#SmallBusinessAdvice

Small Brand, Big Impact: Why Your Business Should Invest in Sustainability

Greg Hewitt
CEO, DHL Express U.S.
7 min read
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Small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) are essential to the diversity, efficiency, and overall health of the global economy. In fact, according to the World Economic Forum1, SMEs represent about 90% of companies and employ up to 70% of the workforce worldwide. While an overwhelming majority of small business owners say sustainability is a priority, many don’t feel they have the resources to deliver on those good intentions.2

With the need for climate mitigation becoming increasingly urgent, though, it’s important for companies of all sizes to take action.

WHY YOUR BUSINESS PLAN SHOULD INCLUDE PROTECTING THE PLANET

It’s pretty easy to agree on the theoretical value of sustainable practices. But with all the hurdles to jump, is it still a business-savvy decision for SMEs to invest in sustainability?

The short answer is: absolutely. Here’s why.

1. It’s what your customers want (and expect)

Since 2016, online searches for sustainable goods have increased at least 71% globally3. Consumers across all generations have indicated increased willingness to spend more for sustainable products4 in recent years, and they’re proving it with their purchases; in a 2022 survey5, 84% of consumers reported buying a sustainable product in the past six months (up from 67% the previous year). In the aftershock of the pandemic, conscious consumerism has been steadily rising, so the businesses that give “conscious shoppers” a reason to believe are the ones most likely to succeed. When you’re considering where to pursue business or simply draw inspiration, look to countries like Denmark, which boasted three of the 10 most sustainable global businesses in 20227 while maintaining a robust economy8.

2. It bolsters your public image and your customers’ satisfaction

In addition to protecting our planet, establishing a strong, transparent sustainability strategy can help protect your reputation9. If you’re running your company ethically and responsibly, the risk of scandal or humiliation decreases exponentially. On the flip side, the more sustainable your business model is, the better people tend to feel about supporting it. A word of caution, however: while it may be tempting to overstate the level of sustainability represented by your organization, it’s crucial to be accurate. An accusation of greenwashing10 can damage your image just as authentically sustainable practices can elevate it.

3. It defines your brand and gives you a competitive edge

Promoting and practicing sustainability strengthens brand identity and sets your business apart from competitors. When a customer is choosing between two similar products, something as simple as eco-friendly packaging could be the deciding factor. For footwear company Allbirds11, which has risen from a small startup to a multi-billion dollar success story12 since its inception in 2016, sustainability is just as much a part of the brand as sneakers. Don’t think that your goals need to as ambitious as Allbirds’ to matter, though. If executed with authenticity, even the smallest shift toward sustainability can have a big impact on your audience…and most importantly, on the health of the planet.

4. It positions your business for future success

Sustainability is bigger than a buzzword, and conscious consumerism isn’t a passing trend. The fashion and beauty space serves as a microcosm of the bigger evolution we’ll eventually see across all industries, as evidenced by the rapidly rising popularity of “clean” cosmetics brands like Thrive Causemetics13 and clothing resale platforms like ThredUp14. Millennial buyers are already highly influenced by sustainability practices, and as Gen Z15 grows into its role as a powerful consumer group, it will be more important than ever for businesses of every size to prioritize the wellbeing of people and the planet in addition to bottom line.

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Greener Together

Because so many SMEs conduct most of or all their business in their business online, the fulfillment process plays a huge role in determining the size of their carbon footprints. Since the shipping needs of smaller businesses are often lower volume and higher frequency than larger enterprises, it can be especially difficult to find sustainable solutions that aren’t cost-prohibitive. It’s not so surprising that many companies bypass greener transport options in favor of more affordable ones, but as environmental concerns grow and environmental standards tighten16 in response, it’s more important than ever to make the investment in sustainability.

That’s why, despite companies’ current apprehension about spending more for green fulfillment, we’re fully committed to a robust sustainability strategy that includes a target of spending $7.4 billion on decarbonization by 203017. We’ve already invested over $460 million in decarbonization measures like electric vehicles and sustainable fuels, and expansion of our GoGreen initiative is ongoing. Most recently, we launched GoGreen Plus, a service that offers DHL customers the option to reduce emissions by using sustainable aviation fuel.

However, we’re also committed to helping small businesses thrive globally by making fast, reliable international express shipping accessible to our SME customers. We’re all in this together, so when you invest in us, our commitment to sustainability becomes your commitment to sustainability.

 

World Economic Forum

SME Climate Hub

The Economist

Forbes

Capterra

Neilsen

Earth.org

International Trade Administration

Harvard Business School

10 Green Business Bureau

11 Allbirds

12 OptiMonk

13 Thrive Causemetics

14 ThredUp

15 WeForum

16 Wall Street Journal

17 Wall Street Journal