SMEs Set Their Sights on Sustainability: Case Studies from the UK, US and Canada

Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), and the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants (CICA)
Publication date
September 2011
Food & Beverage
Corporate Responsibility and SMEs
Change Management
Free/Pay for content
SMEs Set Their Sights on Sustainability: Case Studies from the UK, US and Canada, uses concrete examples to show how smaller companies can lead the market and become champions of sustainable practice. It also reveals how the finance function can play a central role in this process. The report focuses on nine case studies - three each from the UK, US and Canada - showing smaller companies who are taking different approaches to the same core issues, all using sustainable practices to their advantage.

While compliance with regulatory requirements remains the most common driver of business sustainability, profitability and other strategic factors are increasingly significant. A sustainable business is more robust and more efficient; it appeals to customers’ changing values, strengthens relationships with suppliers and positions the brand as a good corporate citizen. It can reduce the variable costs of running a business while driving profitability.

The report builds on a joint survey completed at the end of last year. The survey by the three accounting bodies revealed that 33% of smaller companies involved had a sustainability strategy in place, and an additional 23% had plans to formulate a strategy in the next two years, emphasizing that sustainability is a growing priority.

By ‘walking the talk’, one US midsize bank has reduced its power consumption by 40% with a solar installation, while maintaining a profitable business model making commercially viable loans to customers financing renewable and energy-efficient projects.

A multifaceted Canadian food company profiled in the publication maintains that sustainability is beneficial as people are looking for companies that are doing something positive. The company makes a profit, but it also goes into schools to teach children about growing food and making healthy snacks, sources 90% of its produce locally, consults with urban gardeners and funds community projects. The company notes that people are less tolerant of operations just seeking to maximize profit, and are looking for enterprises that are environmentally and socially aware.

In many SMEs, finance professionals play a critical role in formulating and implementing a sustainability strategy. They have the skills and tools required to define the metrics that determine the effort’s goals and progress, and help foster the vital link between investment in the strategy and the commercial benefit that accrues.