Why sustainability is good for business (and how to get started)
What can UK businesses do to make sustainability a part of their business plans? O2’s Will Kirkpatrick, Head of Sustainability and Social Impact, asked Nick Torday, Co-Founder of sustainable lifestyle company Bower Collective.
Today’s customers are searching for brands they can believe in. In many cases, that’s finding brands that share their values – particularly environmental commitments. So, whether you’re a small business with less than 10 employees or a larger business with multiple offices, it’s important to consider sustainability in your business strategy.
Here at O2, we’re making some big environmental commitments. We’ve also been talking to our customers and partners about sustainability through a series of roundtable meetings, research and 1-2-1 discussions. These conversations have demonstrated that taking care of the planet isn’t just good for the environment. It can also attract investors or employees and even cut your costs.
Bower Collective is a small but rapidly growing sustainable consumer goods business based in the UK. I spoke to founder, Nick Torday, to get his view on building up a sustainable business.
1. Be open and transparent
“One of the best things that you can do is to be transparent with your customers. Acknowledge where you can improve and what you’ll do about it,” Nick says. A 2018 report from Label Insight found that ‘radical transparency’ – which includes highlighting sustainability actions and vulnerabilities – is essential to brand loyalty. In fact, brands that operate this way see increased brand trust and awareness, and their customers are more willing to pay higher prices.
“Acknowledging tricky consumer questions and responding to them with transparency is essential for sustainable businesses,” Nick says. This and highlighting how far you’ve come are some of the first things you can do on your journey towards sustainability.
2. Prove yourself
Bower Collective is recognised as a sustainable business. It is also currently applying for B-Corp certification. While this approach might not be right for all businesses, finding an accreditation to work towards will show people your intentions. And even if you’re not working towards a specific recognised framework, you can still assess your own strategy to identify sustainability risks or opportunities. Whether that’s comparing it to recent legislation or industry good practice. This will also help with prioritising issues that need to be resolved first.
Nick recognises this will be easier for some businesses than others. But it’s worth doing the work to make a difference. “We exist in a very lean mindset. And, in some ways it’s easier for us as we have a smaller team. From technology to packaging, we have a full overview of what’s working and what needs change,” he says. Exploring the ways you and your suppliers impact the planet is one way to create long-term, valuable change.
3. Turn small steps into big impact
By putting effort into research and innovation, you can find new ways to approach sustainability challenges. “Innovation is a real focus for Bower. For example, we know that waste has a demonstrable impact and it doesn’t always get recycled. So we created a really simple digital tool to measure this and then we created a closed-loop system to tackle the issues we found,” Nick says.
Focusing on sustainability often reminds us to question what we already know about business. It asks us to think differently when there are new constraints on what can be delivered. But innovation doesn’t always have to mean huge changes or costs. It can be as simple as finding a simple change to what you’re already doing. Nick explains that research is key to ensuring that these changes are right for your business: “We were delighted to be awarded funding by Innovate UK, the UK’s Innovation agency, as part of their ‘Designing Sustainable Plastic Solutions’ fund. This is an opportunity for any small business to gain funding to focus on sustainable solutions for their businesses”.
4. Find good partners
If we’re going to tackle climate change, businesses need to work together to create a sustainable future, Nick says. Just as Bower Collective learns from its competitors, it also values its partners. In Nick’s view, cooperation is key to building a sustainable future. With shared values (and sometimes shared costs), partnerships can deliver short and long-term solutions much faster than working alone.
It’s never easy to make a big public commitment to something like sustainability. We should know. We’re on our own journey to achieve net zero in our own operations by 2025. This has taken commitment over time; looking at our environmental impacts and creating improvements, like being the only network and one of eight companies worldwide to receive the highest certification for carbon reduction in our supply chain from the Carbon Trust.
To learn more about O2’s journey to net zero and for tips on how you can reduce your CO2, visit our O2 vs CO2 page.