Sustainability can make your brand stand out, it can help your employees feel engaged, and it can help you win contracts. A lot of energy-efficient activities can help you save significant amounts of money and help the business out-last competitors. But believing isn’t doing – as frustrated Rio+20 visitors quickly recognised. Here are some simple ways for SMEs to ensure they can ‘walk the talk’.

  1.  Nominate someone as sustinability champion

This demonstrates a true commitment to improving your environmental and social impacts. Bedroom furniture business Warren Evans’s Zoe Robinson also underlines the importance of having senior executive endorsement: “If you get buy-in from the people who hold the purse-strings, you’ll find it easier to make things happen.”

  1.  Align your activities to the core business

Floor-maker Desso uses ‘closed loop manufacturing’ to reuse its own waste materials; computer recycling business Maxitech provides refurbished computers to charity.

  1.  Let your employees choose your charitable activity…

They’ll be much more engaged if the ideas come from them. And recognise their efforts regularly and publicly. The report, “SMEs Set their Sites on Sustainability,” quotes Jean Barbeau of Canadian SME Artopex, an office furniture supplier: “We became more conscious of the impact of the money we invest in the community and that creates momentum. People are very positive about it. The more we share the better we become.”

  1.  Make it everyone’s business

At sustainability pioneers InterfaceFLOR, employees must include sustainability criteria within pitches for new business. Reward sustainable product or service innovations. Use tools such as TravelHub to encourage people to think sustainably.

  1.  Track how sustainability influences engagement

Inside the business, among employees, and among customers. Use social media to monitor specific sustainability campaigns.

  1.  Measure savings…

…and publicise them to employees to demonstrate progress.

  1.  Make the financial case

Consider integrated accounting – so-called SROI is fast becoming a reality in larger companies (most recently Nike and Puma). The ICAEW can advise on accountancy firms that can help and the Prince’s Accounting for Sustainability Tool is a useful starting point for DIY-ers.

  1.  Make it part of your everyday business processes

Perhaps investing in an Environmental Management System or the Carbon Trust standard. Cranfield University’s Sustainable Design-led Innovation programme targets SMEs, while the OECDs toolkit can help manufacturers future-proof their processes.