We sometimes come up against the idea that â€˜sustainabilityâ€™ is only for big organisations. People worry that sustainability is too complicated or expensive or the gains to be made just arenâ€™t worthwhile. We couldnâ€™t disagree more. Sustainability is something that every business can and should address. It helps save money, it helps you access new markets, and it helps differentiate your company from competitors. Most of all itâ€™s the right thing to do for our planet.
The trick is to tackle sustainability in a way that is proportionate to your organisation, and that yields quantifiable benefits. Standards are ideal for this.
ISO 14001 is the worldâ€™s most popular environmental management system standard and a good place to start if a business wants to make environmental improvements and demonstrate its commitment. As with all management systems standards, this involves an assessment of risk, planning and implementing improvements and then assessing the impact of whatâ€™s been done. Systematic measurement and analysis leads to improvements.
For example, a business may review how much packaging it uses on its products, talk to its customers about how much packaging they want, and conclude that packaging can be reduced, or redesigned for reuse.
A big company example is that Sainsburyâ€™s has shaved 11mm from the cardboard tubes in their toilet rolls. As a result the supermarket can deliver the same volume of rolls using 500 fewer lorry trips a year. This saves 140 tonnes of CO2 annually (and they donâ€™t say how much money). Even small businesses can make significant improvements by measuring and analysing what they do and ISO 14001 structures the approach.
ISO 50001Â meanwhile is suitable for organisations whose biggest environmental impact is energy use. The standard is a specification for organisations wishing to put an energy management system (EnMS) in place.
Using an EnMS can provide companies with a structure to examine their energy profile and start to question their energy use. People get visibility of where energy is being used, and this knowledge can bring real action at an operational level â€“ whether people are making behavioural changes or technological improvements. Some basic awareness and sharing of information can yield results. ISO 50001 is also easily integrated with ISO 14001.
Looking after people is also an important component of sustainability. In this regard, OHSAS 18001 for occupational health and safety management plays an important role. It structures the risk and compliance culture of an organisation and that helps towards fewer accidents at work and a safer workforce.
Organisations that want to take sustainability to the next level might want to work with ISO 26000, the social responsibility standard. It covers all areas that matter for an organisation to be socially responsible, from organizational governance and human rights to labour practices, environment and consumer issues, to community involvement and development.
The standard asks organisations to ask themselves if their marketing is fair to consumers, whether their product or service protects health and safety, whether they are fair to staff; avoid corrupt practices, prevent pollution and use resources sustainably, and whether they protect biodiversity and restore natural habitats where relevant.
Organisations which can honestly answer that they are behaving in a socially responsible way will see numerous benefits. Theyâ€™ll recruit and retain better staff, minimise customer complaints and maximise customer loyalty. Theyâ€™ll be more competitive and have a better reputation. Theyâ€™ll be more innovative and more capable of entering new markets as well as being better placed to meet new regulatory requirements.
All these benefits are just as important to a small business as they are to any large corporation, so we believe that SMEs definitely have a lot to gain from becoming sustainable.