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Corporate Sustainability Practices for Small Manufacturing Firms

Vtech headshotWords by Virginia Tech CLiGS

Virginia Tech Sponsored Series

Virginia Tech Series 2014

By Iris Picat

What exactly is corporate sustainability? Vestal Tutterow*, an alumnus of the Virginia Tech Executive Master of Natural Resources (XMNR) program, recently wrote a report that seeks to answer just this question. Part of Tutterow's capstone project, the report is based on a literature review and personal communications with managers.

It includes observations and recommendations intended to serve as a reference for anyone seeking an overview of corporate sustainability -- and the challenges and opportunities for embedding sustainability into small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the U.S.

He focused specifically on manufacturing firms in the report. Through this review, Tutterow found that the current standards, protocols and guidance available were generally designed for large organizations, and do not work well with SMEs due to their lack of resources to become proficient in the growing array of criteria, tools and reporting methods. Except for companies facing demands from customers, SMEs report having no internal or external incentives to begin addressing sustainability, and a lack of methods to readily quantify its value.

On the other hand, SMEs that embrace corporate sustainability see a number of benefits. Adopting corporate sustainability practices will often lead to cost savings through energy efficiency improvements, and new business opportunities through innovation. SMEs with sustainable practices in place are also more attractive to potential partners down the supply chain, notably the large multi-nationals and government agencies, which are increasingly expecting to see such practices already in place by potential suppliers and partners.

Research for this report also identified two promising mechanisms for engaging SME manufacturers. The first is through sustainable supply chain initiatives where large companies incentivize their SME suppliers to be more efficient and foster innovation. In some cases, the larger firms will even offer assistance through training, resources or mentoring. The second is through engaging “network organizations," such as sector-specific stakeholder groups. Organizations that already have built-in networking and communications in their sectors can help create resources and best practices for SMEs, along with a streamlined reporting protocol. Such a tailored approach can help minimize the weight SMEs currently feel at the sight of the corporate sustainability mountain.

For more details on current protocols and standards for reporting, best practices, current barriers, incentives and other pertinent information related to implementing sustainability practices into enterprises, please see Tutterow’s report, Embedding Sustainability into Small and Medium-Sized Manufacturing Enterprises.

Iris Picat is an alumna of Virginia Tech's Executive Master of Natural Resources program.

*Vestal Tutterow is an alumnus of the Virginia Tech Executive Master of Natural Resources (XMNR) program and graduated in May 2014. He works as a Senior Technical Consultant for Project Performance Company in VA, providing energy management services directly to manufacturers and through a voluntary U.S. Department of Energy initiative.  He is a registered Professional Engineer, a Certified Energy Manager, and a Certified Practitioner in Energy Management Systems.

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This blog series, written by graduate students and faculty at Virginia Tech’s Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability (CLiGS), focuses on lessons learned about the leadership and innovation strategies that business, government, and civil society stakeholders are using to influence important environmental and natural resource systems, including water, food, climate, energy, and biodiversity.

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