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Growing by Greening: SMEs can see substantial benefits by embracing sustainability

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Consumers around the world have made it clear they expect companies to embrace sustainability and environmental protection as the global economy transitions to a carbon-free future

According to a 2020 IBM survey1, the majority of customers say their purchases are largely driven by personal values. Around 77% who feel sustainability is important to them said they would change their buying habits to help reduce harm to the environment.

Two in five (41%) Canadian businesses told our Navigator Resilience: Building back better report that the COVID-19 pandemic has fuelled their belief that sustainability is more important than ever — and they said they plan to rebuild on firmer environmental foundations as a result of the crisis.

In 2020, the pandemic slammed the brakes on economic and social activities worldwide, causing a 6% reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions — a drop many industry leaders are hoping to achieve annually as we recover from the pandemic and sustainability initiatives ramp up.

HSBC has recently introduced green trade financing options for clients planning to develop sustainable products and services, aiming to help them ultimately reach their ESG targets. Because many companies have been hit hard financially by the pandemic, this new funding stream could be incredibly important.

In a post-pandemic world, companies of all sizes will need to satisfy consumer and regulatory demand for sustainability while expanding their own market share. Here are five ways your business can start making a change.

 

Adopt clean digital practices

Many companies inadvertently became more sustainable as a result of COVID-19.

Physical office spaces powered by electricity and hydro were no longer necessary as employees worked remotely. People stopped commuting to work and instead greeted their colleagues from their laptops. Technology is booming, and there are clean digital solutions for businesses once the pandemic has passed.

For example, if you run a marketing firm, ask yourself if your employees need to drive to the office every day. Find out if they can share files digitally using cloud services instead of printing off pages of documents.

 

Engage with your colleagues

Brainstorm with your staff, particularly those on the front lines of product development, sales and manufacturing. They may have data, information and ideas on how to develop green products or how to make supply chains more environmentally friendly.

“Making sure your staff feel they’re contributing to sustainability efforts will ensure company-wide buy-in,” says Dana Krechowicz, Senior Sustainable Finance Manager, HSBC Bank Canada. “That could very likely result in a plethora of innovative ideas for new, greener products or supply chain partners.”

 

Develop eco-friendly products

Brands that ignore the environment increase reputational and business risk. Sustainability is no longer an option — it’s become a key element of every consumer’s decision-making process. That means companies must change their focus to meet these customer demands.

If you’re a clothing manufacturer, use recycled or upcycled materials in your designs. Consider how your raw materials are extracted, processed and manufactured. How and whether materials are mined, drilled, grown or harvested makes up a large portion of your final product’s carbon footprint — and will either entice or repel potential customers.

This kind of direct approach works well for small and mid-sized enterprises (SMEs) because they are generally able to develop and bring products to market much faster than larger competitors, meaning they can respond to consumer sustainability demands as they evolve.

 

Focus on green sales

Even though every industry has its unique challenges, SMEs must look for ways to put in place greener, more eco-friendly sales operations. If you’re a small food retailer, only sell locally sourced produce or use local suppliers for packaging and other supply chain needs.

Be sure to make these efforts front and centre of any advertising or marketing campaigns due to consumer demand for these types of initiatives.

 

Engage with your local community

The economy is starting to reopen and social events are just around the corner.

Sponsoring local fairs, sports teams or volunteering in the community can give any SME a serious sustainability boost by helping build connections not just with potential customers, but local supply chain partners. It also shows the public you’re engaged in the community, which could result in an increase of sales and profits, encouraging further sustainability investments.

“Consumers are changing,” adds Krechowicz. “They’re asking more questions about a company’s carbon footprint before they part with their money.”

By embracing sustainability, SMEs can get the edge over their competitors. In an era of heightened awareness about climate change, consumers will become loyal customers if they know that buying products or services won’t have a detrimental impact on the environment.

Contact HSBC to find out more about how green can help your business get ahead of the game.

 

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