It is often the case that big businesses make the news with their efforts to become more sustainable – in March 2021 the UK government announced how 30 of the 100 FTSE 100 companies have signed up to the United Nation’s Race to Zero campaign. These companies include AstraZeneca, BT Group, Sainsbury’s, and Unilever and together they represent a total market capital value of £650 billion.
The Race to Zero campaign is the largest ever global alliance committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest, backed with science-based targets, with many organisations opting to go even faster.
Sainsbury’s for example has pledged to become Net Zero by 2040, pledging to invest £1 billion in the next 20 years to reduce carbon emissions, food waste, plastic packaging, water usage and increasing recycling, biodiversity and healthy, sustainable eating.
It’s positive news for the growing number of consumers looking to businesses to be more sustainable. A recent report by Garnier found 73% of UK consumers want to be more sustainable this year. Of those who said that the last 12 months made them think differently about their behaviours, almost half said that 2020 was a “wake up call” to protect the environment.
This increased consumer demand for sustainability is being met by more action from businesses outside of the FTSE 100 too. HSBC’s ‘Made For The Future’ report found that almost half of UK companies are planning to increase their environment-related spending by Summer 2021 – with a focus on improving manufacturing, internal practices and updating buildings and equipment.
And 96% of businesses included in the research said that they felt increasing pressure to become more sustainable, with 86% expecting their sales to grow over the next year, from a greater focus on sustainability.
Whilst stories in the media of businesses becoming more sustainable can help to raise awareness and inspire others to follow suit, it’s important not to forget the sustainability efforts of micro-businesses, many of whom have been quietly working on sustainability initiatives for years, away from the glare of the media spotlight, not just because they feel under pressure from consumers and media to improve.
With the UK’s 6 million small businesses making up 99% of all business, the potential of their collective power for change is immense, but with so many working independently or running a ‘one man band’, it is only with the right communication collaboration that successes can be learned from and amplified.
One small business with a collaborative approach to sustainability is Glasgow-based Beauty Kitchen. Founded by chemist Jo Chidley and her husband in 2010, Beauty Kitchen is a certified B-Corporation and employs just 15 people, but is making waves when it comes to driving sustainability in the cosmetics industry. From pioneering a return and refill programme for its aluminium packaging to making ethically produced products accessible to wider demographics (prices range from £2.99 to £19.99) the brand is dedicated to bringing sustainable beauty to the masses, considering things like time and price constraints when it comes to making more sustainable consumer choices.
The global beauty industry is one widely recognised as being notoriously unsustainable, mainly due to the volume of single use plastic produced.
In 2018, it was reported that the beauty industry produced over 120 billion units of packaging, most of which were not recyclable.
And whilst many big brands such as The Body Shop, Lush and Aveda have driven much-needed change, the small indie business that is Beauty Kitchen is now working to educate some of the industry’s biggest global brands on working more sustainably. Having worked with global brands like Nestle and Unilever herself, Jo Chidley understands how being a smaller business affords the ability to, “Be nimble, move quicker, make mistakes and learn quicker.” More importantly, it’s Beauty Kitchens willingness to collaborate, share best practice and bring others on the journey too that truly demonstrates that you don’t need to be big to be a dynamic force for good.
In addition to a focus on consumables, the travel and tourism industry has also seen demand from consumers for more sustainable choices from businesses and 2020 research from BDRC found that when asked whether ‘sustainable tourism’ was more important to them than prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 25% of the British public believed it was more so, versus 11% less: a net positive swing of 14% to sustainability.
With holiday choices still limited for many amidst the ongoing pandemic, UK tourism is set to be buoyant in 2021 and whilst we witness the trend toward the staycation in 2020, it’s likely that we will see more of that demand focus on ‘eco-staycations’ in 2021.
Once again, smaller independents are leading the way, with more hotels and attractions sharing their green credentials. The Yorkshire-based play attraction William’s Den says it ‘has been built to create a place that re-uses, recycles and fills up instead of taking away.’
With walls made from locally grown hemp, floors made from recycled ‘foamglas’ and toilets which use a rainwater harvesting system, these are innovations the average visitor may not even recognise, but they represent the genuine commitment by the business to operate in a more genuinely sustainable way. It’s only by sharing innovations and working collaboratively that developments like these can be shared and replicated.
However, with events such as The Good Business Festival (a global summit for sharing good business practice and created by Wayne Hemingway) bringing businesses of all sizes together, the future looks promising and if the ethos of these small businesses is anything to go by, the future of UK business will hopefully be much authentically greener.