What impact can SMEs have on the Sustainable Development Goals? A lot says Carolina Karlstrom, in this blog she explains why and suggests some simple actions SMEs can take.
There is no universal definition of small and medium enterprises (SMEs). It is however generally undisputed that the overwhelming majority of private-sector businesses in the world are SMEs and that they account for a very large share of world economic activity in both developed and developing countries. Small and medium enterprises make up 99% of businesses in the UK and they make a significant contribution to the UK economy. In fact, the contribution that SMEs will make across the top 10 UK cities, is forecast to hit £217 billion by 2020.
SMEs are not a group of businesses to be forgotten or ignored when it comes to implementing something as important as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). I would even argue that the SDGs can only be achieved if SMEs are on board and can make a useful contribution.
Why should SMEs care about the Sustainable Development Goals?
SMEs have a leading role to play in meeting the most “economic” of the SDGs; like promoting inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment, and decent work for all (Goal 8) as well as promoting sustainable industrialisation and fostering innovation (Goal 9).
We live in a changing world, where the enlightened consumer wants to make sure that they buy products with less packaging, less plastic, that has been produced and manufactured in a way which does not harm the environment, and where the people producing it are paid a decent wage. A world where people are increasingly concerned about the state of the coral reefs, of the number of bees, about the amount of plastic on deserted islands, about climate change, drought, and flooding.
If a business wants to win tenders or win a corporate or government projects, attract loyal customers, or appeal to an engaged workforce like the so-called Millennials, looking at the SDGs is useful - even essential
The SME challenge
The biggest concerns for SMEs are usually cost and return on investment. Another big challenge is lack of resources and time. It is therefore very important to recognise that interventions that reduce a business’s negative impact, like reducing carbon emissions, can also be a saving in cost.
There is also an argument that business unusual is a requirement for long term business survival. We need to change how we do business if we are going to tackle the environmental and social challenges that threaten us the most.
Engaging with the SDGs will provide a clear way to differentiate a business and offer a way to stand out. They provide a longer-term vision – so a small business doesn't need to invest resource thinking up one for themselves.
If the understanding and the interest is there, the question becomes: how can we make the SDGs accessible to SMEs?
Making the SDGs accessible to SMEs
A first step for a small business may be as simple as looking at the 17 goals and identifying the top two or three that really resonate and can be used to engage staff and other stakeholders in discussions, to create buy-in from the beginning.
The size of an SME makes it easier to implement new principles, new ways of doing things, to measure impacts. And it’s possible that we may also see results quicker than in big corporate organisations.
Alongside Goals 8 and 9, there are lots of other goals that matter to SMEs, below I suggest a few simple solutions for how a small business could implement these in practice.