Is it possible for small businesses to do great things on small budgets?

In today’s world of giant corporations, some of which have greater income than small nations, it’s easy to forget about the little guys — the small- and medium-sized businesses. But some of them are doing some great things, reports Flemmich Webb.

While huge companies dominate business media coverage, it is SMEs that make up a majority of the global business sector.

In Europe, for example, 99% of all businesses are SMEs, providing two out of three private sector jobs and creating more than half of the total value-added created by businesses in the EU.

Collectively, therefore, SMEs can have a huge influence on global challenges such as reducing carbon emissions, improving energy efficiency, and operating more sustainably.

Many though, can’t or don’t take action often due to a lack of human resources and capital.

Surviving in the economic current climate is hard enough without having to divert valuable resources to becoming greener.

Yet despite this, many SMEs have made, and are making great strides to ensure their operations leave a smaller footprint on the planet. For these CEOs, sustainability is not just a cost, it’s an opportunity.

Here, we profile four examples of SMEs from around the world:

Argentina: Salentein

Small Argentinian wine producer Salentein has been working with the Carbon Trust to footprint its products

Salentein is a wine producer with vineyards on the upper reaches of the Valle de Uco, on the eastern slopes of the Andes in Argentina.

The company has implemented environmental policies since it was formed in 1998, including using native flora as cover crops, returning all organic matter produced from the vineyards and wine production to the land as fertilizer and using drip irrigation to water the vines.

In 2009, the company started pursuing broader sustainability objectives, including the care and training of employees, and nurturing a good relationship with the surrounding population.

Recently it has been working with the Carbon Trust to carbon footprint its Portillo Malbec, with a view to certifying the whole Portillo range in the future. This cost the company US$14,500, a cost that was well worth it according to CEO, Andres Arena. “We are increasing our productivity by, in the short term, using fewer resources and reducing our impact on the environment, which, in the mid-term, will improve the company’s profits,” he says. “Carbon footprinting helps us do that."

The US: Pompeian

Pompeian, the largest US-based brand of oils, vinegars, and cooking wines, is another company that has worked with the Carbon Trust to carbon footprint some of its products — its Extra Virgin Olive Oil 500ml to 2L sizes.

Again, the company sees it as well worth the outlay, which was a “minimal percentage of total operating cost”.

“With the Carbon Trust program, we are able to communicate our stance on the environment, which we feel is a meaningful differentiator in the category and with a consumer growing in awareness of environmental issues,” says David Bensadoun, Pompeian’s CEO.

Carbon footprinting is just one of a range of environmental policies, the company employs. Others include ensuring all its PET bottles are BPA-free; operating a recycling programme for materials such as cardboard, plastics, stretch film; producing Bericap self-contained, tamper-evident caps that require no additional sealant; and designing goods that are post-consumer recyclable.

Switzerland: PB Swiss Tools

PB Swiss Tools has put more focus on environmental impacts

PB Swiss Tools is a family business that manufactures a range of hand tools and medical instruments.

It carries out a range of green measures not least because they make the business more efficient.

The company recovers the heat from compressors; cools machinery using collected rainwater, constantly revises what materials it uses during manufacturing to reduce waste toxicity and uses a heat pump to lower heating costs and CO2 emissions.

“Efficiency and profitability secure our competitiveness and longevity,” says the company, which is certified to ISO 14001 and FSC among others and which sees sustainability as a key part of its licence to operate.

Estonia: Ecoprint

Ecoprint was created in 2007 through the merger of three companies — Triip, Guttenberg, and Repro — which had operated in the Estonian printing market for 17 years. Its aim is to develop Green Print, the first environmentally friendly printing service in the country.

To that end it uses renewable energy supplied by wind turbines, collects rainwater and uses thermal energy for heating. In 2002, Ecoprint (then Triip) put together its first environmental plan, started to measure its ecological footprint and prepared its first annual environmental statement.

Now it has EMAS and ISO14001 accreditation, and lists its environmental policies on its website. And with its green measures costing just 1% of turnover, the company feels it is money well spent.

“Our goal is to offer printing services which have less impact on the environment,” says CEO Erika Ilisson. “We are committed to sustainable development and we try to draw attention to environmental problems in general because it gives us an competitive advantage selling to clients for whom the environment is important, especially in Scandinavian and Western Europe.”

The UK: Adnams

Adnams has been taking its impacts seriously for 12 years

Suffolk brewer Adnams has been making beer in the UK for almost 140 years but it was in 2000 that it really started to focus on incorporating environmental and social issues into the way it does business.

One area of particular relevance to Adnams is water, which is a key raw material in the brewing process, and one is which is scarce in water-depleted Southwold, where the brewery is located.

Through efficiency measures such as capturing and recycling heat and steam, the brewery uses 3.1-3.2 pints of water to make a pint of beer - that's half the industry average.

Grey (waste) water is filtered through naturally occurring reed beds and used to water the grass roof, wash lorries and flush toilets. And waste from the brewery and other nearby businesses is fed into an anaerobic digester facility to create biogas that can be used to generate electricity and will ultimately run the company’s commercial fleet.

“We have looked to embed ‘doing the right thing’ in our business,” says chief executive Andy Wood. “When we produce our annual report and accounts, it doesn’t have a separate corporate responsibility report – ‘doing the right thing’ runs through the narrative.

"Our investments are returning at our internal cost of capital or better, but more important is building a body of support from our customers, because without them we don’t have a businesses.”

Flemmich Webb is a freelance journalist.