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09 May 2016
The National Business Awards celebrate the best in British business and the sustainability category is a prestigious as part of this. We continue to see exciting entries in this field every year and all companies are welcome – large or small.
As a board advisor and a judge at the NBA, these are my thoughts on business practices at home and abroad in recent months that demonstrate leadership.
Leading companies are doing more than managing their social and environmental impacts and giving to charity. They are preparing for the future by embracing a deeper role in society - tackling particular challenges that are relevant to them in ways that are lucrative for them. For example, food and beverage companies are increasingly responding to the rise in obesity by providing low fat options while tapping into the fast growing health foods market.
This role in solving pertinent problems that generate business value requires businesses to be less company-centric and more outward looking in their sustainability endeavours. Here are my top ten examples of this approach in action.
1. In the wake of the COP 21 climate agreement, businesses are increasingly reaching beyond managing their own carbon footprint and helping customers manage theirs. Ikea's public ambition in being the number one retailer in residential solar power is a healthy intervention in accelerating the low carbon economy. Patagonia is another retailer investing in this market opportunity.
2. Tesla is undoubtedly a low carbon game changer. The company is set to release its new affordable electric vehicle in the UK and internationally in 2017. It is starting to ‘drive' pollution-free EVs into the mainstream, sparking Apple and Dyson to diversify into this market and Honda to commit to electrifying two thirds of its vehicle portfolio in the coming years.
3. Apple is raising its game and encouraging other ICT companies to follow suit. As well as moving into EVs, it is going with 100% renewables to power its data centres, making its devices more recyclable with its disassembling robot – Liam, and improving 1m acres of forest management in China as part of its packaging supply chain.
4. From ICT to fashion, one of the few high profile conscious fashion campaigns in this industry comes from H&M. The company is fully transparent on the amount recycled content within its supply chain while also embracing a major marketing push on recycling clothes – especially during World Recycle Week.
5. Another significant move into the circular economy by a clothing company comes from Mud Jeans. The business not only offers repair and recycling services, but even leases out 40% of its products – a new kind of model that could fire up big changes in the sector.
The pollution of plastics in our oceans is a critical challenge to contend with. Part of the solution comes from making use of this waste in new and innovative ways. Adidas and G-Star Raw are doing just that – retrieving this waste, converting it into fabrics and promoting trainers and clothes made from ocean plastics.
6. As the circular economy evolves, so is the sharing economy. TaskRabbit continues with its advertising campaign across London's tubes promoting its network of people that can help with tasks in the home. These are vetted and insured professionals to help with cleaning, repairs, assembling furniture or other household needs and are part of the sharing economy that brings flexible working to the UK.
7. Borroclub is another sharing economy player, based in Birmingham. It enables the sharing of cooking, cleaning, diy or garden equipment – unlocking the use of household items that so often stand idle and bringing extra income to those renting out such things. It provides the beginnings of an antidote to society's overconsumption of goods and overuse of natural resources.
8. A different kind of positive footprint on society stems from Lego. It has begun to use its influence to educate children on diversity and modern living through play, using new toy figures that portray disability, different cultures and other areas of diversity as part of everyday life.
9. Unilever also continues to build business growth and profits on the back of products with a social purpose.Promoting hygiene to prevent the spread of disease through healthcare products and campaigns across many markets has combined social and business opportunities for the company.
10. Continuing on the theme of health, food is increasingly in the spotlight. Much of the food and beverage sector has moved into sustainable production but few have embraced sustainable consumption. This is starting to change with sustainable diets increasingly understood to be bringing both health and environmental benefits. Pret a Manger's sales have increased through meat-free options pushing more vegetables to the conscious consumer.Ikea's meatless meatballs are also part of this trend.
These examples provide a flavour for what counts as award-winning. Companies entering the NBA have the chance to be recognized as a leader at the largest celebration in the country of business at its best.