Why should SMEs focus on sustainability for business growth?

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Sustainability is not just for large corporations. Here is how small and medium enterprises can also contribute.

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) often underestimate their role in contributing to national and international targets. One such important target today is sustainability, best laid out by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Sustainable practices are now critical to any business, big or small, and must be conveyed transparently to customers.

A study by Japan market insights agency Fabric, ‘The State of Sustainability in Japan 2021’, showed that a focus on sustainability can deepen relationships between brands and their customers. It is closely related to trust, especially where traceability and transparency are concerned. This is in turn related to customer loyalty and advocacy.

The study showed that Japanese consumers claim to be significantly more worried about the environment than an earlier report found in 2019. Nearly 1 in 3 consumers claim that they try to buy from brands that take action on social and environmental issues.

Hence, as a small business with niche market offerings, one way to boost customer trust and loyalty, and ultimately sales, is to make your business operations and products more sustainable. In addition, setting mid- to long-term sustainability goals can also help you stay relevant and shows a stronger commitment.

Sustainability for small businesses: Where to start

No matter what size your business is, there are generally three pillars of sustainability that can help you position your business and product offerings in line with local and global sustainability goals.

Three of the main sustainability focus areas for small businesses are environment, social and economic.

Under these three pillars, here’s how you can make your small business more sustainable:



The environmental aspect of sustainability is often the most stressed. Everyone, everywhere is vulnerable to climate change and its impact on our daily lives.

For both large and small businesses, this sustainability area focuses on minimizing carbon emissions, reducing waste, minimizing environmental pollution and other efforts to conserve the environment.

While the main goal of protecting our environment is to ensure a livable planet for future generations, there are also financial advantages, especially for smaller businesses. For example, using less packaging and saving energy can save costs, in addition to reducing waste, which is beneficial for businesses with tight budgets.


Social targets focus on gaining the support of all your stakeholders. These refer to everyone directly or indirectly involved with your company and brand, including business partners, employees, customers and the community you operate in.




Supporting these people around your business can rally their support and help your brand to grow organically and through word of mouth. For instance, treating employees fairly helps you to retain your best talent, which is essential for any company. Calling out social issues like unethical working conditions or standing up for human rights can garner the support of the public and increase brand following.

Since most small businesses do not have as much resources as their larger counterparts when it comes to brand awareness marketing, you can focus on indirect initiatives such as these to strengthen your brand identity among the public.


The economic aspect of sustainability in businesses boils down to this: to be sustainable, a company must be profitable. Organizations must focus on good governance, compliance, and risk management to align the economic interests of shareholders, employees and consumers. For smaller businesses, paying attention to these is necessary to stay afloat amid the competition and increased volatility of the markets across the globe.

Sustainability in Japan & beyond

According to the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), sustaining Japan has spurred over 500 government projects for gender equality, health, innovation for rural areas, resilient infrastructure and biodiversity conservation, among others. Investor appetite is also among the greatest in the world, with a survey by the Japan Sustainable Investment Forum revealing US$3.7 trillion worth of sustainable and responsibly invested assets by end of 2021 — a 65.8% increase from the year before.

On a global level, a World Economic Forum study reported that companies could unlock US$12 trillion in market opportunities by 2030 and create up to 380 million jobs by implementing a few key development goals. Today, most international businesses have declared targets aligned with the SDGs, including tackling poverty, fighting inequality and injustice, and protecting our environment to make the planet a greener and better place to live in by 2030.

That includes Deutsche Post DHL’s Strategy 2025, which sets out a roadmap for clean operations and to be a great workplace as well as highly trusted company. The urgency of climate change is also driving us towards net zero emissions, as part of Mission 2050.

Whether big or small, all businesses must play their role in achieving these sustainability goals by first being responsible when operating their business, followed by seizing opportunities to solve societal issues via innovation and collaboration. These initiatives will go a long way for our future generations.

This story was adapted from this original DHL Discover article: Sustainability Goals For Small Businesses - DHL Express PH

How DHL Express can help you achieve your sustainability goals

DHL Express is the global industry leader in sustainable logistics. Our goal for net zero carbon emissions is driving us to make impactful and innovative improvements, such as switching to sustainable aviation fuel and electric vehicles, and building emissions-free facilities. Whether you need same-day delivery or time-definite international express shipping, you can be rest assured that DHL is the most sustainable shipping partner and trusted advisor for small businesses and enterprises