A Responsible Business Approach

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Veronica Swindale met with Dr Helen Goworek, Associate Professor in Marketing and Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Lead for Durham University Business School for Northern Insight Magazine. It was brilliant timing, too, as CIM has now launched its Sustainable Marketing Module as part of the CIM Diploma in Professional Marketing (L6), which is very exciting.

All Businesses have a significant role to play when it comes to shaping a better world for society, the environment and responsible, sustainable business. A key component to lasting success is ensuring that sustainability is embedded within business strategy – part of planning, budgeting, resourcing and day to day operations. 

Helen is involved in the United Nations’ Principles of Responsible Management Education team. She has been working on a programme of Carbon Literacy training which companies in the region can benefit from to learn how to shore up our resources for the longer future of our planet. 

Sustainability is not just what keeps your business going, but has much more significance and we ask Helen to put it into context for us.

Would you like to explain? 

There are three main aspects of sustainability: social, environmental, and financial, referred to as ‘People, Planet, Profit’. John Elkington called this the Triple Bottom Line, stressing that all three are essential to business. I still think people often jump to the conclusion that sustainability only means financial turnover. However, companies won’t be financially sustainable unless society and the planet are sustainable, so we must consider these aspects too. 

So, what can we do as individuals and as companies to take meaningful steps in making our planet more sustainable? 

Individuals and companies need to work together towards improving environmental sustainability. It’s an iterative process, with activists or informed consumers requesting new products or eliminating unsustainable products or processes and companies responding to their requests whilst they actively look for more sustainable products to sell. In the past, I’ve heard retailers question whether there’s any demand for certain more sustainable products, but sometimes they must take a risk in offering those products to create demand. 

We tend to focus more on where products originate and how far they’ve travelled from the manufacturer. Although this is an important issue, the type of materials and how we look after and maintain them as consumers and then dispose of them can also negatively impact the planet. 

Services can also become more sustainable by regularly reviewing the processes involved. You can quickly assess whether you can save energy and other resources instead of automatically sticking to the traditional way the service has been delivered. This review can potentially lead to cost savings which will help compensate for the fact that other aspects of behaving more sustainably will unavoidably incur extra expense. 

The additional costs associated with being more sustainable for businesses and consumers can be tricky at a time of crisis, of course. Still, if we operate more sustainably voluntarily now, we may avoid having sustainable behaviour imposed on us by legislation further down the line. Many businesses are already taking the lead, reviewing, and revising their sustainability impacts in connection with their Corporate Social Responsibility aims. 

I know you have done a lot of research into fashion marketing. Where does sustainability come into play here? 

Sustainability comes into play in virtually every element of the fashion market, as it does in most other sectors. Some of the key aspects of sustainability to be considered are producing garments that use fewer resources, made from recycled, recyclable, or repurposed materials, which last longer and are disposed of responsibly. Clothing is a major industry and, therefore, a significant polluter, with vast room for improvement in environmental and social aspects. 

Which other industries have a similar ‘use it once’ culture? 

Disposability is rife, with many items, such as electronic devices, becoming much more like fashion products in recent years, in that they’re examples of conspicuous consumption, and they can become almost obsolete well before they stop functioning. Many items go to landfills, using up finite space and contributing further to greenhouse gases. 

Services can also aim to be more sustainable by assessing and reducing their energy consumption. Certain companies have led the way in showing us that a high level of sustainability is viable in business. For example, People Tree sells clothes online (both Fair Trade and organic) and shares information about their suppliers openly and Fairphone produces mobiles made of recycled materials and with replaceable parts.

We are used to seeing quality standards demanded through the supply chain – is it likely that the larger companies will expect demonstrated Carbon Literacy to be a requirement of their suppliers? 

Businesses must be aware of Carbon Literacy to give them a fuller understanding of the impact of their actions on climate change. One way we can do this is to teach Carbon Literacy Training (CLT) courses, which I’ve contributed to in a group led by Professor Petra Molthan-Hill from Nottingham Trent University. Over the last year, we’ve taught CLT to Universities and businesses around the world via Zoom at a minimal cost. The people we train can then become trainers themselves if they take a brief assessment to cascade the information within organisations and their suppliers, large or small. We’re offering this at Durham University soon, and you will get an invite to participate, Veronica. 

What are the consequences and timescales if we don’t do anything soon? 

We’re experiencing climate change around us already, having just lived through the hottest decade on record. We have had the highest average temperatures in history on a global scale in the last seven years according to NASA. We regularly see extreme weather events around the world, such as wildfires and flooding. We can expect this situation to accelerate if we don’t work collaboratively without waiting for the enforcement of this action. 

I realise that businesses will already be aware that this is the case. Understandably they are worried about the financial consequences of being more sustainable, especially after the complex two years we have just had. I believe we need strong government policies to offer financial support, incentives, and practical advice to encourage organisations to improve their sustainability in practice. 

All businesses will have the opportunity to get involved in dedicated Carbon Literacy training which can qualify them to train their staff. These sessions will be announced very soon. 

For more information take a look at www.carbonliteracy.com and www.unprmeclimate.org/carbon-literacy