The key takeaways from this session
How small practices can get started - and keep going - on the road to net zero and more
Everyone is talking about sustainability. And many large companies are making big efforts to change the way they do business to meet new agendas, like net zero carbon emissions, and to respond to political and social pressures, like paying a living wage and hiring diverse employees.
But few are talking about what sustainability means for small businesses. And that’s a problem, because small businesses make up the majority of companies and nearly half of the world’s population works for a small business.
Practitioners at small accountancy firms gathered to discuss the tough questions and work out how they might start their journey to becoming sustainable.
A sustainable business means the same whether you work for a big or small company. It means a business that has a positive impact on the world, over the long term, by creating value for the planet and for society
First, most decisions that get made in a business have to go through finance professionals. If you want more budget for something, want to buy less environmentally damaging technology, or want to encourage more people to stop commuting and work from home, that decision is going to have to go through the finance team at some point. They are the gatekeepers to sustainability - or the roadblock! - and so it’s important for them to be clued into what it is and how it works.
Second, finance professionals speak to all teams pretty much all the time. So they have a unique ability to drive the sustainability agenda. They have a strong understanding of how businesses work ‘under the bonnet’ and can suggest improvements that will actually work.
Sustainability is an all-in agenda. It won’t work if only big companies do it. We’ve already talked about how many people work for small businesses and we know that they’re the engine of the economy. But it’s also true that small businesses are often part of a larger company’s value chain. So if small businesses don’t become sustainable, then large businesses can’t either.
Small companies don’t have the leeway to delegate sustainability to a whole team or department. And it can be a time-consuming project. So where do they start their journey? ACCA’s Playbook contains plenty of guidance on exactly what SMEs and small practices can do, including looking at the business case and a handy guide to action.
But small companies can also look outside their own office for help. Companies such as 4D Sustainability Canvas assist small and growing companies to start their sustainability journey, with assessments, mapping, and targeting at an affordable rate.
Mapping your organisation’s impacts to a framework is one of the key tasks to complete if you’re thinking of taking a total rather than piecemeal approach to sustainability. There are plenty of frameworks out there to choose from. Because these frameworks aren’t mandatory for small businesses (and even for some big businesses too) small companies can pick and choose good ideas where they see them. But a really great start for many will be a B Corp assessment
The B Corp movement tries to get businesses to recognise success in a different way, and actually asks those undertaking the programme to sign up to changing their articles of incorporation to include wider impact alongside financial success. Companies score their sustainability and try to progress towards 80 points - something that’s reassessed every three years. Some small practices, such as Sarah Whale’s Profit Impact have had success in becoming a B Corp and now help other small companies to do the same.
The main question is, why get involved? For many, the reasons are obvious - they have a personal desire to protect the planet and treat employees in line with developed views on diversity. But if you don’t have a passion for all things green and pleasant, it’s important to remember that businesses are society, and dysfunctional business - companies that do not look to succeed in the long term - will only contribute to a dysfunctional society. So there’s something for the glass half empty folk to think about too!