Sustainability Strategies for the SMB / SME

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 Mango NetworksLisa Lillelund provided a timely and engaging presentation at the North Shore Technology Council‘s (NSTC) North Shore Technology Council  first Wednesday of the month Sustainability Forum at the Cleantech InnoVenture Center in Lynn.  Mango Networks describes itself as “a Sustainability, Clean Energy, and Environmental Communications Company..[who] advises companies, universities, schools, clean tech start-ups, and resorts…[and advocates] for environmentally friendlier business and living practices through our consulting projects, articles, Mango Networkspresentations, and educational events.’   Ms. Lillelund’s message to the assembled audience reflected Mango’s mission to educate on what sustainability is, and what we can all be doing about sustainability in our businesses and our lives.

We all hear the words “sustainability”, “Green” and, lately, “Cleantech”, and as buzzwords go, these, too, seem for many of us, I suspect, to blend together into an impenetrable mishmash.   Although I have yet to find a good history of the ‘Green movement”,  then-AMR Research (now Gartner) wrote a piece back in 2006 with the seminal-sounding title of “The Value of Green—A Case Study of Hewlett-Packard’s Social and Environmental Responsibility Strategies in the Supply Chain” which talked about HP‘s leadership in sustainability practices.  In this report, authors Kevin O’Marah and Eric Karofsky cite as a transformative event the publishing of “Clean Up your Computer” by the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD) in 2004.  When it became further apparent that a follow-up report was forthcoming, more companies reportedly started to pay attention.

Ms. Lillelund made a particularly poignant point: that of the many reasons for a company of any size to care about having a sustainability policy and program, perhaps the most important is that your customers will eventually demand it, if they haven’t already.   This hit home for me soon after, as no sooner had I left the session than I was on my way to my local computer repair shop, Dynamic Computers, in Medford MA. Dynamic Computers  Sure enough, I got the bad news that the laptop my daughter had dropped is probably not worth repairing, and would likely soon be entering the eWaste channel, to put it nicely. 

Freshly removed from the North Shore Technology Council’s Sustainability Forum, what happens to this laptop should, and does, matter to me as a consumer.  So Dynamic Computer’s Gagan Singh obliged me by describing for me  the steps that he takes with eWaste.  Gagan keeps what parts he thinks he himself can reuse; all other computers and laptops go to an area wholesale recycler for further disposition. 

For Gagan Singh, yes, the issue is being responsible, but for a small business, even more pressing are the economics:  recycling through the wholesaler is cheaper.  Disposing of the goods curbside would cost him $15 per unit.  To send this to the wholesale recycler costs him one-third as much, or less.  Gagan Singh and Dynamic Computers gets good grades from customers for their work; he is likely to see more and more consumers also interested, as I was, in their sustainability and citizenship practices.

Nevertheless, many companies are still waiting for the “A Ha” moment, Lisa said, and so she offers these “5 Things You Can Do Today” in your own company:

  1. Start a dialogue about Green.  If you start a Green Team in your company, engage people from across the company, from different functions and departments.  Use the visibility of your company’s energy costs:  utilities start this process for you by providing energy use and cost history – post these visibly around the company in order to get the attention and interest from your employees.
  2. Leverage the services of MassSave.  This is an initiative sponsored by Massachusetts’ gas and electric utilities and energy efficiency service providers to provide a range of services services, incentives, trainings, and information (and resulting cost savings) relating to energy efficiency.  Sponsors include Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, The Berkshire Gas Company, Cape Light Compact, National Grid, New England Gas Company, NSTAR, Unitil, and Western Massachusetts Electric Company.
  3. Let employees see the energy costs.
  4. Reduce, reuse, Recycle.   As Lisa pointed out: although we have all been accustomed to throwing away, there is just no “away” anywhere anymore. 
  5. Partner with local organizations.


Small-to-medium businesses (SMB) and midmarket companies  have a tougher time, we suspect, even if we were not in precarious economic times, to justify the cost and resources to devote to sustainability practices.  If you are in a “greenfield” situation, or a start-up, that is one thing.  A firm that has been in business long enough to have established business processes, but who still has to watch their bottom line pretty closely, may have considerable more difficulty committing to many sustainability practices. 

SMB Research feels that the key is taking the first step, as Dynamic Computers has done.  Not only can it save costs, but your customers are likely to be asking you to adopt sustainable practices – and the talent you are looking to hire will increasingly want to to work for a firm with a record of good corporate citizenship.

Kathleen Miller Perkins, CEO of Miller Consultants, in fact, articulates these points very wel in her article, “5 Reasons Why Small Businesses Should Care about Sustainability“, which SMB Research cited earlier this year as one of our “Top 20 Favorite Reads of 2010″:

1. Because sooner or later every business will have to pay attention to sustainability in order to stay in business.

2. Because your company can obtain more business through commitments to sustainability.

3. Because you can save on your bottom line.

4. Because you can add to your top line through innovation.

5. Attract, retain and engage talent.

Read Ms. Perkins entire article here.


Other Recommended reads:

 4 Ways to Engage Your Customers in Your Green Efforts
Kelly Spors on Small Business Trends
July 7, 2011

Keeping it Simple: Seven Action Steps for Manufacturers and Suppliers to Climb Up the Sustainability Ladder
Dave Meyer, on the ValueStreaming Blog
June 29, 2011

Carbon Footprint Analysis Leads to Concrete Savings: Walkers Crisps
Timo Elliott
June 22, 2011

Behind the Greening of Wal-Mart
New York Times
Review by Bryan Burrough of the new book, “Force of Nature” By Edward Humes
May 14, 2011

20 Green Tips for Small Businesses
Randall Davidson, on Marc Gunther’s Blog
Published January 24, 2011

Clean Up Your Computer
Working conditions in the electronics industry
Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD)

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