The neoliberal economic model based on perpetual growth has come under increasing attack from environmental campaigners particularly since the week-long Extinction Rebellion activity in April this year.
With almost-daily horror stories about climate change, global warming and the amount of plastic waste littering the planet, not to mention a significant decrease in biodiversity, it is clear that action needs to happen a lot more urgently than has previously been admitted.
Changing the developed world’s economic model from perpetual to sustainable growth is no doubt going to be a major challenge, particularly in the face of a rise in populist political parties putting national self-interest first and also of some leaders, such as US President Donald Trump who despite the evidence still questions the truth of climate change.
Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz makes a distinction between good capitalism, which he calls “wealth creation”, and bad capitalism, which he called “wealth grabbing” (extracting rent).
Some of this thinking may be behind the recent announcement by the UK’s largest money manager, Legal & General Investment Management that warned about “climate catastrophe” and has promised to get tougher on boards where it identifies a high level of executive pay, lack of diversity in senior corporate roles, as well as “insufficient stewardship” of the way the business is acting.
The company voted against the re-election of nearly 4,000 directors in 2018 – an increase of 37%. – and it has published a blacklist of eight companies whose shares they decided to dump.
In October last year, ten companies announced that they were cutting waste by ditching plastic. They included McDonalds, Starbucks, Aldi, Lidl, Pizza Express and Costa. Supermarkets have also been at the forefront of a drive to eliminating throwaway plastic shopping bags, with Morrisons offering both re-usable and paper alternatives and encouraging shoppers to bring their own containers when buying vegetables.
There is already some evidence that becoming a “greener and leaner” company can actually benefit a business’ bottom line.
SMEs have been encouraged to cut their CO2 emissions and offered financial incentives for changing to more environmentally-friendly processes, such as better building insulation and reducing paper use and have seen their overheads reduce as a result. Use of automation and AI has also benefited some.
Are there positive business opportunities for SMEs as a result of cutting waste?
There has been an increase in the number of small businesses, mostly located in High Street shops, specialising in the repair of household products that would once have been discarded and in teaching people how to do the repairs themselves.
Other small businesses have developed classes teaching people how to make or re-purpose their own clothes and are reportedly thriving.
Here are examples of two other SMEs that have developed, and are thriving based on their social, sustainable and environmental awareness.
In Ipswich, a clothes company originally set up in partnership with Indian producers out of a concern for Fair Trade, has recently formed another partnership with African producers to source sustainably-grown cotton which local garment workers then use to make attractive clothes that are imported to UK to be sold online. One of the selling points of the garments produced is that each item comes with a verifiable history of its production.
Another business operating nationwide and based in Essex has created a service for building contractors with contracts to re-purpose or refit existing buildings. It offers site preparation that includes initial site layout, demolition, removal of internal and external fixtures and fittings, and the removal of all waste sorted into recyclable materials that are verified by an independent adjudicator and certified so that both this company and the contractor have evidence of their efforts to be as sustainable and environmentally friendly as possible. It also clears sites at the end of the contract.
With some innovative thinking, there are huge opportunities for SMEs to create completely new, social, sustainable and environmentally friendly products and services.
If you have any examples do please let us know in the comments.