An Open Letter to Owners of SMBs

Steve Caballero, U.S. Alliance Partners

If you own a small or medium sized business and you think “sustainability” is just for the big boys, you are wrong. I hope I’m not coming on too strong here, but you need to hear the tough love. There is a wave coming toward your shores and it will hit the beaches whether you are ready for it or not. This wave is being pushed by winds coming at us from all directions:

  • From the “north,” the wind is called the supply chain. SMBs who want to be part of a larger corporation’s supply chain have to show your large customer that you can play by their rules. (Sidebar: If you want to learn more about how one mega-company is dealing with its suppliers in this area, check this out:
  • In a wind from another direction, if you want to compete in a market where consumers care about the environmental and social commitment of the brands they buy, you have to show them the green.
  • And from even another direction, if you want to attract the top talent from Generation Y or the Millenials, and if you want to have a prayer of them sticking around long enough to make a difference in your company, you have to show them how you and your successful business are making a difference. Every year, more and more experienced and legacy-minded Generation X and Boomers are falling into this category, as well.
  • Finally, just to make sure that we have winds from all four directions, Hurricane Mandy, with her required (mandatory) regulations and reporting in the area of sustainability, is heading for our coast and sure to make landfall soon. Europe is a few years ahead of us in this area and if Euro-trends are any indication of what government entities are going to consider here in the colonies, we might as well begin to fill the sandbags. Many of the top 100 U.S. corporations already publish voluntary sustainability reports. In several sectors of our economy, environmental compliance reporting is commonplace.

Having made all those bad weather metaphors above, there is still a bright outlook. This wave called sustainability is not a dangerous tsunami to avoid, but rather a crest on top of which your business can surf and enjoy the ride. Most, if not all, businesses who have embarked on a mission to be a sustainable company have found bottom-line profits, process efficiencies, brand improvements, key talent retention, and engagement, and increased customer loyalty, just to name a few of the benefits.

As for what this might mean for you and your business, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to sustainability. The most common question I get as a sustainability consultant is, “What is it, really?” To which I reply, “Sustainability is nothing more than the successful result of implementing a resource alignment strategy which increases productivity and reduces consumed resources without compromising the profitability, competitiveness, or quality of your deliverable.” If you can live with this definition, you can be a sustainable business in 2011 and beyond. And the key part in there is, “without compromising …”

In closing, I suggest you ask yourself this question, “Do you (Leadership) want to have the right employees (engaged People) sitting in the right seats ‘on the bus’ (Structure) going in the right direction (Strategy) doing the right things (Process) for the right reasons (Rewards)?” If your answer is, “Yes” then you have taken the first step toward being a sustainable business. Hang ten!