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SMEs Struggle with Sustainability Expertise, Quantifying Benefits

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) create 80 percent of Canadian industry’s harmful environmental impacts and more than 60 percent of commercial waste, according to a report released today by the Network for Business Sustainability (NBS), Canadian Football League team the Montréal Alouettes, World Wildlife Fund, Quebec furniture manufacturer Artopex and 10 other organizations. SMEs also create more than 80 percent of new jobs in Canada every year, according to SME Sustainability Challenges 2012.

In the report, small businesses share challenges they face in being environmentally responsible.

Lack of time, finances, human resources and expertise in sustainability prevent SMEs from implementing sustainability initiative, according to the report, which found SME managers are overwhelmed by the number of corporate social responsibility tools — and their varying credibility.

Developing internal expertise or having access to a knowledgeable third party would help SMEs implement sustainability practices, it says.

The report is the result of a one-day roundtable with small business leaders from various sectors of the economy, facilitated by Dr. Marie-France Turcotte, director of the French Office of the Network for Business Sustainability.

The other 10 organizations that participated in the discussion were small businesses IGA Cookshire, Insertech Angus, Jas Filtration, JS David Consultant, Quartz Nature, Savons Prolav (Bio-vert), Soder, St. Jean Collision Centre and Victor Innovatex, along with the Ministry of Finance and Economy.

Translating intangible benefits of sustainability initiatives — improved corporate image and reputation, for example — into monetary benefits is also a challenge for SMEs, according to the report. It says SME leaders need help selling stakeholders on the business value of sustainability.

While big companies have the budgets to launch large-scale advertising campaigns promoting their sustainable products, services and business practices, SMEs must find more creative ways to inform customers about their environmentally friendly initiatives, according to the report. SME leaders want to know what information will entice customers to buy sustainable products and services instead of their traditional — and sometimes less expensive — counterparts.

A study funded in part by the Network for Business Sustainability last year found most companies’ efforts to improve their supply chain sustainability is focused on managing risk and public relations, not on actual improvements to the environment or worker safety.

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