“Ma’am, I want to be in compliance. I stay up nights worrying about this. Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it.” During those four years spent working in small business technical assistance I learned how these small business presidents struggled to keep the doors open. Between fulfilling customer orders, marketing, employee health and safety, environmental regulations, taxes and all the other issues they worried about, any efforts to go beyond what was required by law frankly amazed me.
With this perspective I’ve been studying sustainability project managers at small and medium-sized businesses. What does it take to implement an energy efficiency, recycling, paper use reduction or green building project at a small business given all the other activities staff is required to do?
Small businesses have such limited resources compared to larger companies. Fortune 500 companies frequently have a team of people in various departments who are paid to work on sustainability projects. Large corporations often have people with the title Chief Sustainability Officer or Director of Global Sustainability Operations working to embed sustainability throughout the organization.
Multiple conferences, books and websites are dedicated to celebrating large corporate sustainability efforts. Small businesses receive relatively little coverage. Why is this? Partly because the small business executive assistants, marketing managers, and IT staff who lead these projects are squeezing work on them in during lunch hours, after work and on weekends. They care about these projects so much they will give up their free time to do them.
We need more discussion on how we can support small businesses to implement operational efficiency projects, also called sustainability projects. In the U.S., small businesses make up 49.2% of private sector employment. They are the engine of the U.S. economy; the first ones to pull us out of a recession every time.
To accelerate sustainability in the U.S., moving society to a place where humans live in balance with the environment that supports us, we need to help small businesses adopt operational efficiency projects faster. We need to study what conditions support rapid implementation and disseminate those ideas.