Small Business Leaders: Should You Be Addressing the Issues That Matter?

The idea of sustainability in business is becoming less of a political issue and more of a basic standard of good business practice. With an increasing number of the world’s top companies publishing sustainability commitments and producing sustainability reports, small business owners are feeling empowered to take a stand on protecting our economic, social and environmental future.

I am often asked if this is really the role of a small business owner. Should they be standing up for these issues and making their voice heard?

Small business owners are seen as leaders in the local community, holding expert knowledge within their specific fields, and many citizens will turn to these leaders for direction. When small business owners show initiative in moving towards sustainable business practices, many of their customers and other members of the community will follow.

There is, however, a fine balance between standing up for your beliefs and values and protecting your reputation and the reputation of your business. It is important that you ensure you will not lose your entire customer base by choosing to vocalise your support for a particular topic.

Having a good understanding of your customers’ values and beliefs is essential before speaking out in favour for a cause. If you find your customers’ values and beliefs don’t align with yours on a particular topic, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are no longer able to pursue showing support for that cause; it might just mean you will have to take your customers along for an educational journey before publicly vocalising your position on the topic.

A good way of aligning your customers’ values and beliefs to yours is to find out how they might use your product or service in a positive way. For instance, are they recycling the packaging of your goods? Once you find common ground, it will be far easier to connect on issues of which they might not yet be aware or with which they might not yet be on board.

If you are just beginning to start speaking about important economic, social and environmental issues, start with causes which resonate with the majority of people. For example, supporting a local sporting team is a very safe option to start your customers on a path to understanding your sustainability commitment. Supporting local sporting teams works towards both Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being and Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities. Many of your customers will have been a member of a local sporting team at one point or will have had children or even grandchildren who are members of a local sporting team and will appreciate your commitment to a healthy and inclusive society.

The key ingredient in vocalising support for one or more causes close to your heart is authenticity. As a small business leader, you need to be genuinely interested in the cause and what you might be able to achieve through your business and through your role as a leader in the community.