6 Ways to Spot a Sustainable Business

Feb 15, 2019

Article Approach: We know there are 58,000 monthly searches in the UK around understanding sustainability. This article allows SVG to lead an explanation on sustainability as an expert and introduce some of the ways SVG delivers against this criteria. Need to be careful not to over-use SVG as an eg and bore people! Lots of variety of other businesses key!

Green Planet Activist Info Gap: Currently when you search ‘sustainability’ or its meaning, you get mainly academic or scientific responses. There is very little that pops up at the top of the Google search that is well targeted at the Green Planet Activist. They are taking more and more green actions like choosing organic and fairtrade and even now more invested sustainable choices like electric cars and renewable energy. But they need help to be confident they are making the right decisions.

Brits are making more and more sustainable choices, with ethical spending up +3.2% to £81.3 billion in 2016, our biggest ethical spend yet!i

Yet in 2018 UK public trust in business was rated at only 43%.ii So how can sustainably-conscious shoppers be more confident that they are making sound choices?

To answer this question, we looked at some of the best in class sustainable businesses to give you 6 ways to spot a sustainable business.

First things first, what is a sustainable business?

Well, there are lots of definitions floating around out there. They focus on a business’s ability to avoid the depletion of natural resources or damage the environment in order to maintain long term ecological balance.

This is our all-time favourite definition from the World Commission on Environment and Development way back in 1987: A sustainable business is one that ‘meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’iii

Is this the same as green business?

Well, yes and no. Yes – A sustainable business is a ‘green’ business – one that is focused on doing less harm to the environment. No – A sustainable business cares for the environment and society. If we talk only of ‘green’ business we risk leaving out the all important social factor. We will build a better future by focusing on our environment and our society. One cannot flourish without the other.

Looking beyond profit with a Triple Bottom Line

You might have heard more forward-thinking businesses refer to their ‘Triple Bottom Line’: People, Planet & Profit. This is a good indicator that they are a business looking beyond finance and focusing on sustainability too. The challenge now is to get more businesses leading for a Triple Bottom Line and for those doing this to prioritise equally amongst the 3Ps.

Top Tip: Look out for B Corps

This is one sure fire way to spot a sustainability goodie! Certified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability. The B Corp movement started in 2007 and Seventh Generation was proud to be one of the 19 founding B Corps that year. There are now over 2,655 B Corps in 60+ countries, including well-known sustainability leaders like Abel & Cole, Innocent, Bulb, Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s.iv Learn more about B Corps here

Idea for visual – Show Innocent, Bulb, Abel & Cole, Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s logos

6 tips for how to spot a more sustainable business:

1. Lots of sustainability chat

If sustainability is high on a business agenda, they’ll talk about it a lot, right? Check out their website. Do you have to look at the legal Ts & Cs hidden at the bottom of the page to find mention of their environmental and social commitments? If so, you have probably smelt a rat and this may not be the business that will win your lifelong loyalty.

A sustainable business is a proud business. They love what they do and they love talking about it. You’ll see it on their website and in their social channels. It’s interwoven into all that they do. Here’s a brand that inspires us everyday with their top of mind sustainability content Patagonia

Eg of sustainable image and message from Patagonia’s website homepage

2. Clear Goals, Measurement & Reporting
So admittedly this isn’t the most glamorous end of things but it is business critical. Those businesses that truly lead for sustainability set themselves stretching targets and publish their results. True accountability.

This is one of the key drivers of success for Unilever, our parent company since 2016, who paved the way in 2010 with the launch of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan. They set ambitious goals across 3 sustainability pillars: To improve the health and well-being for more than 1 billion people, reduce their environmental impact by half and to enhance the livelihoods for millions. Learn more here Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.

Or take a look at Siemens who were ranked the 9th most sustainable company in the world in Jan 2018.v They map their sustainability progress against each of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Impressive stuff! See more here

Option for Visual from Siemens website plus Siemens logo (https://www.siemens.com/global/en/home/company/sustainability.html)

3. Inspiring design & innovation
Design, innovation and technology have been a double-edged sword for sustainability. In many instances over the years mankind’s own ingenuity has had a negative impact on the environment and society, from polluting cars to technology obsessed teenagers.

But we are a smart specie and many sustainable businesses are now putting design, innovation and technology into the service of sustainability. Did you know, it’s been estimated that 80% of the environmental impact of a product is determined at the design stage?vi So next time you are tempted to try a new product or service, ask yourself if it has been designed with sustainability in mind and, if not, ask the maker why not.

