SME Challenges

Challenges Report


Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) create more than 80 per cent of new jobs in Canada every year, but they also create 80 per cent of industry’s negative environmental impacts and more than 60 per cent of commercial waste. Clearly, conversations about sustainable business must include SMEs.

To date though, discussion around social and environmental responsibility has focused mostly on large enterprises. This report represents an attempt to bring SMEs into the conversation. These challenges were established by a council of SMEs from Quebec businesses recognized for their leadership in environmental and social responsibility. Representing various sectors of the economy, these leaders gathered for a one-day roundtable facilitated by Dr. Marie-France Turcotte, Director of the French Office of the Network for Business Sustainability.

The following seven questions, in order of importance, define the greatest sustainability challenges facing SMEs in 2012:

  1. How can we develop in-house expertise in sustainability?
  2. How can we articulate the business case for sustainability? How can we position it as a competitive advantage?
  3. What information will make consumers more receptive to environmentally and socially responsible products and services?
  4. How can we engage internal and external stakeholders so they support the organization on its journey toward sustainability?
  5. How can we build sustainability into our corporate culture?
  6. How do we combat “sustainability fatigue” and keep employees engaged?
  7. How can we integrate sustainability into the company’s long-term strategy?
  • Shoshan Shacham

    Global aging and individual aging in place are a huge potenial for sustainable personelised holistic services platform bussiness
    This is a real economy engine growth ( Rio+ 20 June 2012 & Davos 2013)
    Homage. For life is an innovative concept model developed by the elit of Israel Multi Discpline stake holders 2005-2013)
    The concept was represented in the EU AAL JP conferences (2011-2012)
    I will be glad sharing my innovative insights .
    Shoshan Shacham(1.4.1941 IBM veteran (1972-2002)

  • Stephen McKernon

    I agree with the overall conclusions, but have two questions towards becoming more specific about useful actions.

    Question 1: What patterns are there among different types of SMEs – who do we target? For example, are service SMEs disproportionately smaller or larger contributors to negative impacts than manufacturing? Are micro-SMEs better or worse than small and medium SMEs?

    Question 2: How do we reach and influence SMEs? For example, how do we reach SMEs that link with industry bodies versus (smaller?) ones that don’t? Do we target SMEs directly, or do we target networks (e.g. via supply chains) or bodies (e.g. industry bodies)?

    I think the answers to these two questions can help us specify a range of solutions in relation to the seven challenges outlined above.


    • NBS

      Excellent points, Stephen.
      NBS recently established a council of Industry Associations. Through them, we’re connecting with small (and large) organizations and identifying common issues based on sector (retail, service, manufacturing, extraction, etc.).
      The Industry Association Council gives us access to tens of thousands of companies, through their membership, so we see that as one obvious way to reach SMEs. But they’re definitely a trickier audience to reach than the large organizations like those on our Leadership Council.
      Anthea Rowe
      Content Development for NBS

  • Roger Brenninkmeyer

    Here are a few ideas:
    1) focus your corporate and workplace philanthropy on a social justice issue that is related to your industry (ie housing development company / homelessness)
    2) building a reward system that empowers employees.
    3) set up long and short term campaigns that celebrate employee engagement.
    4) enjoy the fact that SME’s can become more sustainable quicker than large firms
    5) start somewhere – let sustainability become part of your companies DNA naturally.

    • NBS

      Thanks for the insights, Roger.
      Many of your suggestions are supported by research as effective ways for companies to approach sustainability.
      Anthea Rowe
      Director, Content Development