Too many “footprints” for SMBs?

Too many “footprints” for SMBs?

A continuum of metrics to choose from


With time businesses of all sizes start to realize that the management of their environmental and social footprints is a significant contributor to employee engagement and client retention, let alone the purest satisfaction of doing what is right.

Small and Medium size businesses, however, tend to have more challenges in keeping track of the various dimensions associated with what is now commonly called Corporate Social Responsibility metrics. As science and research identify what matters, organizations could become puzzled how to manage an ever-growing continuum of “footprints,” including carbon, plastic, water, paper and many more dimensions.

So as a small or medium-size business (SMB), what footprints should matter and where do you start? Well, the answer is two-fold: First focus on the fundamental metrics, then consider your specifics.

From an environmental point of view, carbon footprints, paper footprints, and water footprints are typically considered core. Carbon footprints are associated with climate change through the greenhouse effect and are well understood to be a primary metric. There is no question that small or medium businesses must see carbon footprint as a primary CSR metrics.  A paper footprint is often seen as core because of its fundamental relation to carbon but also as a way to save endangered species from losing their habitat.  Water footprint, also defined as trying to consume and pollute limited amount of water is core considering the importance of water for life in general.

From a social point of view, the community footprint is critical. Often defined as volunteerism and philanthropy, the community footprint is also straightforward evidence of CSR performance while being relatively simple to manage for an SMB.

But, then how about plastic footprint, air pollution footprint and the many more footprints being discovered as having significant sustainability impacts? This is when the SMBs specifics come in. For SMBs those other footprints are also significant as long as they apply directly. For example, a law firm will unlikely have to focus on plastic issues other than ensuring its primary suppliers (e.g. catering partners) are “green” and that they themselves refuse to consume preventable  (e.g., one-time use) plastic where they can. As none-producers of plastic, tracking their plastic footprint would not be as important as the more likely applicable carbon and paper footprints often seen in law firms. However, plastic producers or heavy consumers would have to consider plastic footprint.

Recently, a popular coffee shop brand, granted not an SMB, realized that handing out plastic straws was a significant burden to society and apparently engaged an effort to reduce their plastic footprint. This is an example of thinking contextually.

In conclusion, SMBs should not become overwhelmed by the number of environmental and social footprints being considered. As long as SMBs address the common core and their specifics they will deliver a very reasonable triple bottom line.


Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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