Martin Stark, Head of SME Sales and Quote Production at SSE Business Energy, shares his insight into sustainable and responsible growth – and how businesses can stand out from the competition.
Why is growing sustainably and responsibly important?
Having a positive impact on the community in which you’re working is important, and demonstrating the difference that you’re making brings value to your company. People want to buy from businesses that share their values, which could be about climate action but also equal pay, equal rights or combatting modern slavery.
Today, it’s vital to look beyond your products or services and leverage your expertise to build buy-in and trust among your customers – and employees. On social media, people don’t simply want to see pictures of products and services; they want to understand why they should choose your company when they could choose another company.
Social responsibility and economic sustainability are linked. We’ve seen another energy supplier scale up rapidly – but unsustainably – then cease trading. That affected all their small business customers who were unsure if their supply contracts had gone live, their employees who had to look for alternative employment, and their shareholders who lost out.
How can being sustainable set a company apart from competitors and help win business?
When getting price quotes for goods and services, it’s beneficial to spend a little time exploring how you can use your supplier choices to demonstrate your philosophy – for example, showing green values by opting for renewable energy.
Being able to demonstrate sustainability credentials is becoming more important to SMEs, and is essential if they’re looking to service a larger company that wants authentication from its supply chain. Increasingly, tenders are not just about cost, but about what else you can bring to the partnership. When we receive tenders for larger companies we have to detail our sustainability credentials and environmental impact. So smaller businesses looking to work with larger companies will need to have a sustainable approach to the community that they work in and the environment.
What can businesses do to be more environmentally sustainable?
They should consider their supply chain and sourcing decisions. That can mean using sustainable or recycled materials in products and merchandise, reducing use of plastic in packaging, and making sure as much as possible is reusable or recyclable – as well as separating waste in the workplace. Advice on this is available from charities like WRAP.
One of the easiest thing SMEs can do to reduce their impact on the environment is choose an energy supply contract with electricity or gas generated from renewable sources. SSE Green 100% renewable energy does this.
Businesses can also identify ways to use less energy in the first place. Smart metering gives SMEs more understanding so they can take control and potentially reduce their demand. Our Clarity online energy management platform is free for all SSE Business Energy customers, which gives them access to utilities data and they can then see for themselves when they’re using the most. It’s not just power and gas; water consumption is a big thing they could look at as well.
Commuting is another area where business leaders can make a difference, from promoting flexible working and lift sharing to installing EV charging points, bicycle storage and showers.
How will the UK government’s net zero carbon emissions target affect businesses?
Businesses will need to have a wider understanding of their impact and review all their energy demands. It’s not just your electricity and gas; it’s your company vehicles as well. SSE has committed to move across to a 100% electric fleet by 2030, and our SSE EV contract supports businesses to do this too.
There are also increasing options out there for small scale power generation, which businesses could use as a revenue stream. It’s not only about generating their own energy; if they’re generating power at a time that’s beneficial to balance demand on the grid, they can switch it back to the grid and sell it.
Beyond protecting the planet, what about people?
In addition to going green, leading on social and economic aspects can demonstrate a strong message. Businesses with the Fair Tax Mark are clearly contributing to society, while paying the real Living Wage and implementing Living Hours shows a company is looking after its employees.
It’s also about looking at employment policies. Diversity and inclusion are extremely important. Businesses can review recruitment and take steps to improve their processes to open up their talent base.
And to play your part in the local community, encouraging volunteering works really well; it’s also good for team morale and bonding. At SSE every employee has one Be The Difference day a year, paid, where they can go out into the community – on their own or as part of a team – and have a positive impact on a local charity or initiative.
People expect more from their employers these days; they want to work for a business that’s going to have a benefit to the community and shares their values. Doing business responsibly can help you engage with existing and potential employees – as well as customers – through your shared values.
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