Removing SMEs Sustainability Barriers with Coro Strandberg

“Everything written in this article is the opinion of Coro Strandberg and do not reflect any other third party input.”

This month, we are discussing sustainability with Coro Strandberg. Coro is an industry pioneer since 1992 when she received her first mandate towards social responsibility. After holding various roles in business and government, in 2004 Coro decided to pursue her own path and founded Strandberg Consulting. Since then, she has been working with multiple industry leaders developing long term strategies benefiting her clients not only financially but also with better business practices.

Coro has seen a staggering evolution trend between business practices today and business practices then. Her main comparison in the last ten years is that people used to ask “why would I go for corporate social responsibility?” which has evolved to “why wouldn’t I?”.

Strandberg focuses her work with businesses that seek to be leaders in their industries. Most of her clients are in the retail or service sector and not yet manufacturing enterprises. According to Coro, most companies already practice Corporate Social Responsibility within their business but they are simply not strategic about it; lacking intentional plans, targets, metrics and continuous improvement. She observes that small businesses tend not have strategic plans, but  focus instead on monthly or at most annual results. It is difficult for small businesses to engage in the long term thinking which is important for the development of a CSR strategy.

The low hanging fruits such as reducing waste and carbon footprint is always worthwhile to do but it is not strategic.

On the other hand, an enormous advantage that SMEs have is that they can change their business model and practices very easily and rapidly to pivot when needed.


Corporate Resistance and Barriers

What I have learned from the interview with Coro is that the main barrier from implementing sustainability and / or CSR into business decisions is a lack of awareness of these issues and their effect on business  by both managers and owners over the age of thirty. Few people over that age were exposed to these issues in their professional education.

The second barrier from having a CSR plan is the absence of knowing what it really means. The word sustainability can be viewed from so many different perspectives. Some might say it is strictly environmental, others may point out social aspects of it and so on. However, to create and implement a CSR plan businesses need to be strategic and to be strategic you need to understand exactly what it is all about.

The third challenge is the lack of understanding of what the real business benefits are. Often times sustainability is being thought as a political issue, philanthropy, only for NGOs or governments and/or, strictly issues to do with the external environment and not relevant to the business. If they are not perceived to be business issues, they are discounted and not taken into consideration.

The fourth and last barrier is the limited awareness of how the new global sustainability mega-forces will impact all businesses (including their suppliers and customers) over the medium to long term. Since SMEs are mostly focused on short term matters they cannot see it happening nor coming and subsequently getting ready to face them.

On a side note, Coro also mentioned that there is a possible disconnect between the new workforce (Millennials) and older managers as they do not see business the same way and carry different priorities and lifestyle.


Overcoming those Challenges

For the majority of SMEs and even corporations, before implementing or even considering a CSR plan they need to see others do it first. It seems like there is a reluctance to take the lead. Additionally, decision makers want to know the financial savings they will gain for such program. What they fail to understand is that it is not always quantitative and measurable like buying a new piece of machinery for the factory. Another alternative to overcoming this barrier is to help them understand why their customers care about it. It is not only a matter of financial business decision but also a new way of thinking to attract and retain clients. Lastly, to increase the chance of having SMEs follow through a corporate social responsibility plan, they absolutely need to understand how this is relevant to their business.


What’s for the Future

According to Coro, CSR and sustainability plans will be a common thing within the next 3 to 5 years. Many things led her to believe so. There is a numerous amount of events happening that will change the course of action as we know it; the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, the Paris COP21 meetings which will develop an international climate change agreement, the Quebec – Ontario Cap and Trade program, the unprecedented droughts and water shortages in California, , and the most impactful of all more and more managers will be well educated on the subject that affects us all.

There is also the new Social Enterprises era that we need to take into consideration. These companies are highly innovative not only in their products but also in their social benefit business practices which give them a real competitive advantage over multinationals. As we have seen over the years, this does not stop bigger companies to buy these innovative start-ups, however it engages corporations to innovate facing this growing threat from various social enterprises. “We will see an increasing dynamic but we are unsure on what scale it will happen” says Coro in the interview.

As we also tend to see these days, it becomes harder to retain great talent. Young professionals have the tendency to work for small start-ups having a bigger social impact. Yet, Coro shared an excellent point mentioning that everyone can have an impact career, even in a corporation. When your idea succeeds and gets implemented the impact can be immediate on a tremendous scale. Whereas in a start-up, your impact may be minimal at first glance but as the company grows so does your impact. Chances of succeeding are practically the same but it depends if you like to take the long haul towards a big impact or one move that can reach a much broader audience at once.

Please visit Coro Strandberg personal website at: 

Our guest next month: Salt Spring Coffee.