To see tech being put to good use for the betterment of society, check out the Relumino invention from the clever people at Samsung, using Virtual Reality to enhance the vision of those suffering with low vision – a problem suffered by 86% of the visually impaired. Relumino

Here’s some more innovation inspiration from Helly Hansen through their partnership with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. Helly Hansen designed new life-saving kit customised for the RNLI. The new lighter kit ensures crew members keep warm, dry and comfortable while they’re out saving lives in all conditions and includes a version tailored for female crew members. Helly Hansen & the RNLI

Suggestion of 2 possible Helly RNLI images from their website (https://www.hellyhansen.com/ambassador/rnli/)

4. Partnering with experts

Most of us work better as part of a team and so it is with sustainable businesses. Smart businesses with bold ambitions on sustainability realise that their journey will not be a successful one if they go it alone. Partnerships are so important that they are called out as Goal Number 17 in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. More here.

Adidas set up a long-term partnership with the environmental organisation Parley for the Oceans to transform ocean plastic into high performance sportswear. The passionate partnership quickly progressed from a prototype shoe made from 11 ocean plastic bottles in June 2015 to 7,000 shoes in 2016, 1 million ocean plastic shoes in 2017 and now a goal to make all Adidas shoes from recycled plastic by 2020. Adidas Parley Partnership

Suggested Image from Adidas Website (https://www.adidas.co.uk/parley)

5. Sustainable sourcing
Businesses focused on sustainability will have a strong focus on sustainable sourcing. They have recognised the challenge that mankind is burning through our natural capital at a rapid and irreplaceable rate, often leaving a wake of destruction in its path.

Look for accreditations. Sustainably sourced products will usually have a certification to prove they have been responsibly sourced. Here are a few you may have seen around: (Visual – show the logos and hover on them to get a one line explanation)

Red Tractor – Found on chicken, pork, lamb, beef, fruit, veg, salad, flour, sugar and dairy product. It indicates that the food can be traced back to farms producing under Assured Food Standards.

Soil Association Organic Standard - There are a number of organic certification bodies approved by DEFRA. The most well known is the Soil Association Organic Certification UK

Marine Stewardship Council EcoLabel – The MSC ecolabel on a seafood product means that it comes from a wild-catch fishery which has been independently certified to the MSC’s science-based standard for environmentally sustainable fishing and is fully traceable to a sustainable source.

FSC – Forest Stewardship Council – Assurance that a product is made from wood from responsible sources

Leaping Bunny – This is the only internationally recognised symbol guaranteeing that no new animal tests were used in the development of this product

Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil – A global standard for sustainable Palm Oil

6. Passionate Leadership
Real change has real impact if it comes from the top. If you’re interested in whether a business you support or want to support is sustainable, have a look at their latest reports. Do they have a sustainability report? Does the annual message from the CEO have a focus on sustainability?

Here’s one of our favourite leadership quotes from the late and great Ray Anderson, CEO of Interface, who inspired his company with the ambition to create the world’s most sustainable business. Ray called on “our people, our customers, our suppliers, our communities and our owners…. To learn and believe in a new and better way to be more profitable, and to reach for significance beyond success – a higher purpose for us all.”vii

Example Image of the late great Ray Anderson (Sourced: http://www.jetsongreen.com/2011/08/ray-anderson-passes-away-interface.html)

Is sustainability no-longer enough?

We leave you with a parting thought. If sustainability has been defined as minimising the damage we do for the long-term then perhaps we need to move beyond sustainability? Given the damage that has been done already to our environment and society through decades of rapid growth of consumption and production, trying to maintain what we have is no-longer enough. We should support those businesses aiming for sustainability but we should also challenge beyond. We now have to work together to rebuild and replenish what we have taken and damaged in prior years. We need to super-charge sustainability.

In the words of our CEO Joey Bergstein, “Rather than shy away from our challenges, we choose to lean into them instead. The new path to true sustainability we are forging is one where doing less harm is not good enough and where leaving the world a better place than we found it is our north star.”

i Ethical Consumer Organisation (2017) Ethical Consumer Markets Report 2017. Available at: https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/sites/default/files/inline-files/ec%20markets%20report%202017.pdf (Accessed: 17 October 2018)
ii Edelman (2018) Edelman Trust Barometer 2018 – UK Findings – UK Press Release. Available at: https://www.edelman.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/Website-Edelman-Trust-Barometer-Press-Release-2018.pdf (Accessed: 17 October 2018)
iii World Commission on Environment and Development (1987) Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future. Available at: http://www.un-documents.net/our-common-future.pdf (Accessed: 17 October 2018)
iv B Corporation (2018) A Global Community of Leaders. Available at: https://bcorporation.net/ (Accessed: 17 October 2018)
v Karsten Strauss / Corporate Knights / (2018) The world’s most sustainable companies 2018. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/karstenstrauss/2018/01/23/the-worlds-most-sustainable-companies-2018/#2964d9532b0f (Accessed: 17 October 2018)
vi European Commission / WRAP (2013) Product Sustainability Forum: Improving the Environmental Performance of Products. Available at: http://www.wrap.org.uk/sites/files/wrap/Embedding%20sustainability%20in%20design%20%20-%20final%20v1.pdf (Accessed: 17 October 2018)
vii Quinn & Norton (2004) Beyond the Bottom Line: Practising leadership for sustainability. Leadership in Action.

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