Sam Reeve, CEO of Resource Futures looks at the developments in the 10 years since his business was formed, and how big businesses are helping show the way to a more sustainable, and successful, future. It’s about long-term commitment to the cause, not short-term wins…
In 2007, the nation was shown how “it’s not easy being green” in a Channel 4 TV programme fronted by Dick Strawbridge. A year before, Resource Futures was officially formed with Network Recycling, The Recycling Consortium and SWAP merging. In the 10 years since, we’ve seen the start and continuation of an economic shift by business to a more resource efficient sustainable footing. Yes, more could have been achieved and by more organisations (and governments you could add) but let’s not downplay progress so far. The changes that we are asking companies to make in moving away from unsustainable raw material use to minimal environmental impact, or indeed positive environmental contribution, are not always simple changes to make.
Leadership With A Long-Term Outlook
As ever with change, we need those who can lead the market. People and companies with long-term vision, unshakeable confidence and bullishness to persevere. In July, I attended a Marks and Spencer Plan A event and it struck me just how long Plan A has been going and how fresh and innovative it was when launched back in 2007. Since that time, M&S has achieved 175 of its commitments and saved over £500m, and still its targets continue. After nine years, the most recent report still recognises that “climate, waste and resource use were issues 10 years ago and will be issues in 10 years’ time. What changes is how we address them.”
Another corporate giant, Unilever, struck out in 2010, with an ambitious sustainability plan. Paul Poleman remarked at the time that “if he didn’t see others over his shoulder then he would be worried” but he did and he isn’t. One of the first issues Poleman tackled was dealing with shareholder confidence in doing away with quarterly profit statements before moving on to other practicable changes. Without investor backing, his plans to reduce environmental impact would have been left on the scrap heap. Even now, Unilever recognises it’s an ongoing process, stating that “continued climate related challenges, uncertainty in markets and fluctuating commodity prices have made securing our own supply more important than ever.” The company acknowledges that one of its pressing needs is the environmental impact of the consumers using their products.
Sustainable Business Is More Than A Fad
Sustainability is more than a passing fashion. There have been a mix of carrots and sticks used to drive and support change including European Directives and national legislation, but it has been the need for business longevity with sustainable profits that has resulted in innovation and new ways of doing business across all sectors. In a world of growing uncertainty whether that is commodity price fluctuation, global political instability, the impact of Brexit, extreme weather, impact on supply chains, population growth, material resource scarcity or digitisation; businesses recognise the need to take action to understand their supply chains and how being resource efficient can improve the delivery of their value proposition to their customers.
The catalyst to transition to a more sustainable circular way of doing business can take many forms, but having the data and insight in to what delivers the value to your customers is vital. We have worked with numerous businesses, including multinational manufacturers supplying the automotive industry, textile recyclers, decorative coating manufacturers, retail supply chain manufacturers and, for all, the importance of robust data across the supply chain and processes was key. We are not just a desk-based support business; we believe in getting our hands dirty, quite literally sometimes. We have worked with AkzoNobel for 20 years through the Community RePaint project. In the past 12 months AkzoNobel has supported us in opening two trial paint remanufacturing centres turning unwanted paint into a new product.
We are using tools such as the Business Model Canvas to help our customers innovate how they deliver their value proposition – and data is always central in terms of establishing the baseline and then developing plans and importantly piloting new ways of working. In a climate of global economic uncertainty, we are being asked to support our customers in understanding where the risks are, on what time frame and how they can improve their resource efficiency in order to better meet their customers’ needs now and in the long term.
Our first job as resource efficiency professionals is to help businesses understand the relevance to their unique situation and way of delivering value to their customers. And a key building block in that process is gathering the right data and obtaining maximum value from it through analysis. If businesses want to improve, a line has to be drawn in the sand. We are ready to help with that process.