Our next interviewee in the series “Doing business with an impact” is a freshly-graduated inspiring female entrepreneur from DTU, Josefine Strandgaard. Her vision for a better future lies in the Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) where she has developed an assessment tool for the early phase of their SDGs implementation. In SMEs, it is easier and quicker to make changes and implement new ideas thanks to the ‘ability to act’ agile. Her tool could be the asset to every startup in order to create a more sustainable business.
Can you tell me about your business?
Josefine: As part of my master thesis, I have developed a tool to help small companies figure out which SDGs they should focus on based on where they could have the biggest SDG contribution and business opportunity. The tool is developed together with Deloitte and UNDP as part of their program called the SDG Accelerator. SMEs may be tempted to neglect their own impact. However, SMEs actually account for 95% of all companies and 45% of all employees so collectively they have a huge impact. Statistics says it is up to 70 % of the global pollution! However, not many support systems are directly developed for SMEs, instead, large companies are targeted much more often.
This is what drove the conclusion that SMEs needs more guidance and support towards a more sustainable way of doing business. What we want to create is a tool that makes the SDG framework more transparent for small and medium-sized companies. The goal is to support their understanding and open their eyes beyond the headlines for more tangible implementation. The tool is software-based and consists of two steps. First, an impact filter supporting the process of finding SDGs where the company potentially can have the biggest SDG contribution. Secondly, an opportunity assessment that supports the user to understand how the SDGs can create business opportunities.
Do you think that sustainability is important? If yes, why?
Josefine: Sustainability defines our future. More precisely, sustainability is our common future which we strive to build in order to preserve a place for us and future generations. Our planet defines the system we all live in, and do business in. Unfortunately, this is a complex system where the consequences of actions and climate change can be difficult to grasp. To move towards a sustainable future, I believe we must consider everything as an interconnected system. Climate change, hunger, health, politics, business, etc. all affect each other and we should solve them together. This is what I like about the SDGs, they communicate a broad understanding of sustainability not only limited to a single area. Instead, they focus on its complexity and need for action. This is why we need tools and support systems to create a shared understanding and possibility to analyse the system in a common way.
How is your product sustainable?
Josefine: Companies must adjust their operations according to the futures market, access to resource and customers’ needs. But to do so they need support to realise the importance of moving towards sustainable business. The SMEs account for a large part of the global pollution and are necessary to involve in order to achieve the 2030 agenda. However, the 17 SDGs with their 169 targets are a political framework. And that makes it complex for the small companies to implement. This complex framework tempts the companies to choose SDGs according to their main business activities, without assessing their potential. The developed tool helps the SMEs understand this potential and hopefully can be the first step towards implementation.
How is your assessment tool connected to the SDGs?
Josefine: The assessment tool is developed based on the SDGs as a starting point for sustainability implementation. It creates a common ground to capture a broad understanding of sustainability. The tool connects to all SDGs on a target level. Thus, it helps the companies assess sustainability using the SDGs as a framework and understand the interconnected system.
What are your next steps to make your company greener?
Josefine: The next step is to test and develop the assessment tool further. Currently, the tool is on a prototype stage. To ensure that it has the desired impact, it must be tested both with sustainability professionals and SMEs.
Do you have any tips for other companies that want to work with sustainability?
Josefine: Sustainability is a great deal for businesses. Implementing an impact plan is not only beneficial for the environment or society, but it also maximizes their opportunities in the market. It creates a better brand image and long-term benefits and as a designer, I can see the creative potential to find new ideas or markets when taking a starting point in the SDGs.
What I would suggest to them is to get a good start, assess the potential that the SDGs could have on the business and make a long-term strategy. This will give the company a look into the future market and challenges. Also, I would emphasise the importance of involving all your employees and helping them understand the essence of sustainability; it is a great way of creating broad ownership in the organisation.