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Why energy efficiency counts in winning contracts

Many small businesses owners find pitching to prospective clients a daunting prospect. When trying to win contracts with large companies or public bodies, some even question whether they can deliver the same impact as bigger businesses.

Having deep pockets isn’t the secret to success, but gaining trust is. And one way to build it is by improving your sustainability credentials.

A survey by Lloyds TSB Commercial found that 87% of SMEs questioned thought that implementing sustainable practices would have clear benefits, with 42% saying that it would have a positive impact on the environment. Furthermore, 32% believed that ignoring sustainability would lead to them being excluded from tender processes.

It’s essential to be aware of what sustainability can do for you, so you can advertise it and make it part of the key offering to prospective clients that are becoming increasingly demanding.

Over the last five to ten years, there has been a shift towards greener procurement. Corporations like Walmart and Procter & Gamble use scorecards to assess suppliers on metrics such as energy use and carbon emissions. Small firms like Betbubbles are also finding themselves subject to audits from the companies they’re supplying goods and services to.

“Any big business is in a position of responsibility when it comes to promoting a sustainable supply chain. It’s their prerogative to pick suppliers on the basis of certain indicators, like energy efficiency, that will drive the whole industry to improve standards,” says Bethan Vincent, CEO of Bright Ethics, a York-based company providing independent ethical accreditation to SMEs.

Accreditation can act as a benchmark for environmental good health and a certificate hanging on a wall can demonstrate to procurement managers that a business aims to be environmentally responsible. However, once certified, reducing energy, for instance, shouldn’t be something that is forgotten about until the next audit comes around; all websites and company materials should outline and document any commitments.

“Making sure you’re talking about it is key. Be loud and proud about any forward-thinking policies you might have, as it’ll help build your reputation,” says Nick Conway, a director at ITC Concepts, a contractor specialising in refurbishments and whose past clients include a mix of private companies, such as John Lewis Partnership, universities and public bodies, such as the Department for Transport.

ITC holds several accreditations and Carbon Smart certification, which are always referred to in tender documents to demonstrate its promise to deliver high quality, sustainable construction.

“Effectively communicating what you do in this space is essential. Simple steps, such as producing an annual sustainability report or creating a company-wide policy that outlines tangible targets to reducing energy, can be really effective,” Conway adds.

In an area like sustainability, there can be a lot of greenwashing and public scepticism about intentions. “People often say the right thing, but deliver little in practice,” says Conway, so firms must be able to turn words into actions. Sustainability should be embraced from top to bottom and ingrained in the company culture.

This is an approach that Nicoll Curtin, a fintech recruitment agency, has taken, according to its strategy director Cerian Williams.

“We’ve implemented a number of steps, such as installing smart lighting systems, and using environmentally safe and sustainable energy sources. Sustainable waste management is also important to us – we recycle and use recycled materials wherever possible,” she says.

“We also use public transport whenever we can, to reduce fuel consumption and lower emissions. And our employees don’t use their cars for business meetings and pool cars don’t form part of our benefits package.”

Vincent agrees that it’s important that a business’ operations live and breathe sustainability. Before setting up her current company, Vincent ran a coffee business, supplying high-grade beans to local retailers. She ensured that the companies she was both supplying to and sourcing from shared her green ethics and values.

Conway says that small actions can have an impact as well. Whenever someone new joins the ITC team, they’re given a tree to plant. This isn’t something that is visible to stakeholders like solar panels on the office roof would be, but it does create awareness among employees, and “plants the seed” of the business’ commitment to energy efficiency and reducing carbon footprint from the day they join.

The idea is that when a prospective client hears about the initiative, they’ll see a team that cares about the environment in which they operate and feel comfortable dealing with the company because doing so will also reflect well on them.

Enhancing public image can help a prospective client stave off criticism and make it more attractive to investors, keep its stakeholders happy, and even increase profits, but it’s not everything. Many large firms and corporations believe they have a role to play in making a contribution to the wider community.

Williams says that while energy efficiency is something that Nicoll Curtin’s top tier investment banking clients look for in particular when deciding whether to hire its services – along with the standard ISO 14001 accreditation for effective environmental management – so is a commitment to diversity and inclusion. The company runs #CodingAllowed, a scheme targeted at STEM graduates who might be interested in a career in tech.

“Our partners recognise that social progress and economic gain are not mutually exclusive ideas or opposing forces – they are entirely synergetic. That’s why they will gravitate towards ethical suppliers [that cover all bases],” she says.

So, as appealing as an onsite mini wind turbine or rainwater harvesting system might be to a prospective client, a rounded approach to sustainability will give you a better chance of winning the contract.

“Any small firm that just focuses on one sustainable area, ignoring others, is not truly sustainable,” says Vincent in agreement. “A truly sustainable company has considered the environmental, social and economic impact across its entire organisation.”

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