Sustainability

3 Tips for Building Sustainability as a Small Business

At the Inc. 5000 Conference, leaders from Mercedes-Benz USA, Eco BCG, and Budderfly shared tips for executives who want to create more sustainable--and successful--companies.

By Inc.Arabia Staff
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BY SARAH LYNCH, STAFF REPORTER@SARAHDLYNCH

True sustainability isn't a flimsy badge of honor--it's a real commitment.

That was the refrain among panelists speaking at a jam-packed sustainability break-out session taking place at the recent Inc. 5000 conference in San Antonio. Panelists included Sergio Castillo, president and CEO of Eco BCG, Iain Forsyth, general manager of vans marketing and product management at Mercedes-Benz USA, and Al Subbloie, CEO at Budderfly.

As all of these companies operate in different industries, it may be obvious that their ideas of sustainability may vary. They all agreed, however, that a good plan starts and ends with your team. When "leadership wants to get it right, it makes a difference to your employees," said Budderfly CEO Al Subbloie. 

Here's how to shore up your own company's sustainability efforts, while also supporting your bottom line--and making sure employees are on board for the ride.  

Share your goals with the team  

CEOs can tout the values of sustainability all they want, but getting that commitment across to the wider team is imperative, Forsyth says: "Live those sustainability goals with your employees to get that buy-in. Share with them why you're doing it and what the company's goals are."  

Over the past two years, Mercedes-Benz has doubled down on its commitment to creating new electric products and increasing sustainability, he says. So, part of Forsyth's job is reporting back to employees on the outcomes of these efforts, he says.

And, in addition to exciting current employees, the panelists agreed that sharing these sustainability goals and missions helps attract more talent to companies, as well.   

Consider the goals of your customers and partners 

If your company supplies materials or services to other organizations, understanding their sustainability initiatives could be as key as understanding your own. 

For instance, some companies want to be affiliated with the Net Zero standard, which requires reporting on Scope 3 emissions: indirect emissions in their value chain. Thus, providing bigger customers and partners with clear information about your own sustainability practices could be a differentiator, Castillo says.

His company, Eco BCG, is a global engineering firm in Lake Elmo, Minnesota, that helps big companies meet sustainability goals​. Castillo attests that many of these larger companies have goals and commitments written and readily shareable--good news for figuring out where to start. 

The bad news: Every big company's goals could be very different. But that shouldn't deter companies from taking this approach, he says: "I would just ask a lot of questions. Eventually, that's going to be a competitive advantage." 

Don't expect immediate results  

Sustainability can have a powerful impact long-term, but the short-term work is often grueling and expensive. And if the payoff isn't in "two years or less, the eyes glaze over of a CFO," Subbloie says.

For instance, his own company, Budderfly, is an energy management company in Shelton, Connecticut, that partners with businesses with repeatable footprints, like Subway and Wendy's. Instead of one massive project, the company is making a series of small differences that should add up over time, Subbloie says.

In Europe, there is patience for longer-term results, Subbloie adds. In 2020, the European Commission approved the European Green Deal, a set of policy initiatives with the ultimate goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2050. But he sees the tide turning the U.S. and expects to see commitments and investments becoming more mainstream. "We are catching up," he says.  

That said, results will still take time. "I always say that sustainability is like an acquired taste," Castillo says. "It's like a negroni cocktail." Thus, Castillo recommends that companies take small steps toward their goals and in orienting the culture of the company toward sustainability. "[It's] learning the basics first, and then bringing it throughout the organization."  

Photo:

Inc. editor-at-large Christine Lagorio-Chafkin interviews (from left) Sergio Castillo (president and CEO of Eco BCG) Iain Forsyth (general manager of vans marketing and product management at Mercedes-Benz USA), and Al Subbloie (founder, president, and CEO of Budderfly) at the 2023 Inc. 5000 Conference.

Photography by Gary Miller.

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