Power of Local Business

This week we had a business show in my local town, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. The organiser asked me to chair the ‘Purpose Beyond Profit Forum', focusing in on sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) in the county.

With a panel of 11 people all from local businesses, charities and consultancies we discussed how the county could further benefit from good social responsibility programmes. There were 3 key takeaways:

  • Create a culture of 2 way skills exchange between charities and businesses. 
  • With business and charity partnerships, align your visions genuinely. This is key to authentic partnerships that consumers can believe in 
  • Bring the personal into the environmental debate. People can understand a charity partnership, but switch off when organisations start talking about Climate Change and Carbon - it's inaccessible. Bring it to an individual level of impact as much as possible.

It’s seems mad to me that a successful local business chooses to support a national charity with £millions when there are smaller local organisations doing hugely important work (that may even directly impact the employees of said local businesses!) 

If you want to start giving back to your community, find the local charities and ask them what they need help with. You will be surprised what opportunities, to live your purpose, are waiting on your doorstep.

Pinpoint Your Purpose Beyond Profit

One of the most inspiring things I have done this year is present to a group of startup entrepreneurs at Gloucestershire University. I presented on how to start thinking about sustainability.

At the beginning of the presentation, almost all of them held a skeptical outlook of “what can I do? I am too small to make a difference!” By the end of the presentation a handful of the businesses came up to me and said they had some clear ideas of how any business, no matter the size, could start taking action to rejuvenate the environment and make a positive contribution to society.

This was a great moment where I truly felt I had delivered 100% on my purpose: To inspire people to think differently and be a catalyst to make good stuff happen.

I encourage my clients, small and large to pinpoint their purpose beyond profit. With a young company like BoomCircle (2 years old in March) this evolves, almost daily. Finally, I think the dust has settled on my ‘pinpointing’ journey. Reflecting after the event at Gloucestershire Uni I realised there were three fundamental drivers that motivated me and in turn my business:

  • I love to inspire people to action
  • I feel a great satisfaction in helping people and businesses realise their potential
  •  I find joy in making things happen as quickly as possible, no one has time to waste!

It is very rewarding to be part of the ‘light bulb’ moment when a business realises the sum of all their ‘scattergun’ activity on sustainability - it’s almost always more than they think. For example, cutting plastic use, investing in renewable energy, having robust welfare systems or investing in the local community.  

By spending a little time getting more organised around this base of activity, businesses can turn something that they thought they were ‘not very good at’ into a strategically relevant stream of work for the business. This turnaround in thinking and approach is the greatest pleasure of doing my job and the reason I get out of bed in the morning! 

3 Steps To Get Your Sustainability Strategy Started

In business, the word ‘sustainable’ is used with more frequency than ever before. As a concept it has developed into ambitious (and crucial) corporate visions, where resources are used sparingly, people treated fairly and nothing is left to waste.

The most progressive companies see it as an on-going journey, not a policy that is written and dusted off once a year. True sustainability is a living and breathing mind set within your business, deeply ingrained in operations, requiring leadership, creativity, commitment and highly engaged employees. A daunting thought!

Where do you start? 

  • Define your sustainability purposes

You'll have initiatives going on in your business already. From activity arising from customer driven audits to employee fundraising and local sponsorship. Make a list. Are their any common threads? Are there particular areas that you should be doing more in? Choose 3-5 key focus areas for your business. For example a food and farming business may choose: water, waste, worker accommodation standards, local community involvement and employee engagement in sustainability. 

  • Set your goals

In each of your focus areas don't be afraid set a stretch goal. Something to grip the minds of your employees and help them understand: this is important. Be honest that you may not make the target, but you are going to try!

  • Nominate ‘sustainability champions’ in your company

Appoint a person to lead each of the focus areas. From any level of the business. The most important thing is that they must be personally passionate about the chosen focus. For example, you want the most passionate person about food waste, in your organisation, leading a waste reduction goal. It takes heaps of energy to get sustainability goals into the consciousness of employees - you'll need the natural burning passion of your champions to drive this! “

As your goals become more embedded into the business you can start to emphasize that company sustainability is not the workload of one person, but rather the small, vital effort of each and every employee to make a difference, every hour, every day.

In conclusion

Getting started with a sustainability strategy can be daunting, but once you are underway with the straightforward steps above, you’ll be making an immediate and tangible difference.

InterfaceFLOR started their journey in the 1990s. Have a look at this short video by Ray Anderson, their CEO for inspiration of what can be achieved by taking the first step today. 

