To be successful in the future, you have to move with the times. For Chamber members and Future Shift founders, Will Powell and Oscar Gue, the culture of adaptation fostered by Covid-19 will serve businesses well as they face up to another great crisis facing humanity – climate change. Here, Will and Oscar talk about why putting sustainability at the heart of your business is the best way to prepare for the future.
Doing business in the middle of a crisis is undoubtedly difficult, but one of the benefits is that it forces you to adapt, innovate and evolve.
If you can make it through the turmoil, you are likely to come out with a stronger, more resilient company.
Such has been the case for many businesses across the South West during the coronavirus pandemic.
From the manufacturers that switched to producing medical supplies to the retailers that pivoted into ecommerce, there is now a real culture of adaptation in the business community.
There’s also a collective commitment to doing things in a more sustainable way, as companies begin to realise just how exposed they are to external events.
COVID-19 delivered a profound and unprecedented economic shock in 2020, but climate change could trigger disruption on such a scale that it would make the events of the last two years seem trivial.
As such, increasing numbers of organisations are actively looking at what they might have to do to become sustainable and are building their future strategies accordingly.
Spotting an opportunity to empower businesses to reach the highest standards of sustainability, Will Powell and Oscar Gue set up Future Shift in 2020 at the height of the pandemic.
“We’re COVID-19 natives,” says Will.
Oscar adds: “We started Future Shift to embed our science-based understanding of the three pillars of sustainability – environmental, social and economic – into a corporate setting.”
A sustainable business strategy
It’s often easy to think of sustainability just in terms of environmentalism. And while this is clearly central to it, there are also other aspects you need to consider if you’re in business.
For example, the social pillar relates to the support a company needs to garner from its employees and local community before it can be considered sustainable.
The economic pillar is associated with a company’s longevity in terms of profitability, governance, compliance and any other material considerations that might affect its long-term viability.
When it comes to incorporating sustainability into your business strategy, you should therefore take a holistic approach and look at your team, your balance sheet and your boardroom as the first ports of call.
• Remember, the three pillars of sustainability are environmental, social and economic. For more information on how Future Shift can help your business make the transition to sustainability and get B Corporation certified, visit www.future-shift.co.uk/
The business case for sustainability
In addition to the total disruption excess planetary warming could cause, the business case for sustainability is multifaceted.
Firstly, there is the growing tendency of consumers to elevate brands that are sustainable and favour their products and services.
Will says: “Sustainability is now the mainstream.
“Every consumer is being more careful with their money and spending with businesses that align with their moral values.”
The second point is about talent attraction and retention.
Sustainable companies are increasingly having better access to the labour market as workers search for more purpose-led employers.
Oscar adds: “It could really hurt laggard companies because they’re not going to get their fair share of the talent pool – 50 per cent of millennials are willing to quit their job for a greener role.”
It is also the case that, as more public and private sector organisations declare climate emergencies and make net-zero pledges, they are going to be asking the businesses they work with to do the same.
Failure to act now could mean getting frozen out of procurement and tender opportunities in the future.
• Measuring your current impact in terms of carbon emissions, waste and pollution is the best place to start as that will inform the actions you take
The environmental pillar and how to get there
Of course, the critical part of sustainability is the environmental pillar.
This relates to the environmental impact your business makes in terms of carbon dioxide emissions, habitat destruction, waste and pollution and the actions you are taking to reduce that impact.
Environmental sustainability is what is needed at the global scale if humanity is to avoid the worst effects of climate change.
For Will and Oscar, the first step towards achieving it is measuring your current impact.
“You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” says Will.
“So, it all starts with baselining and measuring because that will dictate what actions you take.”
The next step is setting targets that are within your means to achieve.
Depending on what is material to your business, this could be switching to a renewable energy supplier, separating out your waste into recyclables or switching to cloud computing.
After you’ve done that, the other big factor is engagement, both within and beyond your business.
Oscar adds: “Look at your favourite companies and see what they’re doing about sustainability – you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
“You should also give your people the space to talk about sustainability and expand their job roles, so they are thinking about it in every action they make.”
Avoiding the greenwash
If there’s one thing to avoid, it’s greenwashing. This is where a company misleadingly presents itself or its products and services as being sustainable when in fact they are not.
There are numerous examples, but it usually involves taking superficial steps towards environmentalism while at the same time glossing over the parts of your business that are having a real negative impact.
Unfortunately, due to the growing demand for sustainability and the sophistication of modern marketing strategies, greenwashing is all too commonplace today.
Oscar says: “Because it’s a norm to market any product as a green product, it’s getting very difficult to spot a green company from a greenwash company.”
Will adds: “That’s why things like B Corporation accreditation are so important because they remove the opportunity to greenwash.”
•Ensure your messaging is clear and accurate and avoids ‘greenwashing’ customers by making claims that are incorrect or superficial. In a world, where organisations’ green credentials are scrutinised more than ever, remaining true to your values is key
Becoming a B Corporation
Certified B Corporations are businesses that balance purpose and profit, meeting the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability.
Will and Oscar guide their clients through the B Corporation certification process and believe it is the gold standard for any organisation looking to do business better and achieve a level of sustainability.
Will says: “B Corporation is about wider holistic sustainability.
“It gives more of a level playing field so that a company’s credentials aren’t based on the size of their marketing budget, but on how well they’re reporting and how far on the road to net-zero they are.”
Did you know Business West recently became a BCorp along with a number of our Chamber member businesses? Find out more about why they decided to become a BCorp
• Becoming a certified B Corporation is the gold standard for a holistic approach to sustainability. For more information, visit https://bcorporation.net/
Aligning to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
One final piece of advice for any business looking to chart a course to success in the post-COVID-19 world is to consider aligning themselves to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
From climate action and clean and affordable energy to responsible consumption and production and good health and wellbeing, the SDGs cover all aspects of sustainability and will point your business in the right direction.
Oscar adds: “The 17 SDGs are human-based goals that all businesses should be striving towards.”
• Explore the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in detail to provide a solid base for future operations. Read more at https://sdgs.un.org/goals
Join the community
Future Shift are active members of the Business West Chambers of Commerce. Will Powell said,
The Chamber has helped us to make connections and win new business through the Chamber networking events. We also spoke at the COP26 event that Business West organised.
Membership has boosted our profile and awareness with Business West Chamber sharing our content to their huge audience of 24,000 businesses. We have also been invited to speak at a number of key events sharing our expertise and story across the region.
Set up a Zoom call with the memberhip team to hear how we can support your business' environment, social and economic goals.
Find out how you can get involved in a strong Chamber community at https://www.businesswest.co.uk/join-our-chamber-community