Sustainability : the new profitability?



With the fast-rising concern over the climate crisis, we all have to take action at every level. We can look to government for new laws and ambitious projects. We can demand large corporations change their models.  We can make a direct impact through citizens’ assemblies such as that being tried in Camden, north London. We can change our own personal behaviour.  But with so many small and micro companies playing a vital role in the UK economy – what can small businesses do to put sustainability at the top of their agenda?


Over the next few years entrepreneurs and company owners will need to approach sustainability with the same rigour they currently approach profitability.


As we recognise the rapacious culture that has lead the world to its wasteful use of finite resources, there will be a swift commercial shift towards both ethical and sustainable trading.  Companies that don’t have sustainability baked into their DNA will see market share slipping, their consumers ebbing to more woke competitors. And small companies can take a lead on this – able to pivot their models fast.


Interestingly companies can apply similar steps to address sustainability as they would normally take to protect and enhance profits – at all levels from the workforce through to the board, throughout operations and in all locations.


The first step has to be an audit, looking at internal systems before reviewing external supply.  Questions about where virgin resource is being used and how can this be replaced with looped resource.  Heating, power generation, water supply are all areas where self-generation is possible, either through cleaning, rechannelling to different parts of an operation or, where a company is unable to use the output (or waste) by offering it to a local company to repurpose or selling to the National Grid.


This thinking is already being seen in the new Loop recycling initiative by TerraFirma which is helping giants like Proctor & Gamble to take responsibility for their packaging waste/refill.  The HS2 railway line is going to be harnessing the heat generated from high speed trains emerging from tunnels to heat local homes.


Imagination and innovation are as key to seeing where operations can repurpose as gaining ideas and support from internal teams.  Diversity of thought across a workforce help bring fresh solutions to the table.  Encouraging participation in a sustainability drive is in their interests too – working for a forward-looking company gives a strong sense of loyalty and ownership.


Breaking down every process is vital to see where sustainability marginal gains can be achieved. Just as any firm looks at expenditure hotspots to see if they can be trimmed, rethinking methodologies or systems to ensure they are contributing to longer-term sustainability is important.


However companies do not have to do this in isolation – their supply chain should also be part of the solution.  What they are doing, how they are approaching this global question? If they cannot help build the future you want for your business – are they the right partners or who else should be considered?


Working with networks, universities and colleges, with students, and bringing key parties together for workshops, events and hackathons where everyone can help contribute to future thinking is a powerful driver for change.  Inviting thought leaders to the table locally, cross-industry discussion and learning to focus on decisive action becomes paramount.


Companies may also need to review who is advising them. Do they have the right consultants and support team in place with the sufficient skills to drive a sustainability agenda? Just as they would bring in external accountancy services, buying in the right outside advisors will bring new thinking and practices to speed up the shift towards greater sustainability.


And with a raft of R&D funding initiatives available within different industry sectors or via R&D tax breaks, some companies may find this shift is supported more widely than anticipated.


What is also intriguing is that taking decisive steps towards greater commercial sustainability not only builds a company’s future, will enhance its competitiveness, bring it new customers, but will also put its team at the forefront of its industry.  And help generate profit.


Erica Wolfe-Murray


About the author


‘A leading innovation and business expert’ according to, Erica Wolfe-Murray works with companies across the creative, cultural and tech sector to help them develop new products and services, find new revenues and audiences.  She is also the author of ‘Simple Tips, Smart Ideas : Build a Bigger, Better Business’ aimed at helping companies transform their business and develop greater commercial resilience.  Available from Foyles, Amazon and all good booksellers.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *