In the boom times when everyone was awash with cash, companies were throwing money at as many community projects as they could. That’s all changed as belts have tightened. Now there is less community investment money to go around and companies want to see proof of their return on their investment.
I was looking at the cost of a basic university course in risk management and was shocked to see how much it costs. Basic three-year degrees cost as much as a top-of-the-range sedan. Not too long ago my son started a finance degree (he’s completed it) at a university and the rector in his opening address to parents remarked that the university had place for 22,000 students and had to turn away 12,000.
What a business to be in. Demand is strong despite the economy. Fees are so high that you are unable to pay for them unless you take out an education policy on the day your child is born or save for years for an amount that could buy you an apartment in a reasonably good area.
Education towards sustainability is even more expensive. At the high end, a basic one-day seminar on sustainability risk management costs up to R10,000.
For the start-up or small business, the costs of tuning up your skills in the area of sustainability can seriously challenge your non-existent training budget. Okay, that’s not to say that small businesses don’t invest in training. In fact, I was just looking at some information that showed small- to medium-size businesses invest the most money in skills.
How then do you find out the latest information, advice and techniques to take advantage of sustainability in your business? You’d be lucky to find any so-called “free” course on the market, and if you did, you will find that the information is heavily laced with sales messages for the service provider and their partners. Not only that but information is also often skewed towards forcing sustainability down suppliers’ throats. The materials have scant value to help a start-up or small business secure competitive advantage from sustainability practices.
Not all advice needs to come at a shockingly high price. One medium-size business reduced their energy consumption by 10% using a no-cost method that is so obvious but something that you won’t find on any sustainability course.
Another entrepreneurial business person in a dyed-in-the-wool business made one simple change to his process and his profits shot up.
For the costs of taking less than 30 seconds of your time, you can put your name down below and receive valuable regular tips, techniques, advice, suggestions that will help you tune-up your sustainability skills for a stronger competitive edge at a time when just that small difference can keep the wolf from the door and bring you improved profits.
The bartender says “What’ll ya have?”
The climate scientist says, “I’ll have a beer.”
Turning his thumb towards the climate denier, he adds, “This jerk will have an extra strong hurricane. And no ice.”
“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” ? Alvin Toffler
I was talking to a young sustainability practitioner this week who told me his biggest challenge: he’s trying to introduce a recycling program but managers have stopped him because they say they won’t pay for the cost.
You’d think managers in an industrial research company would be forward thinking.
I wondered what this organisation’s shareholders would say about this resistance to change, to halt progress.
The word “sustainability” is often looked upon as a nice-to-have but is attacked when its proponents recommend changes, especially changes to the status quo that might inconvenience people or require some small initial capital outlay.
Research carried out for the ultra-conservative and over-sensitive, recommends that the “S” word is not to be mentioned in business circles or in companies. Forbidden words are “zero waste”. Instead, one must use “lean production”. Another word that requires censorship is “greenhouse gas emissions”. Rather use the term “reduce energy spend”, they say.
It makes sense to couch language in terms that will be understood an appeal to end users or customers as any effective salesperson will know. But to tip-toe around words that have to do with sustainability is perhaps taking things too far.
Sustainability, the term by the way has been around for almost 40 years, is not supposed to be familiar to start-ups and small businesses. The word is seem to be mainly used by large corporate enterprises and public organisations. However, while the term “sustainability” points to an ideal future state, the practice of sustainability is something that small businesses do all the time. Not all of them, mind you, but a large number.
Why is then that small businesses buy second-hand office furniture rather than new?
How come they are the first to support local community charity drives?
Why is it that they look at every way possible to save energy costs?
How come they substitute existing raw materials with more eco-friendly raw materials?
What motivates them to provide entry-level jobs to young people in local communities?
Yes, start-ups and small businesses could do more when it comes to sustainability but I don’t buy the argument that they are doing nothing or very little.
In this economy lean and green make business sense.
Smaller companies are much more expert at saving costs, reusing materials such as stationery and packaging and buying new only when they absolutely have to than giant businesses.
Sustainability is not only about resource reduction, using less to do more (although this is very important) but it’s also about helping reduce poverty and inequality (as many small businesses help do) and responding to a new economy that increasingly requires new and innovative thinking.
