With the economic headwinds Australian businesses have been facing over the last period – from COVID fallout factors like staff shortages and supply chain issues, to war and natural disaster-induced cost increases, to interest rate hikes and the rest – it’s not surprising that when you ask most businesses what their #1 priority is today, the answer is not sustainability.
It’s far more likely to be related to their bottom lines, especially if you’re in the smaller end of town when your focus is on balancing your books and trying to make ends meet.
That said, most businesses see sustainability as positive and have it on their ‘radar’, but their likelihood to turn thought into action is currently driven by two factors:
1) There is a need for their business to be ‘seen’ as sustainable, particularly in corporate realm and
2) There is an end consumer benefit – both of which relate to business objectives more than they do genuine environmental ones (if we’re honest).
Small vs big business green mentality
Sustainability has become a polarising issue for small businesses with many relegating it to something only the large end of town (and primarily those who can afford it) can indulge in. There’s also a feeling amongst small business that larger companies can afford to sacrifice deficits on their bottom line in the name of positive public image, while smaller ones don’t necessarily have that luxury.
Smaller businesses also feel that they do a lot on their own, but generally are relating that back to what they do in their personal lives, such as separating plastics and rubbish, changing lightbulbs to LEDs and buying energy-efficient appliances.
3 barriers to business action
So, if sustainability is not necessarily at the top of small businesses’ to-do lists, what, other than a laser focus on the business bottom line is holding them back from taking action? Lack of clarity seems to be the consensus, with 3 areas of vagueness driving the inertia:
- Sustainability understanding low
Small business owners’ heads are in their own operations; they don’t typically have the bandwidth to seek out sustainability education from a business perspective, so tend to bucket its definition into the obvious ones like separating plastics, rather than looking deeper into their potentially more impactful factors such as their business activity and the suppliers they engage with.
- Impetus and focus lacking
For the businesses who do have sustainability initiatives in play, they’re all doing it their own way but unsure if there is a ‘right way’. Whilst there’s plenty online if you look in terms of guides for small business, there’s no one solid and widely adhered to standard, leading to businesses simply doing whatever works best for them, and a ‘hope for the best’ mindset, rather than concerted plans of action.
- Impact feels intangible
There’s a prevailing attitude amongst small business operators that they have no real confidence in anything they do for the environment will make a difference – in part because they have no tangible evidence around them that their business, or others like them are achieving measurable change that’s worth the effort (or cost). This, when combined with the struggle of pushing through tough economic factors is taking sustainability programs from ‘nice-to-haves’ down another peg, to being seen with a lens of negativity.
“At the end of the day, if I could choose between a $1200 bill that was 100% hydro or an $800 coal, I’d choose the coal – that’s just where I’m at.”
Australian Small Business owner, September 2023
Bottom line, it’s the bottom line
And so, in 2023 we see that sustainability is still not yet a major priority for Australian small businesses with two big questions still begging answers:
1) Where should we start?
2) Who are we doing this for?
Ultimately, if it doesn’t improve their bottom lines, they’re not on board – well at least not yet.
How Zembl can help clarify your sustainability options
Zembl is an Australian energy broker that has saved businesses a total of $6.5 million off their energy bills and bottom lines since July 2023.
We’re not an online comparison platform – our team looks at each business as an individual case to solve, depending on your meter data and type, business preferences and other factors.
By filling out our contact form and uploading your bill, our team will get in touch with you and present the most competitive options available – including a spread of carbon neutral and standard options, so you can weigh up the impact on your bottom line. So why wait? Whether it’s to save money or lower your carbon footprint, request a callback from our team today.
The insights in this article are drawn from an August – September 2023 Study of Australian Businesses, “Connected Ecosystem”, by Fiftyfive5, Part of Accenture Song.
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