June 16, 2023

Delivering sustainability as an SME

Over 90% of private businesses in the UK employ less than 50 employees. That’s more than five million businesses. That makes us, as a group of SMEs, an incredible power for change. Right now, that change has to be focused on climate change and social investment.

It’s hard not to watch the news and think that only big businesses make a difference to how we live our lives and the future of the planet. If you read the ESG reports from some of the largest companies you might be forgiven for thinking that the problem is already solved.

There are a huge number of manufacturing SMEs, including ourselves, who create, ship and source their products. We all know how much research, support and collaboration SMEs deliver and that collectively we are making a huge difference. But we need to shout louder and importantly, share our experiences of change.

Taking sustainable steps can be incredibly daunting for a small business, particularly in challenging times, with pressure from all sides. Many organisations start by thinking about solar panels, maybe even wind turbines. We think about the shift to electric vehicles, which seems to be increasing in price with demand.

But when I speak to peers across our medical device sector, I realise that small steps into sustainable production combine to have a seismic effect.

At Eumar Technology, we are still in the early days of this journey. As Managing Director, I thought I would practice what I preach and share our insights on taking that first step.

  • Take your team with you: Most of the ideas and passion for sustainability and change have come from the workforce. So, we started our sustainability journey by asking each other, what would you do to make a difference? It was inspiring and people really care.
  • Understand the size of the challenge: We decided to fully understand our carbon impact. For that we brought in a partner who could work with us, ISO Quality Services Ltd (ISO QSL) and used the Government’s free tool SME Climate Hub. We are continuing this work and it cannot be rushed – but it will help us plan strategically.
  • Understand what you don’t know: We knew we wanted to make a difference and change how we did things. We did our research and spent time asking questions. While we still don’t fully know our carbon footprint, we are closer knowing our starting point and the steps we need to take move in the right direction.
  • Be ambitious and practical: We have declared a net zero ambition and are building all of our strategic approach around that. We made a conscious decision to make practical changes and not rely on offsetting. But you cannot do everything – so we are starting small with steps we can control – package redesign, nearshoring and reducing travel where we can, are a few of the actions we have taken.
  • ISO14001 is not scary: The idea of taking on a huge task like achieving ISO14001 can seem tough. We spent time understanding it and then have been using it as a guide, as much as anything. We are focused on achieving it, but for us the process thus far has been enabling and informing – many of our actions have been informed by the standard, but also ideas from our team, have been inspiring to keep on improving.
  • Easy wins start locally: Major changes like solar panels take time and often investment. Not everyone can do that so we also started small by understanding our data – our electricity usage for example and what we could do in the environment. We have a programme of wild planting across our factory sites and in local areas to encourage biodiversity; we have changed bulbs to LEDs and reduced use of electricity where we can. It’s surprising what you can do…even the cycle to work scheme adds to the mix.
  • Share best practice: I am constantly surprised and delighted by how much people are willing to help and share their journeys and successes. The business world has experienced a phenomenal change in the recent years. Social media is just one of the ways to make people more immediately accountable and that has led to partnerships and increased sharing. In the pandemic we all worked together for the greater good and achieved incredible speed of change. We also see increased understanding that investors, clients and potential future employees increasingly value environmental and social responsibility alongside financial performance when making a choice. So, the tools, associations and the information are out there. You just have to prioritise the time to ask the questions and be prepared to make the changes.

We have been on this journey as a passion project for a few years now, obviously hindered by the pandemic and producing Type IIR face masks, but we remain committed. If I had to leave my peers in SMEs one piece of advice – it would be, to just get started and take that step.

There is a lot of support out there and my door is always open for a chat if I can be of any help. Please get in touch. But do take that step.