How SMEs could leverage sustainability to drive innovation

-by INSME Secretariat

The sixth session of the INSME Innovation Management Programme held on the 2nd of July 2020 by Martin Ruppert and Hannah Leighton, respectively Managing Director and Consultant at IMP³rove (INSME Member), was an insightful discussion on the topic of sustainability.

The presentation was aimed both at suggesting a holistic approach to sustainability as well as showing how sustainability can be leveraged by SMEs to increase Company Growth. In order to best examine this topic, Ms Leighton started her speech by introducing three selected frameworks to encapsulate this concept:

  • Triple Bottom Line – A well-established framework to depict sustainability that includes not only the environmental element, which is the main one when it comes to this theme, but it features also social and economic aspects as parts of it (3 P stands for people, planet and profit).
  • United Nations SDGs (UN SDGs) – This is an internationally recognized framework that foresees 17 goals for a sustainable development also containing the Triple Bottom Line elements.
  • The Doughnut idea – This framework aims at reaching a balance among achieving social and quality targets without compromising the environment.

That said, the most widely used definition of sustainability, that also complements the Triple Bottom Line one, originates from the Brundtland Report: “Sustainable development focusses on meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs“.
The topic of sustainability, as the speaker pointed out, is becoming more and more important, especially with regard to its relation to business and business evolution.

First of all, it is possible to identify some key trends, like the rise in political pressure and regulation, that focus on Sustainability Key Performance Indicators at national and international level which means that companies must comply with legislative requirements more and more sensitive to sustainability.

The second important element is the changing in public mindset with sustainability becoming of public interest and companies that need to tailor their offer to reach customers demand. Lastly, the role of financial markets, many investors incorporate sustainability among the values to make investment choices showing also in this way the beginning of a change of attitude.

In the speaker’s perspective, the topic of sustainability is a pre-requisite for future business success and companies, especially after the Covid-19 crisis, should see and leverage the changing in customers’ and policymakers’ mindset in order to determine their social role as a differentiator. Another important point highlighted by the speaker is the massive opportunity for companies to offer innovation responding to customers that are increasingly seeking sustainable products and services.

Looking inside the companies, employees will demand higher CSR (Cooperate Social Responsibility) standards and commitment in the usage of sustainable means of work.

According to the speaker, this topic is a crucial lever in the strive for innovation that enables companies to develop something new and create mutual value.

After exploring the concept of sustainability and how it can be leveraged by SMEs, Ms Leighton focused her speech on how third parties can sustain companies in exploiting sustainability and suggested the following framework to deliver support:

  • Raise Awareness: often companies’ lack of awareness of sustainability and sustainability -innovation meaning. This approach could foresee to host a sustainability award for SMEs and help them to create relationships among companies participating
  • Run Bootcamp for SMEs: this initiative aims at garnering the interest in sustainability showing how sustainability can be leveraged to promote competitiveness.
  • Generate desire to make changes in the organization: leverage some tools to dive deeper the specific client and benchmark his capabilities (compare the client to his competitors in leveraging sustainability).
  • Spur an action: SMEs would need support to action all these elements (action plan for SMEs to implement sustainability).

The presentation was closed with a brief outline of the brand-new Sustainability Stage-of-Excellence tool, developed by IMP3rove, which provides a short and qualitative assessment of the companies’ performances in leverage sustainability with an holistic assessment of company’s sustainability management system that includes the 17 UN SDGs and the House-of Innovation dimensions.

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