Russell Goldsmith
Russell Goldsmith 23 August 2022

Podcast – Interview With Expert Panel on Smaller Businesses Reaching Net Zero

This episode of the csuite podcast, recorded in partnership with the British Business Bank, as part of their #GreenToGrow campaign, discussed the importance of small businesses sustainability goals and how they can start their journey towards Net Zero.

This episode of the csuite podcast, recorded in partnership with the British Business Bank, as part of their #GreenToGrow campaign, discussed the importance of small businesses sustainability goals and how they can start their journey towards Net Zero, all of which is part of a wider series of guides and information that can be found on the Bank’s Finance Hub.

Host Russell Goldsmith was joined online by Richard Reed, Co-Founder of Innocent Drinks and  JamJar Investments, Aoife Doherty, Founder of Floris, Wing Chan, Co-founder, and CEO of Sourceful, and Shanika Amarasekara MBE, Chief Impact Officer at British Business Bank.

Research shows that the majority of small businesses in the UK are unaware of how sustainability terms such as net zero, carbon neutral, and carbon footprint apply to their businesses, according to the British Business Bank.

Rich began by saying: “If you're a businessperson that is not engaging with these topics, you will not be a businessperson for that much longer”.

He said that it wasn’t until the second year of Innocent, that he and his co-founder had thought: ‘What’s happening to all the plastic bottles after people have drunk them?’, and they felt embarrassed that they hadn’t thought about it until then, but once an epiphany like that occurs, you start unpicking everything.

He added that, when Coca-Cola bought Innocent in 2013 it was down to Innocent’s ethos, and they even asked for some of their sustainability team to come in and help improve their organisation.

He said: “Innocent has now built the single most environmentally friendly efficient manufacturing site on the planet”.

Aoife, owner of sustainable stationary brand Floris, explained her passion for sustainability was born while she was at school, where she took an interest in printing technologies and vegetable-based inks, where she discovered that there’s hardly any stationary businesses who use vegetable-based inks.

After starting her business, Aoife knew Christmas was around the corner and decided to get in touch with the British Business Bank for a loan to help her invest in wrapping paper, and handmade journals that are manufactured in the UK and refillable.

Wing said that at Sourceful, they help brands design more sustainable products, starting with packaging and there are three things that businesses are trying to achieve:

  1. Building a better customer experience – one that looks good, feels good, and tells a good story, in a world where there are a million brands that need to tell a better story.
  2. Operational costs – thinking about costs and not avoiding the dynamics of how fast it is to make, whether there’s leakages, issues with returns, or problems in transit.
  3. Sustainability – using data they start to differentiate terms like plastic free, define what recycling looks like and focus on what the whole product journey looks like.

He added: “It's this data that allows you to finally make better decisions because not every business can have a world class sustainability team like Innocent built and Coca-Cola bought, right?”

Rich said you can either do it for hardcore capitalist commercial reasons or you can do it for great spiritual, social reasons because the truth is, it pays dividends in whichever thing you're motivated by.

He said: “You're going to get rich by doing the right thing. And if you're not interested in getting rich by doing the right thing, then of course leave it well alone. But don't expect the rest of the world to stay static. Consumer's expectations because we're human, they're progressive. Whatever we're given today, we expect it to be better tomorrow. And that's as true in terms of how delicious we want our food as it is of how environmentally responsible and socially aware we want the products and services that we engage within.”

Aoife agreed with Rich and pointed out the irony of a fast fashion brand using recycled materials, but on the contrary fast fashion encourages an epidemic of throwaway culture, which is why there’s an emphasis on teaching consumers about the importance of sustainability, because the information just isn’t getting out there enough.

According to the British Business Bank’s ‘Smaller Businesses and the Transition to Net Zero’ report, released last year, only 5% of smaller businesses say reducing their carbon footprint and environmental impact is their number one priority for 2022, with more than a third citing costs as a barrier for reducing their carbon emissions, particularly the upfront capital costs.

Wing said that when it comes to sourcing and suppliers, if there are two suppliers who both say they have sustainable packaging, materials, and products, how do you tell them apart?

Aoife agreed and said: “It's not just about having the knowledge of who to go to, to find your supplier. It's about I think people think it's quite a daunting task and it's going to take them a lot of time and research.”

Russ also caught up with the British Business Bank’s Shanika Amarasekara to discuss the research they’d conducted, she started by explaining that smaller business on an individual level have relatively low footprints but collectively account for around half of all UK business greenhouse gas emissions.

She added that there were a range of terms that were misunderstood by businesses and said these “included greenhouse gas emissions, where nearly 90% of businesses didn't really have a full understanding of the term or what it meant for their business. Followed closely by decarbonisation, which 78% didn't understand. And also net zero with 74%.”

Working alongside Nottingham Business School to help small businesses decipher the terminology around decarbonisation, the British Business Bank has created a new online glossary of terms, the Green Decoder.

Rich responded to the statistics and said that there’s no excuses anymore, maybe 20 years ago, you could’ve got away with that excuse.

He said: “It's not some weird niche topic anymore. It is mainstream and it's here and it's happening.”

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