Let’s Talk About It: The Challenge of Presenting Your Sustainability Work Internally

Having recently faced the challenge of delivering the same 20min presentation 8 times in a row (don't ask!) here are some top tips on presenting the often complicated and detail heavy topics in sustainability:

Have your 'bullseye' in mind. Is it to inform? Motivate? Inspire to action?  Choose content that supports your aim. Think deeply about your audience. What is relevant to them, use this to hook them from the start. 

Use detail to create a spark of interestnot a wildfire of confusion. For a  high level summary of progress, stick to 3 evidenced backed highlights and challenges. Resist the temptation to include every success story. No matter how good they are people will disengage if presented with too much information and once this happens, you don't have a snowballs chance in hell of achieving your 'bullseye.'

Gauge the room.  Ask for people’s understanding of the topic you are presenting on. This allows you to spend more time on parts that people are less familiar with. 

Be passionate.  Genuine interest and enthusiasm is contagious. Allowing people to feel your natural passion for a subject is your best weapon to keep them engaged and looking at you, not their smart phone.

Be innovative & fun  in how you present. Eg. Make some paper airplanes, each with a main point you are going to cover in the presentation - throw them into the audience and have them read out by those who catch the planes  - you'll have people's attention immediately! Stay away from technical language unless you are speaking to experts.

Take the opportunity to gather ideas.Allocate time to hear ideas and feedback. It is the most valuable part of the presentation for you.

Happy presenting!

You Wouldn’t Eat a Panda

“You Wouldn’t Eat a Panda. Stop Eating Endangered Tuna” This was the tagline that accompanied Selfridges window display in 2011 as part of Project Ocean, their partnership with Zoological Society of London (ZSL) that raises awareness for marine conservation.

Youwouldn'teata panda

At first people didn’t get the association between a retailer and the ocean (a bit random!). Now in it’s 6th year, Selfridges and ZSL have done an excellent job in marrying the relevance of the ocean to the shopper. Their 2016 campaign #OneLess unites against single use plastic bottles. Selfridges has banned all plastic bags and single use bottles in their store.

Strategic Partners

You hear it again and again “finding the right partner is hard.” The right partner can make the difference between a campaign that is roaring success or a damp squib. What seems to be the magic ingredients? Shared vision that is outcomes focused, with passionate people on both sides driving it.

Another example from ZSL is their partnership with Interface to 'turn trash into treasure' in the Philippines. Old fishing nets, previously left to wash away and pollute the sea are now collected as part of a community based supply chain  Networks. Over  3 years 97 tons of fishing net has been collected, baled, recycled and used to make Interface carpets.

Partnership is one way to Make Good Stuff Happen, what are some other options?

Integrated Philanthropy

Some say philanthropy is a dated form of businesses being responsible. In the 1980s  and 90s it was the common way for businesses to ‘do good.’ The 111 Model adopted by Salesforce sheds new light on ‘philanthropic’ giving by integrating it to their core business offering. Salesforce pledges that 1% of equity, 1% of employee time (they employ 24,000 people!) and 1% of products, will be used to “give back” to the community. This model is delivered by Salesforce.org and since inception 17yrs ago has given +$115m in grants, 1.3m volunteer hours and donated products +28,000 non profit/higher education institutes.

It’s not just about donations, one of Salesforce.org’s aims is to provide the best tech platforms for Not for Profit organisations. Money made from selling these platforms fund Salesforce.org’s grant funding pot and supports and workforce training.   

Based on the success of 111 supported projects and employee engagement with the Salesforce brand, Salesforce encourages other companies to adopt the model and take the 1% pledge #BeTheBoom !

Product Design

New companies are emerging with sustainability engineered into their products.

Fairphone is on a commercial mission to develop a smartphone that contains no conflict minerals in production.

More established companies are also picking up the ‘design’ challenge and developing products with sustainability embedded - Interface making carpets made from recycled materials, as one example, and B&Q completing a 21 year journey (1990-2001) to guarantee all their Timber products in store are sustainable sourced. B&Q carpet underlay is also made from recycled clothes and has been developed to be the best quality and cheapest price in store.

These companies are not closing the gap between what customers say “I want to buy more sustainable products” and actually do (when it is comes to it, really I will just buy the cheapest one). These companies are bridging the gap by providing good quality products, that ‘choice edit’ for the busy consumer. Companies making sustainable choices for their customers.

Choosing the right partners and integrating philanthropy into business unquestionably Makes Good Stuff Happen. However, the most exciting space to watch are those companies redefining the possibilities within mass market supply chains, like Fairphone. With their success, it will be hard for anyone to deny the business case for sustainability.