My journey to creating a sustainable business

Knowledge

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The Time is Now is a key Extinction Rebellion slogan. And whether or not you agree with the protests, there is no denying the validity of this statement. We have to rethink our relationship with the planet and this cannot happen as a line item on a 10-year business strategy; it has to infiltrate every part of an organisation and it has to happen fast.

But as a business owner, where do you start? I hope some of my reflections from the last 12 months help others with their own personal journeys around sustainability.

A personal quest  

My journey to this moment started with a vague understanding of recycling and a lot of self-congratulations around switching to non-plastic earbuds, a locally-produced veg box and milk from the milkman.

I started spending every spare moment seeking out knowledge around the subject and although the facts are alarming and downright scary, I was genuinely enjoying learning about it. It is a topic that frankly I should have been better educated about.

I stumbled across a clip of the writer and environmentalist George Monbiot, which had a profound effect on me. On the Frankie Boyle show, he brutally told me that my efforts merely constituted micro-consumerist bollocks (damn it - I was very much loving being a smug ‘eco-warrior’!). He said that the only two real things you can do as a consumer is to eat a plant-based diet and to stop flying.

Erm...well…that might be a bit of a challenge.

I really like holidays. And I really, really like steak. Are you sure the cotton buds won’t be enough George? Positive?

So with a little help (and persuasion) from Sir David Attenborough, George Monbiot and Mike Berners-Lee, I’ve realised that whilst the things I had been doing were good, they are small fry in comparison to the changes that are needed across every part of society. The best thing I can do is continue hungrily educating myself and making as many changes as I can to my day-to-day life, whilst keeping some semblance of sanity around it. Each week brings something new into our lives from shampoo bars to bamboo toothbrushes to weird, little food shower caps to banish cling film from our lives.

Whilst the changes I make as an individual are important, in my role as a business leader, I know that I am able to influence and create an even bigger impact. So my attention turned towards the company.

A professional quest 

It was difficult to know where to begin and where to focus efforts. And in a small way, I also questioned how much I should be pushing this agenda with the team...will they see this as ‘hippy-nonsense’? Will they feel like the business is stepping beyond its remit by influencing personal behaviour around things like recycling? (Answer: of course not. We recruit thoughtful people, and everyone is fully aware of the catastrophic effects that the human race is having on our planet)

Like my approach to everything in the business, I needed a framework. Otherwise it would be a scattergun approach with limited success. And I didn’t want to let George down by focusing on the micro-consumerist bollocks again!

During the hunt for a framework, I was reminded once again of a fascinating organisation called B Corp, whom I’ve been following for the last few years. The concept is simple but powerful - through certification, they help businesses to become a force for good. It’s about the triple bottom line: placing people and the planet at the same level as profit and to qualify, you need to meet the highest standards across society and environmental performance. Interestingly, as part of the certification, the company amends their legal governance, requiring the board of directors to legally balance profit and purpose.

This is what I had been looking for. Sign me up!

Oh crap, that is a lot of work. Surely we can just install some recycling bins, and switch off the lights more often? Can we be certified for that? No?

OK, here we go again. I realise I’m at the foot of a mountain with this, but I know that there are no other alternatives, whether it’s B Corporation or another framework. This is the fight of our generation and we all need to work together to make fundamental changes to the way we live on this planet.

Back to the certification, we have to go through a hefty questionnaire self-auditing against a series of topics (governance, workers, environment, customers and community). You need 80 out of 200 to qualify, and once you are around that number, the assessor comes in to ensure you meet the criteria. We’re currently just shy of 80 so more work to do but this has now become a key priority for us as a business, so by February 2020, we will become B Corp Certified.

(Now it’s written down and shared, I have no choice.)

This requires a fundamental shift in the way an organisation operates, so this isn’t something to be delegated to a junior person. Even though I have a brilliant team of people around me to help deliver on this mission, I believe this has to be driven from the top.

Over the course of the next few months, I’ll be sharing our journey to becoming a B Corp business. I hope people will be able to learn from some of my experiences and maybe it will inspire other businesses on their own sustainability journeys too.

Where does your organisation sit on this topic? Even if you’re not the one in the driver's seat, how can you help make a difference in your company? If you are in the driving seat, the time for change is most definitely now. Businesses have a significant role to play in the seismic shift that is required to protect the planet for future generations.

(If George Monbiot ever reads this: I’m now almost exclusively veggie, with the odd fish dinner when I’m out. And I’m far more conscious of how I travel; I walk everywhere, but I’m not quite yet ready to give up flying indefinitely yet. But solar panels and heat pumps are imminent!)