Small business sustainability: take cues from big business

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By Cheryl Scandale-Murnin, LEED AP

Keeping it simple is important for success in any business, but it is especially important in small businesses where resources and assets are extremely limited.

So many facets of running a small business can become complex but adopting sustainability as a competitive strategy does not have to be one of them, and as a result, even the smallest start-up company can leverage the strategies that the largest multinationals are using to their significant benefit. It completely levels the playing field.

Additionally, it is a powerful way to differentiate your company from your competitors and break through all of the marketing clutter that stands between you and new customers.

Follow the example of several large companies but be sure to right-size the initiative to your business model. For example, large companies have the opportunity to partner with other large companies in an effort to cause big changes, but that is not a reasonable expectation for a smaller company. Trying to do so will lead to early frustration and disappointment, and who really wants to focus their limited energies on a task with so little emotional return when the financial return seems so far off in the distance.

Small companies can accomplish spectacular outcomes when they find another organization that is similarly sized, in their neighborhood and who serves a similar customer base to partner with on smaller-scale sustainability initiatives.

If providing clean drinking water to emerging economies on the other side of the globe is beyond your resources, create a wellness program in your company and empower your staff to become involved. Big corporations can partner with major NGOs that attract large amounts of grant money, but a small company that has adopted a great in-house wellness program with some documented outcomes can partner with a local charitable organization with similar interests and exponentially increase their reach in their own community.

Together, the small company and the small charitable organization can combine their efforts in a mutually beneficial way and bring a wellness series to a local school, or provide programming for an after-school program, or serve an intergenerational group that needs help with something because of elder participants.

So, how is this part of sustainability if it doesn’t include changing light bulbs and why is it good for business?

The triple bottom line, which addresses economic, social and environmental issues, is the framework within which sustainability is achieved. They should all be in balance and, more importantly, they all support each other. Becoming involved in your community is great free marketing and good corporate responsibility. That’s good for business. Staff engagement in projects bigger than their daily grind makes happier employees, which helps to increase customer service. That’s good for business. Increasing your community exposure creates enthusiasm for your success among your stakeholders. That is particularly great for business because, as external stakeholders feel a sense of buy-in for your success, they become an extension of your marketing network and potential customers.

The challenge is to avoid the informality prevalent in some small businesses. Take these initiatives seriously so your staff will take them seriously, but don’t become paralyzed by policy rigidity. It is important to strike a balance, to find that sweet spot. Remember the triple bottom line, like a three-legged stool relies on balance to remain standing. Stay consistent in your vision, be honest about the real outcome of the initiative and stay straight-forward in your messaging. If these are achieved, a sustainability initiative will be cost effective. It will communicate success. That is what levels the playing field between big companies and small business that adopt sustainability initiatives as a competitive strategy.

Cheryl Scandale-Murnin, LEED AP, is an adjunct faculty member in the School of Business and Global Innovation at Marywood University. As a LEED AP, she is an Accredited Professional in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, demonstrating a high level of professional expertise in issues of sustainability. She served both as a former V.P. of the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce and member of the Small Business Advisory Board of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.

Cheryl Scandale-Murnin, LEED AP

Cheryl is an adjunct faculty in the School of Business and Global Innovation at Marywood University. As a LEED AP, she is an Accredited Professional in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, demonstrating a high level of professional expertise in issues of sustainability. She served both as a former V.P. of the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce and member of the Small Business Advisory Board of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.

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