Explore sustainable business growth for SMEs

Exploring the importance of sustainability in business for a greener future.


We're proud to introduce Sustainable Business Growth for SMEs from Vodafone Business – a new resource centre of useful content and advice for small business owners looking to know more about sustainability in business and how to have a greener business model.

According to the Federation of Small Business, small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) represent 99.9% of the UK business population, with around 5.5 million businesses in operation. They're also responsible for over half of the UK's private sector turnover. Although many focus on the carbon footprint of larger organisations, SMEs play a role that's just as important when it comes to climate change and a more sustainable future – simply because there are so many of these businesses operating across many different sectors.

According to research conducted by Funding Circle, 66% of UK consumers claimed they would spend more on a product if it came from a sustainable business. Increasing numbers of SMEs are feeling the pressure to improve their sustainable business model. According to research from Startups.co.uk, more than 50% of UK-based SMEs have begun to invest in sustainability in the last year, with an average spend of £61,250.

Sustainability is crucial for SMEs – and it goes way beyond moral imperatives. It gives a business a strategic advantage in a world with an increasing focus on environmental concerns. It can enhance brand trust, build a stronger relationship with customers, and demonstrates a socially responsible business, which can boost competitiveness.

In our Sustainable Business Growth for SMEs area on V-Hub, we'll take you through how implementing sustainability measures as a business owner can lead to waste reduction, fewer expenses, and greater innovation.

SMEs that stay ahead of the curve with green business models also attract talent, as data from the WWF suggests, with 62% of millennials wanting to work for a company that makes a positive impact on the planet


Key terms any green business should know

Here's a few common phrases any green business should know about when it comes to sustainability in business.

Carbon footprint
This is the total amount of carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gases) that an organisation produces. SMEs can reduce and measure their carbon footprint through energy-efficient practices and carbon offsetting programmes.

Renewable energy
Solar, wind, bio-fuel and hydro power are all sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels, and are common examples of renewable energy sources. To reduce their environmental impact, SMEs can look into adopting these fuel sources rather than relying on fossil fuels.

Circular economy
This concept focuses on reusing by-products and recycling resources so that no waste is produced in the manufacturing of an item. SMEs can adopt a circular economy model by designing products for longevity, with no by-products or waste, and by promoting recycling.
This term is a common way of describing the deceptive practice of making exaggerated and untrue claims about the environmental friendliness of products or practices. SMEs should do everything they can to reassure consumers that their sustainability claims are accurate, and not greenwashed.

Greenhushing happens when a company chooses not to fully disclose its sustainability efforts and green practices, so that it avoids scrutiny.
Life cycle assessment 
A LCA evaluates the environmental impacts of a product or service throughout its entire life cycle – from the moment it's made, to when it's disposed of. SMEs can use an LCA to make more informed decisions about the types of products they offer, how they're used, and how they're recycled. 


Why is a sustainable business model important for SMEs?

As SMEs play such a vital role in the economy, they have a substantial collective environmental and social impact. By being aware of sustainability in their business practices, SMEs can significantly reduce their carbon footprint, conserve resources, and minimise the amounts of waste they produce. This in turn can help to contribute towards combating climate change, while preserving natural ecosystems.

By becoming more sustainable, an SME becomes more competitive in its market. We live in a world in which consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of their purchasing choices, including being aware of how products are made, the resources used to make them, and whether they are recyclable. SMEs that prioritise sustainability are attracting a more conscientious and loyal customer base. In fact, a Vodafone report has revealed that businesses need to start addressing sustainability in order to survive in their industry, with 54% of SMEs recognising that previous approaches and offsetting just isn't enough. In crowded markets, a company's sustainable practices can really stand out, increasing brand loyalty, and improving an SME's overall market positioning.
A green business model also leads to cost savings. Sustainable practices, such as energy-efficient operations and responsible resource management, can reduce expenses in the long term, leading to greater profits. As regulatory bodies and governments worldwide are progressively offering incentives, grants and tax breaks to businesses that integrate sustainability into their operational models, this is a strong incentive for SMEs to go green.

As the world transitions to a more sustainable future, businesses that fail to adopt sustainable business practices may face legal and reputational risks. Customers want to know that SMEs are making green practices a priority, in both their actions and their marketing. Sustainability is a moral and strategic choice, with far-reaching implications for a company's long-term viability, profitability, and global impact.

Ready to become more sustainable with a green business model? Check out our six tips that will kickstart your sustainability journey. 

Sustainable Business Growth For SMEs

Discover guidance on sustainable growth for SMEs with WWF and The Carbon Trust.

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