Axa says SMEs can gain a competitive edge by looking to improve sustainability across the business
Running a small to medium-sized enterprise brings with it a host of challenges, but there are also many rewards, such as:
- Greater variety for employees - with fewer people in the workforce than at a large corporation, people often have the chance to develop skills that go beyond the confines of their remit.
- Better potential for gaining a profile within the organisation - another advantage of working somewhere that has fewer than 250 employees.
- In a poll carried out by the global personnel specialist Webrecruit in 2012, nearly a third (30 per cent) of respondents indicated that "working for a company where good ideas count, not power" was the main draw for working at an SME. In a very important sense, this is employee engagement in its purest form: the interaction between staff and the directions/decision making of the company as a whole.
The challenges of going green for SMEs
One of the challenges of going green for SMEs is also, in practice, the biggest advantage. And that's the fact that if you're an SME with a focus on sustainability and environmental responsibility, then the value comes from putting green policies into practice.
Without a large PR machine or publicity department, there would be nothing to gain for smaller business simply by paying lip service to sustainable thinking. For SMEs looking to gain a green edge, it's a matter of sustainable doing.
The 360 degree approach to healthy employees, business and environment
The term "holistic" is buzzwordy, of course - but there are tangible benefits by looking at improving business as a whole rather than only by looking at specifics. For instance, an organisation that cares equally about its products and services, its people and the environment will have a set of values that are written into the corporate DNA. And it's by this process that organisations gain a competitive edge - being better able to recruit, continuously develop - and hopefully hold on to - the best talent available.
There are many different ways in which SME business can promote health and sustainability side by side, including stuff like the popular cycle to work scheme. Encouraging staff to cycle to work is a perfect example of holistic thinking, since it is:
- Economically sound - saving employees money not just on the bike but on fares or fuel costs for alternative forms of transport for their commute.
- Physically healthy. Cycling to work has been linked to lower obesity rates in employees as compared with those who take the car.
- Environmentally proactive. By providing a set of conditions where cycling is encouraged, the organisation is demonstrating a commitment to sustainable travel as well as building it into the corporate culture.
Healthier staff potentially also means significantly fewer incidences of sickness absence, and provision of company health insurance as well as employee assistance programmes and mental health promotion can complement benefits such as cycle-to-work, healthy food on-site and subsidised gym membership to ensure workforce health is a priority.