The practical steps businesses can take to become more sustainable
You may well have seen David Attenborough’s latest documentary ‘A Life on our Planet’. If so, you will know that the film contains a plethora of compelling statistics that define the devastating problems we face if we do not stop destroying our planet. Louise Palmer-Masterton, founder of Stem & Glory, shares her expertise to help businesses become more sustainable and planet-friendly.
The documentary shows the numbers for the rapid increase in global population, the increase in carbon in the atmosphere, and the accompanying sharp decrease in unfarmed natural land and it’s a bleak message. By losing the biodiversity of our land, we are fast accelerating towards extinction as our planet struggles with the excess demands placed upon it. The earth has finite commodities, but we are acting like they are limitless.
However, the documentary does end with a sliver of hope. Attenborough lays out the steps we need to take to quickly redress the balance and allow the planet to recover.
“But what can business do?” I hear you ask. Surely most of this list is beyond the sphere of influence of an individual or an individual business, with international action and financial incentives needed for this to happen on a global scale.
Well, we can all instigate actions that make a difference. Some of these involve supporting non-profits in a financial sense, but many of the actions we can take are changes within our own supply chains which are not disruptive or costly. They simply involve making more ethical choices in our purchasing decisions.
And with consumers wanting brands to help them be more sustainable, it’s also a shrewd business decision to make positive changes within our own business.
- Urban and vertical farming
In February, I visited Amsterdam, where there are some super exciting projects with vertical and urban farms. They are a big exporter of vegetables because of this. They get a greater output from a much smaller footprint in this way. It’s also breaking into the hospitality sector. I visited a restaurant called Juniper & Kin which is on the top floor of a tall hotel building. They have a green house on their roof and grow a high percentage of their produce there. There are a number of similar operators in the UK and it’s a hugely exciting space to be involved with. We are in discussion with our landlords about making this happen at our existing and all future sites.
Attenborough states that to achieve the eradication of poverty, education, particularly of women, plays a huge part. Camfed, a charity directly impacting the education of women is one such example of an organisation working towards this aim. Consider donating a small part of your income.
We work with a tea supplier called Reforest Tea. For one 500g bag of breakfast tea, costing £12, they’re able to plant 6-8 trees. Perform your own sustainability audit (there are also individuals and organisations that can conduct this for you). For example, it’s now widely known that palm oil is one of the main reasons that the rainforest has been destroyed, so eradicating it in your home, business and supply chain is one way of making an impact.
- Increase your vegan offering
As a vegan brand, obviously we’re hoping that the whole world will eventually refrain from eating meat. But even if you are not vegan, the fact that 65% of all the mammals on this planet are farm animals, their devastating carbon impact and land use cannot be overstated.
What does this mean for a business that serves meat? Well, it means you need to pivot your business model. Although it might feel like your offering is well supported now, it will become increasingly regarded as unethical in the future.
If you have a staff canteen, look to increase the plant-based offerings. If you host events that involve food (whether canapes or a full sit-down), ask your caterers to provide a good choice of plant-based options, or better still (like many companies and charitable organisations) choose to make your events 100% vegan.
I am not lecturing here, but don’t count on people wanting to continue eating meat in the future like they do now. So now is the time to explore plant-based options that suit your brand and develop new products that have a lesser carbon impact.
- Renewable energy
Businesses can make a huge impact by simply moving to renewable-only energy suppliers. But we can go one step further. Who are your investors? What are their green credentials? Do they invest in fossil fuels? Who are your partners? Who are your landlords? Scrutinise everything. Ask the questions. Take every opportunity you can to bring attention to this.
There’s so much misinformation out there on this subject, especially with regards to single use. I watched a short film recently, called Our Planet, Our Business and one of the experts said, ‘there is no such thing as waste, it’s just a commodity in the wrong place at the wrong time’. That really struck me.
Packaging is a complicated subject that we've been immersed in researching for some time, and here is what we have learned:
- The only truly sustainable, circular solution for packaging is to use products that are made from 100% recycled post-consumer waste, which are then endlessly recycled. So, we are no longer using single use anything.
- Compostable is not the answer to the issue of single use, as compostable containers are widely made from virgin materials, which increase the carbon footprint of the product, and do nothing to solve the issue of mass disposability.
- When the world is truly plastic free, then it may be that recycled packaging which is also compostable could play a part. But, whilst we have such huge amounts of post-consumer plastic waste, the most responsible thing we can do is recycle it. If demand for 100% recycled plastic were greater, demand would also increase for manufacturers to buy post-consumer waste plastic. And so it goes on.
- Of course, responsible use of recycled plastic products requires education, and we need to invest energy into just that. It's a big step for us all to make in our heads because plastic has been vilified for so long, but research shows it's moving away from single use anything that has the greatest carbon impact. The leap we all need to make is to start viewing plastic (and everything else on this planet) as a valuable commodity.
More than one third of all food produced is wasted. And with regard to fruit and vegetables, it is almost half. In the developing world this waste is largely down to inefficient processing, poor storage, and insufficient infrastructure.
In medium and high-income countries (that’s us) whilst supply chains can still be an issue, the behaviour of consumers plays a much greater part. We are simply buying it and not eating it. Much of this food waste could be avoided if it were managed better. The hard fact is, if we managed to reduce the amount of food waste down by just 25%, that would be enough food to feed the 870 million who currently do not have enough to eat.
We, at Stem & Glory, are currently fitting out a new site in Cambridge. The driver behind our decor is reuse and recycle as far as possible. It’s been great to see that there are so many new products on the market that are composed of recycled post-consumer waste. We predict that this will explode massively in the coming months and years. From tabletops to worktops, paint, flooring, concrete, lights, innovation is everywhere. And it looks completely fab! As part of this process, we have also been able to get our entire team on board - from designers to contractors, all are now also committed to the reuse and recycle way of living.
And this is probably the best way we can win hearts and minds to tackling climate change. Never underestimate the contribution that an individual or individual business can play. By changing ourselves we generate spirals of positive influence - the R number of sustainability! The more you make changes and tell others, the more people you will influence for good.