By Alex Evans, Editorial Director of the National Business Awards

By embracing sustainable enterprise models, SMEs are proving that it’s about more than reducing their carbon footprint, writes Alex Evans, Editorial Director of the National Business Awards

By embedding sustainable practices early in their development, SMEs are not only helping to preserve the planet’s resources but ensure their own business longevity.

“Most small and medium sized businesses are concerned with short term economic goals and survival rather than planning for the long term; but the long term survival and success of businesses is often a direct result of integrating and embedding sustainable practices into the business,” observes Richard Spencer, Head of Sustainability at the ICAEW and a judge for the ICAEW Sustainability Award.

The ICAEW believes that accountants have a major role to play in promoting sustainability by helping to demonstrate its impact on financial performance, as Richard explains: “Sustainable practices have to positively affect the bottom line of a business; and in order to see if this is happening it needs to be measured, reported and assured. These areas of expertise fall naturally under an accountant’s remit. Good quality information that is trusted and properly targeted is vital to sustainable businesses as it can provide feedback on performance which guides management decisions about the future.”

Long term leaders

As a measurable area of excellence linking to lean management and long-term thinking, sustainability is rising further up the agenda for big business — but quicker for some than others.

“While big business grapples with the need to transform, smaller innovative disruptors are already stepping forward with new business models that demonstrate dematerialisation, cradle to cradle use of materials and greater deployment of renewable energy in action,” says Dax Lovegrove, Head of Business and Industry at WWF, who adds that many of these innovations can be seen at www.wwf.org.uk/innovation.

Proving that big business can also transform, two of this year’s National Business Award winners have exemplary approaches to sustainability. Chemical giant Johnson Matthey, winner of the Coutts & Co Large-Cap Business of the Year, was described as “a poster company for sustainability” by panel judge Will Oulton, Head of Sustainability at Mercer, for pushing it through its entire supply chain.

Modular flooring specialist InterfaceFLOR, winner of the ICAEW Sustainability Award, is widely regarded as an environmental pioneer for its bold ambition to become the industry’s first sustainable business by 2020 (it’s so-called ‘Mission Zero’). Described by judges as “an outstanding business” that “has demonstrated exceptional leadership and an enviable track record in sustainability for almost 20 years”, its commitment to its ‘Mission Zero’ helped it triumph against finalists including Brakes Group, Anglian Water and Reed Elsevier.

By encouraging businesses of all sizes to compete on their commitment to excellence in sustainability, everyone on the planet wins. If you have achieved excellence in sustainability, find out if it’s worthy of national recognition in 2012 by submitting an entry for the ICAEW Sustainability Award. Find out more at www.nationalbusinessawards.co.uk

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