan said.
That good reputation could be built from doing work in the community, or becoming known as a business that put high value on health and safety, for example.
Phelan said sustainable workplace practices could also be a good way of differentiating a business in the marketplace.
You can see there is a major trend where consumers are buying a product or choosing a company based on that. It has become a mainstream issue – customers expect businesses to be sustainable now, it’s not an option. You need a social licence to operate.”
2. Your staff
An added benefit of supporting staff who wanted to do volunteer work is it could expose them to training and skills they might not otherwise get in a small company, Phelan said.
“The other key area (in sustainability) is about your employees, that they work in a good place where they feel valued,” she said.
If people feel valued and they’re in a good working environment, they will be more productive as well.”
3. Your bottom line
Phelan said sustainable environmental practices, as another example, could lead to cost reductions through efficient waste and energy management.
She said there were also key issues around sustainability for businesses in a global supply chain, because end users were demanding high ethical and environmental standards.
A lot of the time (SMEs) are supplying into bigger businesses and we are seeing, across the world, that those companies are increasing the standards required of their own suppliers around their various sustainable practice,” she said.
So what next?
Phelan said the starting point for most SMEs would be plotting where their practices stood now, then comparing them to what leaders in their industry were doing.
“You could be doing more than you think, or there could be opportunities you are missing,” she said.
Organisations like Enterprise Ireland and the Environmental Protection Agency were also good places to look for resources to further help local businesses, she said.