Houston, we have a problem, and I mean we ALL have a problem.
The UK Environment Agency yesterday reported that more than 50% (from a sample of 7000) of small and medium sized businesses said “an environmental policy was of ‘no use’ to their business in the current climate.” The same research also showed a fall in the appreciation about their environmental impact.
Did you know approximately 99% of businesses in developed countries are small or medium sized? In the UK that means 59% (14 million people) of private sector employees and 52% (£1450 billion) private sector turnover in the UK. The potential scale and therefore impact of this problem, if such apathy within UK small and medium enterprises (SME) is similar around the globe it would be too depressing to comprehend. How much scarce energy, water and materials are being wasted in the name of economic survival?
Instead of blaming China and the rest of the developing world for all the future environmental damage how about picking on your neighbourhood hairdresser, restaurant, printers, taxi cab or plumber?
I’ve been banging on SME doors for a few years now trying by hook or by crook to plant ethical seeds by pushing a entrepreneurial approach to Corporate Social Responsibility (only very quietly whispering the C word, if at all) with the environment right at the top of my get-a-foot-in-the-door benefit list and it’s been bloody hard work. “You can save on costs, avoid fines, reduce waste, inspire employees, improve air quality, enhance energy security, appease investors, differentiate, save the planet, JUST DO IT”, you name it, I’ve tried every possible approach to every personality type to sell the green message with mixed results. Unfortunately in the real world there are too many people who just don’t care, or those with too much on their plate that very second to see the bigger picture unfolding across today’s media. To be fair most people don’t yet have the ability to translate the abstract concept of climate change to their own local scenario but that shouldn’t allow a breeding ground for apathy.
In SME speak it’s about answering the same old question, “What’s in it for me?” and in particular, this week. I know that times are hard for businesses of every size and survival is key, but I fear too many individuals are using the struggling economy as their latest excuse to avoid environmental responsibility. I’m also fed up with the majority of public sector business support agencies and their employees trying to engage with time poor entrepreneurs with little or no effect. They simply don’t communicate in the same language.
Now here’s the good news…
SME’s could save us all! The sheer volume of creativity, passion, invention, risk taking, innovation and stubbornness available within smaller businesses is ideal for finding solutions to difficult problems. We are already seeing SME fruit beared across the environmental technology sectors, but how do we inspire those who feel no daily tangible connection to our communal environmental woes such as the plumber, hairdresser, taxi driver or printer? Smaller businesses are a very tough audience but in my experience the biggest cynics can become your best champions, they just need a little personal attention.
You mission should you decide to accept it, is to challenge one local small business to take one extra green step and here’s a few ideas from an earlier blog from the series on CSR for Smaller Businesses.
Let me know how you get on, the economy and the planet depends on it.