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: askST: What does sustainability mean for a small company?

What does sustainability mean for a small company

A day never seems to go by without someone urging companies to prioritise goals around sustainability - or environmental, social and governance (ESG). But the concept is so broad that many struggle to understand what it all means for them.

The push to go green and reach net-zero emissions has placed more responsibility on firms to focus on these ESG issues. But small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can find the process very far removed from their daily focus of ensuring a steady cash flow.

Help is at hand in the form of a series of courses developed by Enterprise Singapore with Global Compact Network Singapore, PwC Singapore and the Singapore Environment Council.

The two- or three-day courses will cover sustainability trends, addressing topics such as decarbonisation, the circular economy, sustainability reporting and carbon management.

Two of the courses - one on corporate sustainability and the other on kick-starting a company's ESG journey - will have their first run on Tuesday (March 29).

One that covered ways to put sustainability into practice was held on March 22 and will be on again in April, May, June and July.

The Straits Times looks at some commonly asked questions company bosses are putting out amid the push for a more sustainable society and economy.

Q: What does sustainability mean for a business?

A: Sustainability involves reducing the negative environmental and social impact that the business may have, while increasing its positive impact, Enterprise Singapore's Christine Wong said.

But this does not have to involve high costs or big changes to facilities.

For example, firms can simply start by reducing their energy consumption, cutting down on waste and switching to low-carbon alternatives, added Ms Wong, who is the organisation's executive director for urban solutions and sustainability.

Businesses can address the social aspect in ESG by being fair employers and helping disadvantaged communities.

Q: How will being sustainable help my business anyway?

A: Particularly with environmental sustainability, there is an increasing expectation globally for companies to commit to being green.

Many consumers are demanding that businesses place emphasis on sustainable practices and governments adjust policies to address environmental challenges, Ms Wong said.

So firms should look at how sustainability affects their sector and see what they can do to be more competitive in this area.

Q: If I am just a small company, how can I incorporate ESG into my operations?

A: Companies can start by identifying the relevant areas for their business.

For example, a logistics firm can pinpoint the environmental impact it creates from its carbon emissions or the use of packaging that generates waste.

The company can then take steps to address this, such as improving routing efficiency, switching to more fuel-efficient vehicles or electric vehicles.

Ms Wong said: "Once enterprises are familiar with the broader sustainability issues that affect them, they can move on to develop more comprehensive plans to integrate sustainability into their business strategies."

These can include developing sustainable products and services for consumers, for instance.

Q: Are there certain dos and don'ts in making that sustainable transition?

A: Don't see it as a one-off thing, Ms Wong said. Sustainability has to be understood at all levels, from the top management to the staff. Internal structures then have to be put in place to drive and monitor sustainability efforts.

Don't "greenwash" - which refers to businesses providing misleading information and creating a false impression that they are more sustainable than they actually are. This can trigger consumer backlash and affect business reputation as well.

Companies that want to sign up for the sustainability courses can find more information at Enterprise Singapore's website.

Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.