Sustainability presents growth opportunities for small and midsize businesses

Sustainability. It’s viewed as an imperative and an opportunity for large businesses that have to meet new regulatory requirements and customer expectations. But sustainability is integral for small and mid-sized businesses, too. Why?

Sustainability-driven market opportunities are emerging everywhere, from business-to-business to consumer products and services. Both businesses and consumers are placing more emphasis on dealing with companies that value sustainability and have reduced environmental footprints — and sustainability helps attract and retain talent. But how do smaller businesses get smart about sustainability? Several Cleveland-area companies provide useful examples.

Take, for example, the EV market space. LAND Energy has become one of the most innovative electric vehicle companies in the country, producing its signature eMoto bike, the District. The company saw a need in the market — for mobility and transportation — and stepped in with a sustainable solution.

Similarly, Alternalite Electric is an example of a traditional manufacturing company that evaluated the marketplace, pivoted and found growth potential. At first, Alternalite pursued a broad range of electrical projects, but found it challenging to stand out in the market.

Working with our organization convinced them to focus on one area: EV infrastructure. This led them to partner with another business, SAF Inc., to develop EV charging stations. This summer, the two companies were awarded a $3.5 million contract from a local transportation agency to install charging stations in the region. By filling a market need, they solved a business challenge and opened new doors.

Octet Scientific is an example of a business that found growth — and funding — by working to create a sustainable solution to a supply chain challenge. The chemical manufacturer was awarded $1 million from the National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research program to conduct work on making safer and more sustainable grid-scale battery storage.

Sustainability market opportunities are also present across the consumer sector. Great Lakes Brewing Co. has been committed to sustainability since before it became a buzzword. Its recipe for success includes repurposing vegetable oil to create bio-diesel fuel for delivery trucks and local farming.

The founders of composting cooperative Rust Belt Riders also saw an opportunity for sustainability — and business potential — in the food industry.

“Approximately $218 billion yearly is spent on the growing, processing and handling of food that never gets eaten. We want to make sure that we are providing a community benefit, and at the same time, affecting our economic system in a better way,” says Residential Services Director Zoe Apisdorf.

Founded in 2014, Rust Belt Riders now has more than 30 employees. Its residential and business client bases continue to grow, spurred in part by a large increase in school systems and municipalities driven by federal incentives.

Funding and partnership opportunities exist for businesses of all sizes in the sustainability space, and opportunities for R&D money are becoming even more plentiful. But how do small to mid-sized businesses find such opportunities? Chambers of commerce, consultants and business accountants are all good places to start regarding available resources, funding sources and tax credits. Greater Cleveland Partnership, for example, has launched a new sustainability video series.

By investing in sustainability, small and mid-sized businesses can position themselves for new opportunities and long-term growth. ●

Baiju R. Shah is President & CEO of Greater Cleveland Partnership

Baiju R. Shah

President and CEO


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