Where to begin with sustainability?

Picture of Madelyn Postman

Madelyn Postman

The headlines are overwhelming: climate strikes, the planet itself on strike with extreme weather, social inequalities and injustices, plastic taking over our oceans, nanoplastics in our bloodstream and organs, pollution…not to speak of the pandemic. It can make us freeze in the frightening glare of the headlights, not knowing where to start.

Perhaps you already take your personal actions by reducing meat consumption, or going vegan. Maybe you have an electric or a hybrid car. You’re not quite sure how much impact it has, but you know it makes a difference.

And you want your company to pitch in too, whether you are in senior management — or not. Successful pushes for sustainability can be bottom-up.

Where to begin?

1. Put your money where your mouth is by changing your business bank account. As Jonathan Porritt recently said in 5×15 Stories Rathbones: The Earth Convention, “…in a capitalist society it all basically all comes down to what we do with capital and if we don’t get that particular story sorted out, we’re still going to be in an impossible situation.”

Without even scratching the surface of impact and ESG investment, changing your business’ current account is a big step in the right direction — whether there’s a huge amount sitting there or just enough to scrape by. Ethical Consumer states that ‘banks can lend up to nine times the amount of money you have with them.’ Triodos tops Ethical Consumer’s table, and the big, historic banks NatWest, RBS, HSBC, and Barclays sink to the bottom.

The last thing you want is for your company’s hard-earned money to be financing investments in fossil fuel projects, bankrolling nuclear weapons, or even paying disproportionately high salaries (top pay: £6.4m at Tesco Bank, £6.1m at Santander, £5.1m at Lloyds, £4.9m at HSBC source: Ethical Consumer) which exacerbates the wealth gap.

2. Reframe your business. Moving away from a linear model of take-make-use-waste and accounting for externalities (e.g. waste, pollution, and other environmental and social impacts) will probably result in a change to your business model, which depending on your industry may be minor or radical.

This moment of reframing the business is a good one to consider becoming a B Corp. B Corp (short for B Corporation, so please do pronounce the “p”!) is a robust certification for businesses which score at least 80 out of 200 points on the B Impact Assessment which covers governance, workers, community, environment and customers.

3. Join forces to raise the bar. Are you aligned with other companies in your sector? Are your industry bodies promoting sustainability? There are myriad initiatives and partnerships already in place, from the Consumer Goods Forum to the Better Cotton Initiative, Sustainable Wine South Africa to The Sustainable Restaurant Association, so if you find suitable ones in your industry, throw your weight behind them. We can help you do the research if you need a hand. If the standards and coalitions don’t exist, seek out like-minded companies and individuals and create them.

This is the crucial decade to keep our planet liveable for humans. Radical change needs to happen at all levels, everywhere in the world, from private sector to government, finance to civil society. Every individual and company needs to play its part.

It’s a win-win: we’re here to make the business case for being a sustainability champion, which can also raise your profile and position your company as one that takes action.

4. Spread the word. Sustainability shouldn’t take place quietly in your operations department. It should be part of your company’s core strategy, ideally with every employee participating in defining and reaching the goals and KPIs.

Take the conversation outside, to your peers within and across industries. Talk loudly and clearly about your company’s sustainability actions and standards. If you’re a B Corp or a member of 1% for the Planet, let people know. If you’re banking with Triodos, explain why. If your offices use renewable energy, perhaps you’re paying less than you were when using fossil fuels – tell us how much you’re saving!

The most important step is to take action, today. Get in touch by phone (020 8187 7040) or email and we can help you make and implement your sustainability plan.

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