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4 affordable ways to make your SME greener

“Sustainable business,” and “responsible profit-making” were once industry buzzwords, but today, they represent a new frontier for businesses across all sectors. In South Africa, we’re seeing big corporates and listed companies take on the sustainability agenda, allowing every facet of their operations to be driven by ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) policies. But the move towards a “greener” South African business environment is currently not too cost-intensive or far-reaching to extend past the realm of the country’s biggest firms.

In a recent media statement, President Cyril Ramaphosa affirmed that the move towards a “low-carbon, ecologically friendly and socially sustainable” economy has the ability to drive job-creation, inclusion and growth in sectors including: renewable energy, grid construction, manufacturing of renewable components, battery storage, green vehicles and green hydrogen.

At first glance these sectors may appear to comprise of larger companies in terms of capital value, however, the production, manufacturing and distribution of the parts of these products and services exist within the realm of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

The transition towards a greener economy does not only have benefits for the country on a pragmatic level but also forms part of a national objective, which is to honour our commitment to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions. The duty to collectively work towards this commitment does not rest solely on the shoulders of big business, SMEs can also contribute in a meaningful way.

4 simple ways for SMEs to become more sustainable:

  1. Go paperless

Lowering the carbon footprint of your business can be done in a number of ways at a very granular level. For example, SME owners could consider going paperless – some SMEs have moved from a paper receipt system to email, thanks to technology offered by South African companies such as Yoco and iKhokha. The move towards paperless operations has become popular not only because of its environmental benefits but because it can significantly reduce operating costs. Technology has advanced in leaps and bounds in terms of cloud-based solutions. Just a few years ago, systems like Google Workspace did not exist, but today, employees can easily collaborate and contribute to shared working documents simultaneously in real-time that never need to be printed.

  1. Flip the switch

Other micro factors that could be considered include electricity usage. Installing energy-efficient air conditioning systems, for example, may require a large initial outlay but in the long run, that cost will be offset by the reduction in energy usage. There are other energy-efficient options to consider like motion-detected lighting, the use of low-energy, LED light bulbs and making use of more natural light in work spaces. There are some funds available to assist SMEs adopt energy-efficient options such as the Green Outcomes Fund; business owners should research solutions best suited for their businesses.

  1. Go remote (or something in-between)

Encouraging a remote working system is another initiative that many SMEs are in a good position to implement, given their smaller size. Flexible working ultimately means less cars on the road, which means less carbon monoxide emissions and less overhead costs (and outputs), amongst others. Not only does this have implications for the environment, but it has an important social impact and can lead to better employee satisfaction, higher productivity and a closer focus on employee wellness.

  1. Support other green businesses

SMEs are known for their adaptability and willingness to collaborate and share ideas and resources with other small businesses – this collaborative approach often leads to innovation. When collaborating, SME owners should look at the sustainability profiles of their counterparts and assist them where possible in reaching those objectives. It is only through an intentional and collective shift towards building a network of businesses that are putting people and the planet first, that South African SMEs can establish themselves as meaningful contributors to the country’s national sustainability goals.


About the Author: Ben Bierman

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Ben Bierman has been our Managing Director since 2015. He joined our company in 1990 and has risen through the ranks occupying various positions ranging from being a management accountant, Head of Information Technology and Chief Financial Officer. Ben is an avid reader, enjoys classical music and being in the outdoors including for hunting trips. He is our go-to-spokesperson for our SME Confidence Index, SME sector policy and trend matters, and business leadership articles.