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How to up your ESG standards as a small business, and why it matters to your big customers…

Opinion by Kevin Vyvyan-Day, Group CEO of Barron

As businesses strive to become more sustainable and socially responsible in their operations, promotional merchandise resellers will need to step up their own environmental, social, and governance (ESG) standards if they want to position as a strategically important supplier in their client’s value chain.    

In a nutshell, ESG is the consideration of material environmental, social and governance risks and opportunities alongside the traditional financial factors in your business, and that of your customers and suppliers too. The Social component covers many important aspects from socially ethical business practices, workforce policies, supplier relationships, and the extent to which the business invests in the local community.

To help you develop your ESG strategy, Barron developed a list of steps below to help you unpack and better understand the context of ESG standards in your small business, and why it matters to your corporate clients. At the end of the day, by aligning your commitment to higher ESG standards as a supplier, you demonstrate the tremendous value you bring to your clients in ensuring that their ESG risks and demands are taken care of when they deal with your business, and that any reputational risk emanating from having your business as a supplier is taken care of.

Step 1: Understand the ESG principles – ESG encompasses a range of practices that promote environmental sustainability, social responsibility, and good governance. In reality, many of these principles are likely in place in your business already, they may just need some renewed focus and direction to align with current best practice.

Step 2: Assess your current practices – Conduct an assessment of your business practices to identify areas where you can improve your ESG performance. This may involve looking at your supply chain for more local production, energy consumption, waste management, and other aspects of your business. Something as simple as splitting all your waste and sending for recycling is an easy start that costs you nothing, barring a little effort.  

Step 3:  Set ESG goals – Once you have identified the areas where you need to improve, set clear and measurable ESG goals. This could include reducing your carbon footprint, implementing a recycling program, or improving employee diversity and inclusion.

Step 4:  Engage with stakeholders – Engage with your stakeholders, including employees, customers, and suppliers, to get their input on ESG issues and how your business can improve its performance in these areas. You may very well find that they have existing programmes that you can also step on board and support – such as providing workplace experience or mentorship for a learner, or backing a charitable drive that they have in place. It’s also bound to be an invaluable relationship builder with your respective business partners.

Step 5:  Implement changes – Take action to implement changes that will help you achieve your ESG goals. This may involve investing in energy-efficient equipment, switching to renewable energy sources, improving your waste management practices, and reviewing your supply chain.

Step 6:  Track progress – monitor your progress and put checks and balances in place to ensure that you are able to improve and strengthen your efforts.  Remember, if it isn’t measured, its near impossible to improve upon.

In the context of the promotional and branded merchandise and workwear industry, Barron offers some practical applications of ESG in reseller businesses: 

  • Eco-friendly materials – To reduce environmental impact, look to eco-friendly materials such as recycled plastics, organic cotton, and bamboo, and remember that packaging matters too. While many argue that ‘green’ items cost more, the damage to reputation of sending out branded merchandise into the market that flies in the face of your customer’s pronounced environmental commitments is far greater. Understand your client’s environmental policy and ensure that you align your recommendations accordingly. 
  • Recycle and reduce your environmental impact – Reduce energy consumption and waste production in your business.  Recycle your paper and plastics and partner with an organisation that will collect these items and recycle them as part of a job creation project. If you have invested in renewable energy sources to overcome loadshedding, why not make a note about this on your website, your marketing materials and even your e-mail signatures. Use a carbon calculator to work out how much you save on carbon emissions with your recycling and solar energy back-up each year.    
  • Ethical Sourcing and Safety – As a reseller, your customers rely on you to propose products that are safe and reliable and that also represent their brands appropriately in terms of ethical sourcing and sustainability. All Barron products carry the relevant certifications, so there’s no risk to to you or your customers in terms of the quality and safety of the products. Barron also fully supports the compliance with and promotion of fundamental principles concerning human rights and working conditions, and we only work with suppliers who meet our high standards set out in our ethical sourcing policy.  Our range carries the following accreditations which are also displayed on our website – Proudly SA, SMETA, Oeko-Tex, SADAC and ISO.
  • Level 1 BBBEE, Skills and Enterprise Development – Barron is a proudly Level 1 BEE company commited to building our country and economy by investing in skills development, supplier development and enterprise development. To this end, our Business in a Box initiative and Yes4Youth programme form part of our strategic plan as a business to create a more equitable society and strengthen the communities in which we operate. For our resellers and business partners, it also means that you get to positively influence your own preferential procurement score when you do business with us.  That’s one more step ahead in aligning your ESG efforts by choosing to work with suppliers who support your ESG efforts.
  • Support social investment initiatives that align with your company values and ethos – Commit your time, expertise and resources – why not involve your staff in mentoring young people into the job market and giving them that much needed workplace experience in their CV to secure employment, or sponsor the sports kit for a children’s welfare organisation, or donate food and groceries to a feeding scheme. There are a plethora of charitable and trusted organisations that need your support and that your small business can make a world of difference to, just by ‘doing good’ and getting involved. Have a plan and make it a consistent team effort in your business operations, and do well, by doing good.

By having a coherent, well considered ESG plan for your small business, the benefits include increased customer loyalty, improved brand reputation, and even access to new markets you may not have been able to reach before.  You may even be surprised by the positive, motivating impact it has on your team and employee morale in your small business.  Take the time to consider the costs and benefits of meeting ESG standards, put a plan in place over the short, medium and long term, so that you can make informed decisions that will help you achieve your goals, and win over those bigger client accounts.