THE sustainability movement is gaining momentum, and it’s becoming a non-negotiable priority across value chains.
However, the critical mass of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) may get left behind in the race to become sustainable.
Emeera Hashim, the managing director of Impacto, a pioneering sustainability clinic in Kuala Lumpur, highlights this issue, stating that “current sustainability standards, frameworks, and information are shaped by international bodies with more developed economies.
“This does not necessarily consider the different culture, regulations or requirements faced by Malaysian SMEs.
“Therefore, benchmarking against best practices and global standards can seem overwhelming and resource-intensive.”
While SMEs have access to webinars and conferences on sustainability, they need the right level of support to develop and operationalise their sustainability agenda based on their specific business needs.
To address this, Emeera partnered with CIMB Islamic to support their GreenBizReady Programme and drive the SME Adoption Initiative.
“Our intent is to handhold SMEs beyond ‘awareness’ to examine their business, to initiate their sustainability journey by helping them with the basics.
“We offer tools, implementation guidance, and review on a regular basis with real-time feedback mechanisms. The process is long and tedious, but we hope to cover a critical mass of SMEs.”
According to Emeera, SMEs need to take stock of their sustainability readiness before they can get started.
“Nobody is starting from ground-zero,” she assures. “Through the SME Adoption Initiative, participants can evaluate their sustainability preparedness and maturity by taking our novel self-assessment tool.
“This helps them understand their level of knowledge, overall ability to drive sustainability, and their capability to adopt or implement sustainability strategies.
“By doing this, SMEs can identify the areas where they may lack resources, such as capacity, manpower, or financial and non-financial resources. We then work with the SMEs to build their capacity and close the gaps identified through the self-assessment.” Impacto is also a knowledge partner for the National Association of Women Entrepreneurs of Malaysia (Nawem) ESG Conference for SMEs, which will be held in August 2023. The two-day conference is tailored to help SMEs understand the urgent need for sustainability adoption and how it can benefit their business.
Impacto will be leading masterclasses to provide practical guidance and training on sustainability, so SMEs can confidently embark on their sustainability journey.
“As a women-led micro-enterprise, this conference holds a special place in our hearts,” Emeera adds.
As the country’s first and only B-Corp certified sustainability advisory, Impacto proves that small corporations can create positive impacts.
“B-Corp certification shows that we operate with transparency, accountability, and integrity. We essentially practice what we preach, with zero-tolerance for greenwashing,” says Emeera.
“When we started our journey with B-Corp, the evaluation process took into consideration our business model as a micro enterprise.
“Impacto was then admitted to a ‘minimal environmental impact’ track with clear environmental, social and governance indicators for measurement. This helped us to contextualise sustainability to our business”. Impacto hopes to inspire other SMEs to embark on B-Corp certification and expand the movement in Malaysia.
Emeera shares her final thoughts: “Many SMEs believe that sustainability is a challenge only larger companies can address. But in reality, SMEs have a unique advantage to create impactful change.
“They are agile, have a smaller supply chain and can implement sustainable practices more quickly than larger corporations.” To help SMEs overcome the perceived barriers to sustainability, Emeera advises taking small, achievable steps that are aligned with their business goals.
“Sustainability doesn’t have to be a daunting task,” she says. “It’s about starting with what you can do, with the resources you have, and continuously improving from there.”
Sustainability made simple: Tips for SMEs> Take stock: Getting started on sustainability
To kickstart their sustainability journey, SMEs need to evaluate their current practices and identify areas where they can make improvements.
With this information, they can determine which areas they need to focus on and allocate the resources necessary to make their sustainability goals a reality.
> Identify material topics: What matters to your stakeholders
To make real progress on sustainability, SMEs must identify the issues that matter most to their stakeholders. These are the environmental, social, and governance issues that can have the most significant impact on their long-term success.
By focusing on these material issues, SMEs can prioritise their sustainability efforts, set meaningful targets, and achieve more impactful results.
> Align for impact: Integrate sustainability into the business
Sustainability should not be a separate agenda but an integral part of an SME’s overall business strategy. By integrating sustainability risk management into their core operations and aligning it with their business objectives, SMEs can ensure that sustainability becomes a critical aspect of their overall success.
> Set your sights: Clear targets and actionable pathways
Setting clear and achievable sustainability targets is critical to an SME’s progress on their sustainability journey. These targets should be Smart (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) and aligned with the material issues identified earlier. > Collaborate for impact: Learning from peers
Embarking on a sustainability journey alone can be daunting for SMEs, so it helps to learn from others who have gone through similar experiences.
Joining networks like the CEO Action Network can provide a platform for SMEs to connect and exchange insights with other businesses. By working together, SMEs can achieve more impactful results and accelerate their progress towards sustainability.This article is contributed by members of the CEO Action Network.