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© 2019 B Lab Australia & New Zealand.

  • Gayertree Subramaniam

Australia’s future challenges: opportunities for SMEs

“Australia is at risk of falling into a slow decline if no action is taken on its most significant economic, social and environmental challenges.” This is the stark warning from the CSIRO’s recently released Australian National Outlook report which draws on leading experts across industry and community sectors, and extensive data analysis. Some Australian SMEs are flipping these challenges into growth opportunities. SMEs that lift with the rise of Asia, adapt to climate change and demographic shifts, take advantage of advanced technologies and maintain trust and social cohesion are set to thrive. 


By 2030, the Asia–Pacific region will be home to 65 percent of the world’s middle class. Consumer-facing SMEs, like Certified B Corporation, Memobottle, are focusing their business growth on value added exports that meet the needs of buyers in Asia. Memobottle Co-Founder Jonathan Byrt explains “We are driving an industry shift within Australia (as well as globally) from single-use to reusable products and practices. The emerging consumer desire for a greener world is creating a huge opportunity for businesses to redefine success through more sustainable practices.”


SMEs will face higher temperatures and more extreme weather events. Businesses along the coast will need to prepare for sea level rises, and those reliant on natural resource inputs will need to deal with ocean acidification and lower ecosystem diversity. The Certified B Corporation Global Leadership Foundation prepares business leaders to deal with these shifts. Co-Founder Gayle Hardie shares their experience: “Taking leaders into environments where many of these challenges appear on a daily basis, for example, the Solomon Islands, brings a realisation that what they consider to be a 'problem' pales into insignificance when they are confronted with the reality these countries face.”


Artificial intelligence, automation and advances in biotechnology are transforming existing industries and changing the skills required for high-quality jobs. Unless Australia can reverse recent declines in educational outcomes, it will be harder for businesses to access the talent needed for the jobs of tomorrow. Certified B Corporation Grow Your Mind’s Co-Founder Kristina Freeman shares her perspective: “Education is the foundation of our future workforce and as we have seen in both academic and professional environments, when there are good mental health practices there are better academic and productive outcomes. Grow Your Mind gives our current and future workers all-important skills that help them to be a healthy, fulfilled part of the Australian economy and society.”


Plummeting levels of trust in institutions and a growing and ageing population that is putting pressure on infrastructure means that many Australians feel left behind. Certified B Corporation Intopia is turning the tide. Managing Director, Stuart Hay explains, “Intopia is helping to create an inclusive digital world. This is increasingly important as more people are being prevented from accessing digital services and systems because of inaccessible and poorly designed websites and applications. As a result one in five people with a disability are potentially being prevented from interacting with online services like banking, shopping and Government.”


Government and big business cannot solve Australia’s future challenges alone. Certified B Corporations are leading the way in showing SMEs where opportunities lie to grow sustainable businesses.


Written by Anna Crabb, Head of Strategy and Partnerships at B Lab Australia & New Zealand.


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This article first appeared in Dynamic Business and Inside Small Business.

NAB's Social Innovation Team has supported B Lab Australia and New Zealand to prepare Better Business for a Better World: a guide for SMEs that want to thrive based on CSIRO's Australian National Outlook. This guide will be launched 31 July 2019 to coincide with the end of B Corp Month. Join us here.