• Adam Whittaker

Putting The Environment Back On The Agenda

So the weird times continue. Greater Manchester is back in some form of 'lockdown'. What the new restrictions actually mean, I don't think anybody really knows and the method of communication of the new rules was nothing short of disgraceful. But that is besides the point.

One of the unforeseen consequences of national lockdown has been environmental. Some reports suggest that food waste has increased by a third since we've been stuck indoors. Due to health and hygiene implications, the resurgence of single use plastics has been an unfortunate aside. As the hospitality and other industries attempt to drag themselves back to some form of normality and ultimately survival, wider issues such as the environment will have to return to the agenda.

Prior to the pandemic, I first met Andy Young, founder of Achieve Goal 12, a consultancy that helps businesses improve their impact on the environment and be more sustainable. He focusses on the food industry but has clients across other sectors.

"I've worked in sustainability for nearly 15 years and in that time, people's understanding of these kind of concerns and issues has grown and legislation and Government policy has improved. It means that over time sustainability has developed from a niche area to becoming arguably one of the most important things for a business to consider".

And then came COVID.

"I hope that people have realised how brittle the food system is and that we need to build resilience so that the sector can ride out big shocks. The impact on the most vulnerable in society has been pretty stark, with an 80% increase in people accessing food banks. I'd like to see a co-ordinated response to helping those that are struggling to make ends meet. I also really hope that the many smaller, independent businesses we have seen develop in recent years can weather the storm as they add so much diversity to the sector, and these are the sort of businesses I'd love to be able to help embed sustainable thinking" 

Sustainability can be a point of difference in a crowded market

Having worked with many food and drink companies over the years, personally I've thought that some of the things that are so pertinent to Andy's business and ethics have been something of a 'nice to have' not a necessity.

Andy can see both sides, "For large businesses this is a key priority. Investors, shareholders and customers all make decisions based upon how businesses respond to these issues. For small and medium sized businesses there are other things that they consider a higher priority, especially when there are things that can impact on the business' financial position, but sustainability can be a point of difference in a crowded market. There are now a lot more that have these issues as part of their core purpose such as Toast, the brewery that uses waste bread to make beer and Who Gives A Crap that make 100% recycled toilet paper and use their profits to fund clean water and sanitation in the developing world."

Understandably many in the hospitality sector are just looking to survive right now. Hand sanitisers and visors have become the priority along side negotiating a smaller number of covers, hesitant consumers and a sense of limbo. Speaking to one restauranteur last week, they were unsure whether to buy more stock and book more staff in, anticipating an Aberdeen effect. Faced with these challenges, the hospitality sector as a whole can be forgiven for maybe not having the environment at the top of their agenda.

This will only get worse

Andy understands but added, "It shouldn't mean that sustainability goes on the back burner. Climate change and environmental issues are already causing huge problems for us and this will only get worse. We've already sleepwalked into the collapse of the natural system that underpins all life on earth and dangerous levels of climate change. While all this sounds like doom and gloom, I also have faith in humanity's ability to respond to a crisis. But people need to understand that working to address these issues can no longer be seen as a 'nice to have'".

When delivering workshops or working individually with clients and business owners I always emphasise the 'why'. Why did you set up the business? What motivates you? Some are often driven financially, others are motivated by a better quality of life. And then there are the people like Andy.

"In 2015 world leaders agreed to 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development (SDGs), which if achieved would mean an end to extreme poverty, inequality, and climate change by 2030. I named the business after one of these Global Goals, which is focussed on making sure that the things we consume are produced in a way that doesn't contribute to climate change or lead to overexploitation of natural resources

We still take far too much stuff from nature. We are currently using the world's resources 1.8 times quicker than the planet can regenerate them, and this is expected to double again by 2050. It's vital we find ways of reducing this burden on the planet. This impacts on natural systems like rainforests and contributes towards climate change as well as representing huge risks to businesses.

The aim of my business is to help others feel like they have a way of contributing towards a sustainable future."

Such a mission is inspiring

Such a passion isn't rare in new ventures but meeting someone with such clearly defined aims, objectives and with such a mission is inspiring. Andy really wants to make a difference and whilst we all at times may pay lip service to such ethical drivers, this is the very foundation of why Andy does what he does.

"Nearly 50% of the UK's business turnover and 60% of employment sits with almost 6 million small and medium enterprises. These companies also contribute significantly to our environmental impact but they don't have the tools or the expertise to address them. I have the knowledge about the things they need to consider and also the technical expertise to help with lots of things such as carbon footprints, how to reduce plastic waste and how to manufacture or source products more responsibly."

As with so many of us who run our own businesses things have slowed down a little for Andy over the last few months and he hasn't had the opportunity to develop new business as he would have liked. But, it has given him the opportunity to spend more time with his 2 year old son. And the good news from an environmental point of view is that he and so many others are now using video calls and that old fashioned thing we call the phone rather than meeting in offices. The essence and purpose of Achieve Goal 12 is always there, no matter the circumstances.

"I hope that large companies have seen that adopting green principles makes sense for their long-term viability. I was pleased to see that over 150 UK businesses, including many from the food and drink and hospitality sectors, wrote to the PM to ensure that the SDGs are used to help the UK's recovery by prioritising helping the most vulnerable in society, building a healthy planet and reducing inequalities."

No matter what size or stage your business is at, Andy can help you 'do the right thing'. An ethical and environmental culture and strategy should be as much a part of your infrastructure and planning as your business or marketing plan. You should drop him a line. You will be inspired.