GreenBiz Article: Small Companies Offer Big Sustainability Lessons

My latest GreenBiz article is “Small Companies Offer Big Sustainability Lessons.” An excerpted version is below. The full piece is online.

Small Companies Offer Big Sustainability Lessons
Melissa Schweisguth, for GreenBiz

The sustainability arena has been abuzz over the latest corporate responsibility rankings: Newsweek’s Greenest Companies and The Boston College Center/Reputation Institute CSR Index. While such assessments provide valuable insights, most are limited in informational value because they omit smaller companies (and often private and international ones). [text excerpted]… This focus is mirrored in mainstream media coverage and sustainability professionals’ commentaries.

The most common arguments for centering assessments and general attention on large businesses are that they have the biggest impacts given their magnitude, and represent appropriate benchmarks for leadership.

When filters like this are applied, we’re left with only a piece of bigger picture that facilitates benchmarking only across similar peers or provides guidance to a subset of the population. Moreover, we lose the opportunity to realize the many ways corporations and stakeholders can benefit by evaluating and communicating practices across industry in its full diversity.

Specific points in favor of a more inclusive view include:

Whenever the field of inquiry is limited, we’re sure to miss many of the “best” or “greenest.” There are numerous, successful smaller mission-driven enterprises that remain off the ratings radar [text excerpted]…

Larger absolute size doesn’t necessarily equate to a larger absolute impact [text excerpted]…

Private and small ventures are often centers of innovation since the former don’t have as much pressure to deliver short-term returns and the latter can move more swiftly. Thus, their practices can serve to drive critical change among the broader industry if they’re made known on a wider basis [text excerpted]…

Smaller companies have limited finances and have to budget strategically and creatively to resource sustainability programs while ensuring sufficient support for core business activities. Those investing significantly in their mission while succeeding in the marketplace represent a learning model for larger enterprises [text excerpted]...

Young, private enterprises aren’t necessarily more responsible. They shouldn’t be free from scrutiny, and they need relevant guides for improvement [text excerpted]…

Recognizing emerging ventures with exemplary practices can help garner support to grow businesses that represent the critical solutions we need to address our pressing sustainability challenges, and the direction the broader industry is seeking.

It’s critical to show industry, consumers and other stakeholders what’s possible now so they can align their purchasing and practices toward better outcomes. Wal-Mart has been championed for its recent announcement to increase local food purchasing, and its goals around zero waste, renewable energy and other areas. Whole Foods Market has purchased RECs to cover 100% of its electricity for five years, installed renewables on stores across the US, prioritized local sourcing (and organic) since its founding and set significant resource conservation and zero waste targets years ago [text excerpted]…

Better practices offer a marketplace advantage. All companies would do well to tap these [text excerpted]…

Operations of all sizes, geographies and ownership structures provide valuable models for sustainable business. It’s critical to be truly inclusive to evaluate our progress and potential, and define real leadership.

Read the full piece online.

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This entry was posted in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) & Sustainability Strategy, Writing & Presentations and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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