The green agenda, sustainability, CSR, circular economy, are all buzz words we are familiar with. Increasingly, demonstrating businesses care about their people and the planet is defining how they operate, as well as proving to be financially and morally rewarding.
In reaching a turning point in the way we live and work over the last 12 months, there are calls for businesses to #buildbackbetter.
So will there also be an accelerated adoption of responsible business practices, with brands making greater efforts to have a positive impact. Or given the broader challenges faced in the short term, is this a commercial imperative right now?
How the call for responsible business began
The concept of the “triple bottom line” emerged in the 90’s with John Elkington challenging leaders to rethink their approach to capitalism. The hope being to spark greater thinking about the impact of doing business, by measuring the full cost relative to the economic, social and environmental value added. Michael Porter 20 years later, took this further to consider, how by an entire company working together they could achieve both societal and economic value by:
- Creating a diverse and inclusive workplace, with employee wellbeing a priority
- Being financially responsible by setting fair wages, paying suppliers promptly and contributing the right level of taxes.
- Taking environmental responsibility, by limiting the carbon footprint and ethical sourcing of products/materials.
- Making social progress, through collaborating with and contributing to local community projects.
Now 10 years later, it is surprising these principals are not yet the business norm on a grand scale. For me, these principals are a given in how a business should be run, and something I have always strived to achieve in any organisation I have been involved with.
Why 2021 is the year to be a #GoodBusiness
Having spent the last year operating “business as unusual”, there is an opportunity for those with work still to do in becoming a truly responsible business, to make 2021 the year for positive transformation, for no other reason than:
- In November the UK hosts the 26th UN Climate Change conference, highlighting the need to accelerate action towards the 2015 Paris Agreement and UN Sustainability goals.
- Pledges to achieve #NetZero are building pace in relation to the Climate Change Act 2008 and statutory target for a 100% reduction in UK greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The expectation is all companies will contribute to achieving this target and publicly communicating their approach.
- After a year of homeworking and furlough, the return to the office is likely to come with an expectation of a cultural shift in how businesses operate. Fairer pay, diversity, the need to tackle harassment and flexible working should now be a given not just an agenda item.
- Consumers are increasingly conscious of their personal impact, seeking out the CSR credentials of the brands they buy from. They expect brands to be taking action to solve issues such as poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation.
- Embedding responsible business practices, not only builds brand reputation based on trust with consumers, it creates competitive advantage and employee engagement, all critical ingredients for driving long term sustainable business success.
Brilliant brands making a difference
Whatever the size of your business, it is possible to gain recognition and transform your future prospects through making a positive impact and change the behaviours of employees, customers and your wider stakeholders:
FTSE4GOOD – Corporates such as Nestle, Roche and SAP are leading the way, having built positive reputations from their CSR activity and now attract greater investment from being registered on the FTSE4Good Index.
Certified B Corps – The momentum behind brands looking to become Certified B Corps is testament to the positive outcomes of being dedicated to be “best for the world”:
- Pukka Herbs – have structured their value chain based on Fairtrade certification, with “fair for life” purchasing and the use of organic ingredients.
- Patagonia – take action on the most pressing environmental issues facing the world using their voice, business and community to do something about the climate crisis.
- Ben & Jerry’s – actively use their social media channels to promote the issues such as refugee rights, Fairtrade purchasing, LGBTQ equality and climate justice.
- Unilever – have a vision to “make sustainable living commonplace” with Dove one of their core brands, built on a moral purpose of gender equality and self-esteem.
The Federation of Small Businesses – Have partnered with The Good Business Foundation, offering accreditation for responsible business practices. An easy way for customers to recognise and trust in the action being taken by small business.
A compelling case for Start ups and SME’s
There is huge potential to gain competitive advantage, by being recognised for your positive actions. Building a brand reputation based on respect, trust and recommendation is a sound strategy to achieve long term consumer loyalty. Brewdog, have done just that, by focusing their strategy on a mission to save the planet as a carbon negative brewery. In turn this has driven growth via the positive social and responsible reputation they have earned.
Your actions don’t need to be all-encompassing from the outset, I recommend starting simple. Set out a clear purpose your customers and employees can buy into and start working towards these goals. By creating the foundations for the business to deliver positive outcomes, will give a solid base from which your positive impact can grow over time.
Here are some fantastic examples of businesses in Sussex, who are creating meaningful change through good business practices:
- Digital Marketing Agency Creative Blend use their skills to help local charities each month develop websites and manage their marketing activity.
- Lucy Tarrant MD of Cognitive Law has built her firm based on the ethos of reclaiming a true work-life balance for all of her team and actively supports the local business community.
- Responsible Travel actively campaign for social and environmental change, having embedded the principals of a circular economy into their operations, balancing the interests of profits, staff, local communities, and the environment.
- Higgidy source their ingredients from local and sustainable suppliers, donating any surplus food to FareShare Sussex, who turn this into meals for those who need them most.
Whether 2021 will be the standout year in which businesses are able to build back better, taking a more responsible approach to their growth, time will tell.
Undoubtedly there is a strategic imperative for resilient and sustainable business growth. Coupled with a moral responsibility for leaders to do what is within their control, to integrate kindness into their culture, reduce their environmental impact, support their local community or simply taking the first steps to being a better business, 2021 has great potential for delivering positive change for all.
I aim to make a positive contribution by offering free advice, sharing my knowledge, supporting start ups and mentoring those just starting out in their careers. If I can support you in delivering transformational change for good in your business, please do get in touch.