Small businesses embrace “green” practices without financial incentives, survey shows

"Green Tree," photo by Bill Rosgen on Flickr.
Julie Mollins
7 April 2018

TORONTO (Landscape News) – Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) play a significant self-initiated role in sustainable and environmentally aware business practices, according to a new report from Canada’s University of Waterloo.

Researchers found that 80 percent of SMEs — which they say make up more than 98 per cent of all businesses in Canada — polled in a survey were actively engaged in sustainable business practices.

The survey results highlight the importance of implementing policies to support their efforts, the report states, indicating that SMEs represent a significant potential force in advancing the triple bottom line of profit-making, social wellbeing and environmental health.

“Big corporations often get the headlines in debates about sustainable business practices, but in reality, we’ve discovered that many small businesses see sustainability as more important than their larger counterparts,” said Sarah Burch, Canada Research Chair in Sustainability Governance and Innovation at the university.

“Small businesses aren’t waiting around to be told to care about the environment, they’re already doing it.”

The report, conducted by the GATE (Governing and Accelerating Transformative Entrepreneurship) project, was distributed to 46,300 companies in Toronto and Vancouver, two of Canada’s most populous cities, and received almost 1,700 responses.

The businesses were asked to report on their involvement in sustainability measures, including community outreach, reducing waste and supporting social justice through purchasing practices.

SMEs are generally assumed to pursue sustainability to maximize profits – by reducing production costs, for example, the report said. However, the researchers found that although economic benefits are a significant motivator, social and environmental considerations were often equally important.

The findings show the need for management and policy approaches that explicitly consider community-based motivations of businesses, rather than relying simply on economic incentives, they said.

Support through management approaches or policy incentives should be tailored to suit these different needs and objectives, the report states. The results show the enormous untapped potential of SMEs to contribute to the environmental health and social wellbeing of communities.

“They may be small, but by their sheer numbers, SME’s can have a massive cumulative effect on the environmental and social well-being of our country,” Burch said. “The choices they make ripple through supply chains and have direct impacts in communities. Now that we know this, what’s needed are policies that support and accelerate the efforts these small businesses are making.”

GATE is part of the university’s Sustainability Policy Research on Urban Transformations (SPROUT) Lab, which explores partnerships at the local, provincial and federal level responding to climate change and the role of small businesses.

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Read the GATE survey here.

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