Season 3: Building business resilience

Mike Berners-Lee Professor, Author & Director of Small World Consulting  

How small businesses can exert influence on climate change

As a small and medium-sized business (SMB) owner, you’re in a unique position to influence others. Whether that’s your staff or your customers, suppliers, and others in your industry, having a platform gives you the power to influence and change a wide range of issues, including climate change. But do you have a big enough voice on such a global issue? Can you amplify it? And how can you go about it?  

Twenty-first century thinking 

Systemic change to a more sustainable future begins with visionary leaders. It involves education, communication, and collaboration, and often ends in industry or even political pressure. The goal is radical solutions and policy and regulatory reform for the greater climate and ecological good. So, where do you begin? 

To give you a starting point, I’d encourage you to consider different ways of thinking about the challenges ahead. For example, get a big-picture perspective on how global factors fit together and what they mean for the world. Or contemplate the future and what kind of world we’ll leave for the next generation. 

Reflect and think critically about your news and information sources to make better, more informed decisions about your next moves. Having a joined-up perspective should help you understand that all academic and commercial sectors are intertwined and need to work together to overcome climate challenges and create opportunities. 

Then start with who and what you know – your staff, customers, suppliers, and industry. Demonstrate what your company is doing about the climate emergency and encourage them to think about making changes in their own lives and businesses. 

Educate your staff 

Engaging your staff with your sustainability strategy will make a big difference to how quickly you implement change internally and externally.

Mike Berners-lee

Talk to staff openly about climate and broader ecological issues and how they can make a difference, e.g. by reducing waste in the office, limiting business travel and commuting via public transport/car sharing. Getting their thoughts and views too will involve them in the process and make them part of the solution. 

Carbon literacy training is one way to raise awareness of the costs and impacts of greenhouse gas emissions within your business and increase motivation to reduce them. Consider having regular meetings or setting up a climate action group, where staff have dedicated time and space to ask questions or formulate ideas around business sustainability goals. 

Communicate with your customers 

Telling your customers about what your business stands for and what you’re doing towards climate sustainability can go a long way to changing attitudes and behaviours. But don’t greenwash them by saying you support causes or do certain things without following through. It is far more important to be honest than to try to look perfect. No business is perfect. Bear in mind that the public is increasingly revolted by greenwash (the term used to describe a business that spends more resources advertising that they are environmentally-friendly than time making itself green) and yearning for businesses it can actually trust.  

Like many businesses, you could have a ‘Sustainability’ page on your website dedicated to your ecological missions and intentions. Or if your business produces a physical product, follow the example set by brands including Patagonia and Jude’s Ice Cream, and add prominent sustainability value propositions (SVPs) to your packaging for visible, climate-positive messaging.  

Collaborate with your suppliers 

Your supply chain will likely be where most of your carbon footprint lies. But with so many links in the chain, how can you reduce it? Start by letting your suppliers know you’re taking the climate crisis seriously and care about having a sustainable supply chain. When choosing new suppliers, let them know your procurement policy includes weighted criteria about their carbon footprint and what they’re doing in terms of the wider environment and social responsibility. 

Influence your industry 

Influencing your industry might seem like a big step, but individuals become a collective – and effective – industry voice. Joining trade or industry groups, lobbying groups, or local commerce groups will give you a chance to influence and exert pressure on the transition of your whole industry towards a sustainable future.  

There’s strength in numbers, so use your voice to push hard and make the change you want to see. Why shouldn’t your business be a role model and show others in your industry what’s possible? In fact, your competitors may even notice that you have the support of their customers when you do. 

As an SMB, you might see yourself as a tiny speck in the global system, too small to make a difference. But the reality is that SMBs like yours can be a powerful agent of change.