Co-creating a sustainability toolkit for micro and small businesses

Ellen Martin
Ellen Martin Co-Founder and Managing Director SoJo

Over the past 4 months, social entrepreneurship consultancy SoJo worked closely with YBI’s Social and Green Entrepreneurship Lead and a working group of five YBI members – Hatch Enterprise (UK), Fetola (South Africa), Positive Planet (France), KIZ (Germany) and Youth Business Spain – to co-create a practical toolkit to support young and underserved entrepreneurs in integrating sustainable practices into their businesses as part of YBI’s programme supported by JPMorgan Chase.

In this blog, SoJo Co-Founder and Managing Director Ellen Martin reflects on the toolkit development process and the significance of supporting underserved small business owners on their sustainability journey.

Embracing sustainability is becoming increasingly critical for businesses across all industries. There is mounting pressure from governments, regulators and consumers on businesses to become more sustainable and environmentally conscious in their operations – and studies suggest that sustainable business practices are not only good for people and the planet but also create long-term value for businesses. However, while there are many tools and frameworks available that support medium-to-large sized business and multinational corporations to advance their sustainability agendas, there are few resources that help micro and small businesses to incorporate sustainability from the very beginning of their business journey. The YBI working group has set out to fill this gap by co-creating a toolkit that is actionable, practical and accessible and meets young and underserved entrepreneurs ‘where they are’ on their sustainability journey. It is designed to help them identify how integrating sustainable practices in their business will not only help their community and the planet, but also create value for their business. The toolkit includes tools designed to help the entrepreneurs tackle environmental concerns such as waste management, energy, and emissions.

The first step in co-creating the toolkit was to uncover the challenges that young and underserved entrepreneurs face when trying to integrate sustainable practices into their business. Some of the challenges the group surfaced include;

  • Lack of access to knowledge, networks and resources to pursue sustainability strategies;
  • The cost and time associated with integrating sustainable practices into a business and;
  • Effectively measuring, tracking and communicating sustainability progress in a way that engages stakeholders.

Next, the group completed a scan of existing resources to identify the most important gaps for the toolkit to address. Finally, the group designed a structure for the toolkit and identified the tools to be developed.

Taking a co-creation approach has generated many benefits, such as bringing together the diverse perspectives of the working group members. The members work in different geographies and contexts and with different types of underserved entrepreneurs. This diversity has enabled the group to highlight key differences in the needs of necessity-driven entrepreneurs versus opportunity-driven entrepreneurs or those who are operating businesses in contexts that are supportive of sustainability versus those operating in contexts where there are negative perceptions or apathy toward sustainability. The group hopes that the toolkit can support even those entrepreneurs who may face additional barriers to designing a sustainable business because they have the potential to become sustainability leaders and champions in their communities.

The working group members have taken up the challenge of developing this toolkit because they all believe it is critical that businesses – no matter their size – are working together toward a more sustainable world. The members themselves are also at different stages of supporting young and underserved entrepreneurs on sustainability issues – some starting this for the first time while others have been delivering this support for many years. This helps us to ensure that the toolkit is useful for ESOs with varying levels of experience in the sustainability space.

The members are now hard at work developing the first set of tools and preparing to pilot them with 20 young and underserved entrepreneurs each. The whole group is eager to test the tools and identify opportunities to refine and improve them.

Find out more about YBI’s sustainability-focussed programme supported by JPMorgan Chase here.

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