Corporate Sustainability Practices for Small Manufacturing Enterprises


What exactly is corporate sustainability? The definition varies, but it is most commonly used to refer to business strategies and activities that meet the needs of the enterprise and its stakeholders while protecting, sustaining, and enhancing the human and natural resources that will be needed in the future. Vestal Tutterow, an Executive Master of Natural Resources (XMNR) alumnus, wrote a report based on a literature review and personal communications with managers he did as part of his graduate capstone project. It includes observations and recommendations intended to serve as a reference for anyone seeking an overview of corporate sustainability and the challenges and opportunities for embedding sustainability into small and medium-sized manufacturing enterprises (SMEs) in the United States.

Through this review, Tutterow found that the current standards, protocols, and guidance available were generally designed for large organizations, and do not work well with SMEs due to their lack of resources to become proficient in the growing array of criteria, tools, and reporting methods. Furthermore, except for companies facing demands from customers, SMEs report having no internal or external incentives to begin addressing sustainability, and a lack of methods to readily quantify its value.

On the other hand, SMEs that embrace corporate sustainability see a number of benefits. Adopting corporate sustainability practices will often lead to cost savings through energy efficiency improvements, and new business opportunities through innovation. SMEs with sustainable practices in place are also more attractive to potential partners down the supply chain, notably the large multi-nationals and government agencies, who are increasingly expecting to see such practices already in place by potential suppliers and partners.

Research for this report also identified two promising mechanisms for engaging SME manufacturers. The first is through sustainable supply chain initiatives where large companies incentivize their SME suppliers to be more efficient and foster innovation, in some cases offering assistance through training, resources, or mentoring. The second is through engaging “network organizations”, such as sector-specific stakeholder groups. Organizations that already have built-in networking and communications in their sectors can help create resources and best practices for SMEs, along with a streamlined reporting protocol. Such a tailored approach can help minimize the weight SMEs currently feel at the sight of the corporate sustainability mountain.

For more details on current protocols and standards for reporting, best practices, current barriers, incentives, and other pertinent information related to implementing sustainability practices into enterprises, please see Tutterows’ report Embedding Sustainability into Small and Medium-Sized Manufacturing Enterprises.


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