Driving Small Business Sustainability: Practical Approaches for Irish Businesses

Driving Small Business Sustainability Practical Approaches for Irish Businesses
By Shannon Power, 22nd April 2024

In today’s ever-evolving business landscape, sustainability isn’t just a buzzword—it’s a fundamental aspect of success. For small businesses in Ireland, integrating sustainable business practices isn’t just about reducing environmental impact; it’s about driving growth, fostering resilience, and meeting the evolving expectations of customers and stakeholders alike.

Implementing sustainable business practices can help your company contribute to Ireland’s goal of reducing carbon emissions by 51% by 2030 and achieving a climate-neutral economy by 2050. This blog will examine practical approaches that small businesses can adopt to embrace sustainability and remain competitive in an ever-evolving business environment.

Understanding Small Business Sustainability

Sustainability in business refers to the integration of social, environmental, and economic considerations into everyday operations. It’s about creating value not only for shareholders but also for society at large. For small businesses in Ireland, adopting sustainable practices can lead to numerous benefits, including cost savings, enhanced brand reputation, and access to new markets.

Key Areas for Sustainable Business Practices

  1. Resource Efficiency: Small businesses can significantly reduce their environmental footprint by improving resource efficiency. This includes measures such as reducing energy and water consumption, minimising waste generation, and optimising supply chain processes.
  2. Green Procurement: Choosing sustainable suppliers and products can have a ripple effect throughout the supply chain. Small businesses can prioritise sourcing from suppliers with strong environmental and ethical credentials, thus supporting sustainable practices across their operations.
  3. Community Engagement: Building strong ties with the local community is essential for small business sustainability. Supporting local charities, participating in community events, and engaging with customers to understand their values and priorities are some ways to achieve this.
  4. Employee Well-being: Happy and healthy employees are essential for business success. Irish small businesses can promote employee well-being by offering flexible working arrangements, providing opportunities for professional development, and fostering a healthy work culture. Encouraging a sustainable work commute such as a Bike to Work initiative, promotes a healthy lifestyle and reduces air pollution.

Implementing Sustainable Practices

  1. Set Clear Goals: Start by defining specific sustainability goals that align with your business values and objectives. Clear goals provide a roadmap for action, whether it’s reducing carbon emissions, increasing recycling rates, or supporting community initiatives.
  2. Measure and Monitor: Establish metrics to track progress towards your sustainability goals. Regularly monitor key performance indicators (KPIs) to identify areas for improvement and celebrate successes along the way.
  3. Engage Stakeholders: Sustainability is a collective effort that involves employees, customers, suppliers, and the broader community. Engage stakeholders in discussions about sustainability initiatives, solicit feedback, and collaborate on solutions.
  4. Embrace Innovation: Sustainable business practices often go hand in hand with innovation. Explore new technologies, processes, and business models that can help your small business operate more sustainably while staying competitive in the market.

The Business Case for Sustainability

Investing in sustainability isn’t just the right thing to do—it’s also good for business. Studies have shown that companies committed to sustainable practices outperform their peers financially and are better equipped to weather market disruptions. By prioritising small business sustainability, Irish companies can future-proof their operations and create long-term value for stakeholders.

Available Sustainable Business Supports

Irish companies interested in sustainable business initiatives have several options when it comes to grants, funds, and schemes. Here are some avenues they can explore:

Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) Grants:

SEAI offers various grants and supports for businesses looking to improve energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions. These grants cover areas such as lighting upgrades, heating system improvements, and renewable energy installations.

The Green Transition Fund:

This fund, provided by Enterprise Ireland, aims to support companies on their journey towards decarbonisation. It offers assistance at every stage of the process, from initial planning and capability building to investment, research, and innovation. The goal is to help companies prepare for a future that is both low-carbon and more resource-efficient.

The Fund includes programmes such as:

  • Climate Action Voucher: Eligible companies can access up to 2 days of independent technical or advisory services support related to their current and future operations. The maximum funding available is €1,800.
  • GreenStart: Businesses can receive a maximum grant of €5,000 to improve their environmental performance through resource efficiency, cost reduction, and sustainability initiatives.
  • GreenPlus: Medium-scale training projects facilitated by external environmental experts to enhance environmental management capabilities and achieve sustainability goals.
  • Strategic Consultancy Assignment: Grants for hiring strategic consultants to support new strategic initiatives for business growth.

European Union Funding:

Irish businesses can access funding opportunities through various EU programs aimed at promoting sustainability, innovation, and economic development. These include Horizon Europe and the LIFE Programme.

  • Horizon Europe – This is a €95.5 billion research and innovation funding programme in the European Union. It aims to enhance collaboration, impact and address global challenges while supporting EU policies.
  • LIFE Programme – This is the only EU funding programme entirely dedicated to environmental, climate and energy objectives. To date, LIFE has co-financed more than 5,000 projects.

Climate Action Fund (CAF):

This fund, managed by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, was established on a statutory basis in 2020 to provide assistance and financial support to projects that will help Ireland reach its climate action goals. The fund supports various initiatives such as renewable energy infrastructure and sustainable transport projects. The CAF will provide at least €500 million in government funding up to 2027 towards this aim.

Research and Innovation Grants:

Irish companies engaged in research and innovation activities can explore various funding opportunities offered by agencies such as Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and the Irish Research Council (IRC), which may support projects related to sustainable technologies and practices.

It’s essential for businesses to carefully review the eligibility criteria and application requirements for each funding opportunity and tailor their proposals to demonstrate how their projects align with the objectives of the grant or fund. Additionally, seeking guidance from business support organisations, such as Sustainable Nation Ireland or the Irish Green Building Council, can help companies navigate the funding landscape and develop strong applications.

Sustainability isn’t a luxury reserved for large corporations—it’s a necessity for businesses of all sizes, including small enterprises in Ireland. By adopting practical approaches to sustainability, such as resource efficiency, green procurement, community engagement, and employee well-being, small businesses can drive growth, enhance resilience, and make a positive impact on the world around them.

For more insights on small business sustainability and sustainable business practices, contact the Company Bureau team at +353(0)1 6461625 or fill out our online contact form.

Disclaimer This article is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal or professional advice. No liability is accepted by Company Bureau for any action taken or not taken in reliance on the information set out in this article. Professional or legal advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from any action as a result of this article. Any and all information is subject to change.