An international consortium of leading accounting organizations just released a survey that describes how small and medium-sized businesses are profiting from sustainability. The results provide some useful insights into the interplay between doing the right thing and doing things that make a good profit. It’s something that Triple Pundit readers might call the “Branch Rickey test.” As described in a Triple Pundit op-ed last year, legendary Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey was keenly aware that his segregation-busting partnership with baseball phenom Jackie Robinson was a challenge to society, but he “never ran away” from the fact that the risky venture was great for business, too. He and Robinson were in a unique position to fit a social transformation into a familiar form that people could discuss on familiar terms – hits, runs, and great plays in the field.
Leading Accountants Agree: Sustainability Makes Money
The new survey, called “SMEs Set Their Sights on Sustainability,” was released jointly by the U.K.-based Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, and the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants. While only 33 percent of the small to medium-sized companies surveyed had a sustainability strategy in operation, another 23 percent planned to implement one within two years. One key finding, according to an official from CIMA, was that successful companies achieved short term cost-saving goals such as energy efficiency improvements, while promoting their long term sustainability profile. In other words, a company’s financial team can make a valuable contribution to a solid sustainability plan, alongside employees or consultants with professional training in the field.
Sustainability Twofers for Businesses
Energy efficiency is one sustainability improvement that applies to companies across the board. The survey also noted that sustainability can be a crucial promotional tool specifically for companies that are in the business of providing goods and services for the growing number of sustainable-identified companies in the market. One example is a midsized bank in the U.S. that turns a nice profit on making loans to companies for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. The bank, of course, installed its own solar array, which certainly helps to promote its energy-related business. However, unlike billboards, neon signs, TV ads, coupons or mailers, this promotion gives a sustainability twofer for the buck: it reduced the bank’s power consumption by 40 percent.
Cutting Big Picture Sustainability Down to Size
The report also teased out a good point about positioning sustainable products and services to attract mainstream consumers. Earlier this month, Triple Pundit pointed out that the company Method Products has achieved success not by focusing on melting ice sheets thousands of miles away, but by concentrating on the ways their cleaning products benefit people in their homes. Similarly, the new report highlights the success of a Canadian food company that engages in outreach through schools, urban gardeners, and community projects. The fact that it sources 90 percent of its produce locally is nice, too – but the real customer experience does not occur out at the farms, it happens in classrooms, kitchens and neighborhoods.
Sports Metaphors and Sustainable Businesses
Sports metaphors can only take you so far, but in this case Branch Rickey has a lot to offer. The main lesson from the new survey is that businesses do well when they have a sustainability strategy that plays close attention to the bottom line, while presenting themselves in ways that people can talk about wherever their daily life takes them – whether they’re heading to a planning session for a rally against the Keystone XL pipeline or just driving their kids over to soccer practice.
Image Credit: Growing sprouts by AZ Adam on flickr.com.