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Improving Small Business Competitiveness in APEC through Sustainable Business Practices

May 16, 2011

Kelsey Scheich is the APEC Affairs Coordinator in Market Access and Compliance at the International Trade Administration.

This weekend in Big Sky, Montana, the APEC Small and Medium Enterprise Working Group hosted a seminar on Improving SME Competitiveness through Sustainable Business Practices.  This seminar supports the APEC Strategic Plan of Raising Awareness of Sustainable Business Practices.

This half-day participatory seminar included panel sessions that sought to address and discuss issues relevant to SME sustainability, including views from the SMEs, policymakers, and financial and multilateral development institutions.  The goal of this seminar was to discuss and identify practical actions APEC can take to support material improvement in SME competitiveness through sustainable business practices.  The seminar’s co-organizers were the Wharton School’s Lauder Institute at the University of Pennsylvania, an organization that has extensive experience in research and educational programs in APEC economies, and Banca Civica, a Spanish bank with a unique approach that supports SME sustainability.

During the session, presenters highlighted the results of the APEC Survey of private sector companies, which indicated that pursuing sustainability practices is often driven by customer demand and can lead to increased efficiencies and profitability. A number of challenges were identified  including the need for financial products that support sustainability and the difficulty in pursuading shareholders of the value that sustainability brings to the company.

This session also addressed sustainability from the perspective of small business owners. Pannelists noted that it is a myth that sustainability and profitability are mutually exclusive, but the challenge lies in balancing the two. Many participants indicated that sustainability is often rooted in core personal or family values that compel them to act, lead them to work with like-minded companies, and serve as inspiration to customers, fellow SMEs and even large corporations. As one small business owner in the audience noted, “do good things and other will follow.”