Small Businesses: Four Roadblocks to Sustainability

Despite the growing awareness around sustainability in the business world, small businesses continue to be lagging behind their larger counterparts when it comes to practice. Large corporations often have the necessary resources to adopt sustainable business practices, with many of them even having the luxury of a dedicated in-house sustainability team. On the other hand, the vast majority of small businesses struggle to turn their sustainability awareness into action due to several roadblocks on their path. In this article we will be addressing four major roadblocks to sustainability for small businesses.  

Roadblock #1: Minimizing the Impact of Small Businesses

Before we even consider the resources needed to adopt sustainability in a business, the first roadblock to sustainability for small businesses is the misconception that the impact of the average small business is negligible

Small businesses are the backbone of the economy in several countries. Taking Canada for example, as of December 2019, small businesses (1 – 99 paid employees) constituted 97.9 percent of employer businesses and employed 68.8 percent of the total private labour force. In 2016, small businesses contributed 41.9 percent to the Canadian gross domestic product (GDP), compared to 13.4 percent and 44.7 percent for medium and large businesses respectively. These statistics suggest that even though the individual environmental and social impacts of small businesses might seem negligible, their collective impact is very significant. Every small business is part of a whole, each having a big role to play in the journey towards sustainable development.

Roadblock #2: Limited Understanding of the Business Case for Sustainability

Many small business owners do not understand how profitable sustainability could be for their business, as a result, they do not consider it as a priority. With the majority of small businesses already having limited financial resources, it is only normal for these businesses to critically evaluate the business case of any initiative before choosing to adopt it. 

The truth is that, in today’s business world, sustainability needs to be seen as an opportunity and not a burden. It presents a good business case for businesses of all sizes, with the potential to yield profits in the short-term and long-term. Some of the profits which sustainability can yield for a small business include:

  • Cost savings: Sustainability initiatives have the potential to improve efficiency and cut costs. For example, measures that can be implemented to improve energy efficiency, water conservation, waste management, often require little capital investment, but they could yield huge savings with time.
  • Competitive advantage: Implementing sustainability initiatives could give a small business access to a specific market niche that demands more sustainable products and services. For example, as larger corporations are increasingly seeking to green their supply chain, this gives small businesses with sustainable practices a competitive advantage over their non-sustainable counterparts. 
  • Improves business reputation: A sustainable business is a business that cares about the environment and the society, more than just making money. Such a business will be perceived well not only by its customers, but also by its employees and local community. As a result, it will be able to attract loyal employees, and acquire legitimacy in society. 
  • Risk Management: Businesses that implement sustainable initiatives are at lower risks of environmental disasters and potential liabilities. This advantage could give them access to better credits and insurance premiums which most small businesses actually need. 

Roadblock #3: Limited Sustainability Know-How

Even though many small business owners express interest in sustainable development, the vast majority simply do not know where to start, or what aspect of sustainability is most relevant to their business. This unfortunately keeps them from turning their ambitions into actions. 

The first step towards sustainability for any small business owner is to have a thorough understanding of your business. Asking yourself questions such as, what resources does your business rely on the most; what waste do your business generate; what consumes the most energy in your processes; what matters the most to your employees, clients, community; are there any regulations your business needs to comply to; etc.; could help you gain an in depth understanding of your business. Acquiring an in-depth understanding of your business will eventually guide you in designing a good sustainability strategy, and setting goals customized to your business and its resources.

Another good start could be to consider certifications, as these typically provide a framework to work from. B Corp is an example of certifications which small businesses can use. Depending on your sector of activity, other certifications might actually be more relevant. So, look around to gain inspiration from other businesses in your sector.

Roadblock #4: Limited Financial and Temporal Resources

It is an undisputed fact that time and money are often limited resources for small businesses. Many of these businesses do not make profits, as a result focus their limited resources into activities that will keep them surviving. 

Unfortunately, choosing to go by the mantra “grow first, then go green” keeps many small businesses from enjoying the full potential which sustainability could offer their businesses. In order for sustainability not to feel overwhelming, the key is to consider sustainability as an intrinsic part of the business. While it is vital for sustainability to be present in all decision making processes, it is also important for small businesses to set their customized sustainability goals based on their resources. It could be helpful to consider starting small, but always aiming big. This could allow a small business to build upon its small victories to gain momentum to keep going and improving more.

Another way to address this roadblock could be by leveraging trade associations. By coming together, small businesses can reduce the financial and temporal limitations they face in addressing sustainability. Trade associations could be helpful in assisting their members access funding, consultancy support, training, etc. which could all reduce the financial and temporal roadblock faced.

Let Us Accompany You on Your Sustainability Journey

Despite all these roadblocks, sustainability is achievable for all businesses, and we can help you achieve that. At EnvironFocus, we take pride in assisting businesses of all sizes throughout their sustainability journey at a highly competitive rate. We work with businesses according to their resources, to provide them a holistic and highly impactful approach to sustainability.

We help businesses identify their impacts on the environment and society; benchmark their business against their peers; adopt a sustainability strategy; identify areas of priority; establish goals based on their resources with a customised plan of action; report their progress; etc. We also accompany businesses through certifications, and grant application processes. 

If you would like to know more do not hesitate to send an email to, and we will be delighted to assist you. 

Leslie Fotso
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