Becoming a more sustainable business is not too expensive as many SMEs still believe, a futurist has said, adding that non-sustainable businesses will increasingly be “left behind”.
Swedish-Australian futurist and strategist Anders Sörman-Nilsson (pictured) — a nominee to the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders in 2015 — said that despite the still pervading perception of cost being overly prohibitive, SMEs can and are transforming their businesses away from reliance on fossil fuels while still turning a profit, while others are developing innovations to help other businesses follow suit.
“Many SMEs think that being environmentally friendly is too expensive for their business, but this isn’t the case,” he told My Business.
“Through the exponential growth curve of solar energy and our increasing ability to store it and distribute it to where it is needed, we will be able to decouple our previous reliance on unsustainable energy sourced from ‘dead dinosaurs’.”
Mr Sörman-Nilsson said that the driving force is technology, which he noted is already changing our habits as well as reducing both the volume and size of the “stuff” we use on a daily basis.
“There is a decoupling of our growing prosperity from resource consumption. Think of electronics advertisements from the late 1980s or 1990s. Physical products like a Walkman, CDs, radios, cameras, video cameras, televisions, VCRs, DVDs etc. Today, these physical products are all combined in your iPhone,” he said.
“In other words, we use less resources... to produce a superior-quality item which replaces many old physical products. We are able to do more with less, courtesy of technological innovation.”
SMEs pushing for change
According to Mr Sörman-Nilsson, there are new businesses and industries emerging specifically from sustainable-led innovations, which enable other businesses to also reduce their impact on our environment.
“Australian SME businesses like Aquna in the Riverina are showing that technology and innovation are converging with sustainability initiatives to drive environmental, food security and culinary outcomes as a result of smart agtech,” he said.
“They are realising that today all companies are technology companies with a licence in their old industry.
“We have been advising Australian SMEs like Finsbury Green (printing), an independently audited carbon neutral print and mail service provider, and fashion brand Ephemera, which has been making French-inspired, figure-hugging swimwear since 2012, with their Mustard and Sky Blue colours now made of regenerated nylon with the nylon yarn being fashioned from discarded plastics that once littered the ocean floor, and which sources its power solely from renewable energy.”
He cited other examples, such as meat-substitute burgers that use 87 per cent less water and use 96 per cent less land than farmed meats; pollinating drones to overcome a decline in global bee populations and ensure plants continue to be able to reproduce; and a graphene sieve that turns salt water into drinkable water at a fraction of the energy consumption needs of existing desalination plants.
The futurist and TEDx speaker said that positive change can also be achieved simply by looking into the business supply chain.
“The choices that SMEs make in their daily operations and where they source their supplies can make a big environmental difference, and also ease the conscience of both B2B and B2C consumers, so that we can vote with our wallets in favour of brands who take an environmental stance,” he said.
Mr Sörman-Nilsson said that, ultimately, it’s not just the environment but also the economy that will benefit from businesses continuing pushing for “scalable, sustainable practices”.
“From a personal and parenting perspective, we need to help the planet survive, and from a profit perspective, businesses who don’t use these exponential technologies will very quickly be left behind.”
Related story: Does sustainability make a good business case?
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.