There is often a lack of structure and systematics in sustainability efforts. This means there is no overview of the work done so far and the results achieved. The first task of the sustainability team is therefore to record everything that the company is already doing in terms of sustainability. Understanding sustainability is crucial: many SMEs only see sustainability in the context of the environment and climate protection.
Sustainability also includes social and societal aspects. In the case of a logistics company, for example, this could include drivers spending the night in guesthouses instead of in the truck cabin. The broad definition of sustainability is shown by the World Commission on Environment and Development’s definition of “sustainable development” as “a development that meets the needs of the present generation without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. ” speaks.
Step 3: Identify the key topics and set clear goals
Many small and medium-sized companies are very motivated to implement sustainability measures, but they lack the knowledge of where they can really make an impact, what goals they are working towards with their measures and long-term orientations.
After the inventory, the materiality analysis follows: First, the sustainability topics that are crucial for the company in the areas of business, employees, social and environmental issues are identified. This also determines which stakeholders are most affected by these issues. The concept of double materiality is then used to analyze what influence the identified material topics have on the company and its business success and what effects the company in turn has on the material topics through its activities. Finally, clear goals are set for each topic in order to increase the positive effects and reduce the negative effects. For companies, this can mean, for example, promoting diversity or specifically reducing energy consumption.
Step 4: Make sustainability efforts visible
Companies that have not previously been asked to provide evidence of their sustainability activities by customers or investors are now asking themselves how they can effectively make them visible and communicate them effectively. Assessments and certifications such as EcoVadis or B Corp are suitable for this purpose.
Many SMEs are taking this into their own hands because they are convinced that they have sufficient sustainability initiatives. But often they are surprised by the results: performing worse on assessments than expected or failing certifications they thought they would easily pass.
The reason for this is not necessarily due to a lack of sustainability initiatives, but often due to correctly understanding the requirements and correctly documenting sustainability activities. Here it is advisable to obtain comprehensive information, seek advice and take enough time.
Step 5: Establish honest communication
The fifth and final step is about actual communication. It is important to communicate sustainability goals and efforts internally before informing the public. A sustainability report that is based on international reporting standards such as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) or the German Sustainability Code (DNK) is suitable for this purpose.
Sustainability communication is a snapshot that shows the status quo, sets clear goals and thus illustrates long-term, positive development. It also enables the individual steps to be compared with each other. Honesty is the top priority here. Identifying weaknesses and potential for optimization is expressly desired. This is the only way change and improvement can actually take place.
Sustainability is more than just a trend – it has become a crucial factor for company success. SMEs can benefit from a holistic and structured approach. The five steps for successfully implementing sustainability measures in SMEs provide clear guidance for actively shaping the change towards more sustainable practices.
Because only those who take social and ecological responsibility will be successful with their business in the long term. If you haven’t started yet, you should start tackling sustainability in a structured way now. The requirements will continue to increase – and at a faster pace than before.
About the author: Marco Peters is the founder and managing director of Nextwork. The compliance and sustainability consultancy specializes in the development of certifiable management systems and works for numerous creative agencies, medium-sized companies and corporations. As a trained B leader, Peters also wants to make a positive contribution to a more sustainable future economy.
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