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Sustainability Information for SMEs: Industry Associations and Internet are Top Sources

In the largest U.S.-based research study on SME attitudes towards business sustainability practices conducted to date, Sustainability4SMEs asked the question: where do small and mid-sized enterprises (SMEs) obtain sustainability information, methods for implementation, and measurable success metrics for their specific industry?

Our research shows that many SMEs are interested in developing sustainability-based initiatives but aren’t sure where to turn to find the information and resources they need to get started. The question was therefore aimed at identifying those trusted advisors, organizations and knowledge bases that businesses have found most useful as sources of sustainable business practices information. Our findings should encourage these trusted advisors, agencies and knowledge bases to be highly proactive, reaching out to their local business community and/or constituents with actionable sustainability information aimed at strengthening the economics of the businesses and contributing to overall economic growth. Our hope is that this will accelerate the process through which SMEs grasp the benefits of sustainable business practices and embark on industry-specific sustainability initiatives.

This figure illustrates the results of the research question as of late July 2013. The lower the bar, the more important the source of information; a 1 is the highest priority source, 2 is next major source, and so on through the top five sources used. DO NOT interpret the tall bars as being unimportant. The fact that these responses are part of the top five sources used indicate they also play a strong role in the SME business community for sustainability information gathering.

Survey respondents identified Industry Associations and Journals/Magazines/Internet as their highest priority sources of sustainability information in the SME marketplace. Industry associations are a logical source of information as they are among the most trusted advisors to SMEs and are able to provide experiences and knowledge specific to the type of business. The broad information search that Journals and the Internet afford offers a view into what is going on around the globe, potentially enabling an accelerated adoption rate for low cost, high return, greening initiatives.

The response option Employees and workforce is a strong third source of business sustainability information. This implies a relatively high degree of employee engagement in SMEs’ business greening initiatives. Employee engagement is important because long term success depends on everyone within the company buying in to the initiatives and objectives.

In addition, those involved in the hands-on, day-to-day operations have an “on the ground” view of specific processes and how they interoperate with other processes within the firm. Employees will be the first to know if a prospective change in one area will have a positive or negative ripple effect in another area or across the company. Case studies confirm that the most successful sustainable business strategies rely heavily on the momentum created by the enthusiasm and commitment of employees.

Does your firm utilize these sources of information for sustainable business initiative information? Do you use other sources?

Next week we will identify the hurdles and gating factors companies are running into that prevent them from getting on the sustainability path.

If you are interested, you can find the survey here.

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Sustainability4SMEs: Graham Russell & Martha Young

Graham Russell brings 25 years of CEO experience in the environmental services industry to his current role as a sustainability professional. He currently teaches sustainable business in the University of Colorado, Denver MBA program and chair’s the School’s Managing for Sustainability Advisory Council. He provides sustainability and cleantech consulting services to SMEs through TrupointAdvisors and is on the board of the International Society of Sustainability Professionals.

Martha Young has been an industry analyst and writer for 20 years. Her expertise is in small and mid-sized businesses, information technology and energy. Young co-authored four books on virtual business processes (cloud computing), and project management for IT. She is on the board of two small Texas-based businesses, and acts in a technical advisory and business strategy capacity for an east coast venture capitalist.

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