The Banksia Sustainability Awards is a prestigious awards program that recognises the best sustainable organisations and initiatives in Australia. Across eight categories, businesses, government, charities, not for profits, research institutions and others demonstrate how they are contributing to a better world through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
In this year's awards, held 24 March, the largest number of applications received was for the small business category, demonstrating the drive of entrepreneurs in addressing sustainability challenges and providing innovative solutions.
These awards provide a fantastic case study of both the variety of sustainable small businesses and also what they have in common.
What kinds of sustainable small businesses and initiatives were featured in this year's awards?
Yume Food is a B2B online marketplace for surplus food, connecting quality food that would otherwise go to waste due to cancelled orders, missed deliveries, etc. with commercial buyers. It has diverted over 2,300 tonnes of food from going to waste, saving 158.7 million litres of water and preventing 4,600 tonnes of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere.
eWater Systems is a hygiene solution that replaces cleaning chemicals with electrolysed water. It is an on-site, on-demand system, so rather than purchasing chemicals and all the packaging that comes with them, you purchase a machine, fill it with water and high grade salt, and pump out either cleaning agent, commercial-grade disinfectant or sanitiser. It has even been certified by the TGA to kill coronavirus.
Green Eco Technologies provides food waste recycling using an on-site enclosed system that uses charged oxygen molecules to accelerate decomposition (within 10-24 hours) and reduce the waste weight and volume by 80% into a dry, compost-like, pathogen-free residual material. The technology does not require any additives such as bacteria or wood chips, does not emit any greenhouse gases, and the residue retains more nutrient value than with compost. The residue can either be collected by Green Eco Tec or used for power generation through anaerobic digestion.
Piping Hot is a surfwear and surf equipment brand that is dedicated to ocean health. By July 2021, every Piping Hot product will be made with sustainably sourced and verified materials, including recycled polyester, cotton, rubber and EVA polymer and certified Better Cotton Initiative cotton. To date it has diverted 11.2 million plastic bottles from landfill into its swimwear, footwear and other garments. Piping Hot also considers durability and recyclability in design, avoiding hard-to-recycle blended materials, trims and accessories, reduces water use in dye processes, and has achieved 100% transparency of its Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers.
Pump Free Energy provides a unique kitchen grease trap technology and collection service. It treats liquid kitchen waste to remove Suspended Solids (SS) (up to 75%) and Fats, Oils and Greases (FOG) (up to 65%), reducing pollution that goes into the sewer and waterways and redirecting that material to produce renewable energy in the form of biofuels. The technology also produces 75% less residue than other waste traps, meaning their collection service is also more fuel efficient and reduces time spent on the customer site.
Reef Ecologic is a marine consultancy that provides research, strategic advice and training to understand and address the issues facing coral reefs. Based in Townsville, it partners with universities, citizen science organisations, government bodies, tourism organisations and charities to support reef restoration and recovery, with a focus on getting people involved in its projects to drive community empowerment and behaviour change. It also has achieved carbon neutrality for its workplace and projects.
Unsurpassed Australian Grown (UAG) Bio Nutrients creates organic fertiliser made from organic waste. The composter and gas generator takes any organic waste, produces clean energy and CO2, and then processes the digestate by-product into organic fertiliser that is used in protected cropping (e.g. greenhouses). This is able to generate valuable products and revenue at three stages: clean energy and CO2, organic fertiliser and fresh produce. They also support Gotcha4Life, a charity focused on mental health of men and boys.
What do these businesses have in common, and what can others learn from them?
Listening to the finalists' Q&A during the Banksia Insights session, a few key themes emerged.
Seeing sustainability as an opportunity, not a burden
These businesses have clearly seen that a demand exists for more environmentally friendly products and brands. They cater to a growing segment of organisational buyers that are looking to purchase products that help achieve their own environmental commitments and consumers looking to buy products that align with their personal values. Many of them have also innovated new approaches that not only have a better environmental outcome but also make more sense financially using more efficient and lower cost methods.
Focus on one or two key impacts
These small businesses are not trying to do everything. They’ve each identified one or two key impacts of their business or industry and focused on how they could have the most influence in reducing that impact through the design of their product or solution, through the suppliers they work with or through the operation of their business model. At Small Mighty CSR, we call this your sustainability superpower.
Sustainability is embedded at the core of the business
In all of the finalists, sustainability is not a side initiative or a 'nice to have'. Some evolved that way and some were set up that way from the start, but they all go well beyond switching off the lights, introducing recycling bins and giving money to charity once a year. They are driving deep change by putting sustainability at the core of the business and the service or product they provide.
Partnering for growth and greater impact
In the pre-ceremony Q&A, the finalists spoke about how the partnerships they've developed with government, larger businesses and suppliers have been critical in their growth and success. They noted this is something that takes time, especially with an innovative new solution that can take a while for the market to understand and adapt to. Trust therefore needs to be built with patience, building relationships with small projects growing into larger and larger ones. As Katy Barfield of winner Yume Foods told Planet Ark in a recent interview, "Choose your partners carefully — make sure you've definitely got that values alignment and that you're both on the same page — then these collaborations can be really successful."
Multi-award winners and certifications
Many of the finalists had won numerous previous awards for business and sustainability, including the Victorian Premier's Sustainability Awards and Telstra Business Awards, showing that applying to the prestigious Banksia Awards was not their first rodeo! Nearly all also had achieved third party certifications such as B Corp and Good Environmental Choice Australia (GECA), as well as using certified inputs such as OEKO-TEX and Global Recycling Standard (GRS). This demonstrates the importance of certification and award recognition to build credibility and trust in a new solution or business, but also the importance of celebrating your achievements and recognising hard work by the team to achieve sustainable outcomes.
Putting it in practice
So there you go, some valuable lessons from leaders in small business sustainability. First, recognise the opportunity in sustainability to tap into market demand and thrive. Second, focus on your key impact and unique ability to influence it. Next, embed sustainability at the core of your business model to make a meaningful contribution. Then, find partners that buy into your vision and align with your sustainability goals who can help scale your impact. And finally, build credibility of your solution and business while sharing your success by working toward certifications and applying for awards.
What can you do by applying those strategies in your business? I look forward to seeing your success in next year's Banksia Awards!