This includes opportunities for sharp ecopreneurs, start-ups and on-line entrepreneurs to take advantage and seize the opportunities that green consumer buying is making available and will increasingly make present in the future.
I was going through some design suggestions recently for products made from recycled materials. My jaw dropped – woman’s accessories included ear rings made from cool-drink cans. A supposedly ingenious product was men’s cuff-links made from recycled laptop keyboard keys. And to top it all, woman’s tote bags made from traffic signs.
There is certainly no limit to the human imagination. You’ve got to give full marks to this sort of creativity gone weird.
But to step back from this world of wacky ideas for recycling waste products, why is it that recycled products are so unappealing to all but the most fanatical green consumer? Where are the must-have products so well designed that consumers drool over them?
At an eco-friendly exhibition I met up with an ecopreneur selling bags (including tote bags) made from tyre tubes. Yes, these bags were robust, sturdy and leak-proof. But you’d need to be so committed to the cause to drape one over your shoulder. The poor guy running this business has got his heart firmly in the right place but his designs don’t leave you salivating.
No wonder then that his main selling channel for his recycled rubber bags are eco–friendly shows and exhibitions. He travels, living like a gypsy, from show to show in the main cities selling his novel wares.
Surely more thought needs to go into the design of products made from recycled materials so that they stand more than a fighting chance against their non eco-friendly competitors?
For me, a brilliant example of what can be achieved with recycled materials were outdoor Navy Chairs made from 111 Coke PET bottles using a US Navy design (I’m not sure why the US Navy was involved in chair design but it’s clearly marked on the product). This is a product with aesthetic appeal. If they weren’t so expensive, I would have ordered half a dozen.
It’s a fact that marketing studies are showing us that there is a growing group of consumers who want to buy products made from recycled materials. But design and marketing are important for any products whether they are eco-friendly or made with little or no environmental considerations.
The start-up or small business owner doesn’t have the huge amounts of capital to run focus groups, psychographic and demographic market surveys and product panels. Yet, there are low-cost ways of testing products and services for design appeal before they are introduced to consumers. Product designers, of which there are so many, would leap at the opportunity to give advice to small start-ups and small businesses who wish to launch “green” products.
“Green” product pioneers could do much better business if they introduced professional product design and marketing into their new product development. Instead of falling in love with their products – one of the biggest mistakes most innovators make whatever the product — they’d first find out if customers like them and want to buy them.
I have a big problem with vegetables that I eat in restaurants – and that’s if you can find them anyway. The restaurants I go to – and these are nothing fancy let me assure you – are really a mixed bag when it comes to vegetables.
Most of them have no vegetables on their menu – can you believe it? Now I’m not talking about salads. I’m talking about real vegetables such as carrots, green beans pumpkin and so on. Another chain restaurant serves its “vegetables” but they are heavily spiked with sugar and cream sauce (if I really wanted to eat flour I would ask for it). Others drown their “roasted” vegetables in so much heavy oil that you wonder the impact on the environment let alone your stomach. Continue reading “Direct sales by local farmers can help slay yucky-tasting greens”
When a partner and me launched a start-up in the grocery trade a few years back most of our initial time was spent planning – thinking about things like setting up a small distribution centre, identifying larger customers, working out whether our range was big enough and doing sums to see that our sales would be profitable.
As soon as we got going, all our time was spent rushing out to customers from early in the morning until late in the evening, selling and distributing our products. We had almost no time to think about our strategy, financial objectives and marketing.
After a long time trying to persuade businesses to use less water, sitting on panels discussing water scarcity and consciously attempting to reduce my own water footprint, I came across an example of unbelievable water waste while on a stop-over visit to the water-stressed town of De Aar.
The afternoon was a scorcher – the temperature was up to 35°C. I stopped the car at a restaurant to get some coffee and splash my face with cold water to keep alert for the long drive still ahead towards Carnarvon.
For the small business owner wanting to get started on a green journey there are more than 100 ways to begin but if you listen to all the ideas and suggestions and advice out there on the Internet in books and from consultants it would be pretty difficult knowing where to start.