Partnership at the heart of developing a sustainable strategy for your business

Partnership is the key to introducing a meaningful sustainability strategy for many businesses.

That was the overriding view of panelists discussing ‘A Sustainable Future’ as part of Invest Midlands. asked key figures from the region for their views, which included Charmaine Morrell, Head of Sustainability, Nottingham Trent University, Becky Valentine, co-owner -of property company Spenbeck, Natalie Gasson-McKinley, Development Manager, Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire, FSB, Andy Williams, Director of Business, Investment & Culture, Coventry City Council, and Lance Hill, managing director of Eight Days a Week Print Solutions.

Charmaine began the discussion explaining what sustainability means to her, saying: “Sustainability helps a business future-proof itself. A lot of it is resource efficiency. Carbon emissions are a sign of wastage.”

Natalie said sustainability is simply a question of return on investment: “You can save money if you are more efficient running your business.”

Becky put sustainability down to a “cold-hearted business case”. She said: “It is an imperative now. There’s no reason why you don’t go all in if you have the right support and knowledge.”

Lance offered: “It’s not an option. We have invested in state of the art technology. It is not just about sustainability. There are commercial benefits to doing it, it makes you more lean and efficient. It is all about the next generation, as well.”

And Andy explained: “This is central to what we do. Coventry will be the first city to have an all electric bus fleet by 2025. We have had, for the last eight years, a green business programme. We feel like we’re doing a lot, but there’s a lot more to happen.”

Discussing whether there is enough support to help businesses develop their sustainability credentials, Charmaine said the Chancellor’s Spring Statement wasn’t as helpful as it could have been, but went on: “What a business needs is leadership. Somebody to say, ‘right, this is what we’re going to do’.”

She said not all SMEs are able to do that, but argued that there is support to be had: “I would urge businesses to get in touch with their local university and local council to see what help is out there. Don’t just jump in on the first advert you see for a consultant.”

Lance responded: “We’re a carbon neutral business but we had to do a lot of groundwork on it.

“I literally Googled it on how to become carbon neutral and I found a partner. It’s all about gathering data, and you do need help when you’re an SME.”

Becky agreed: “That’s absolutely right. If you don’t partner with people you are going to flounder.

“We have a whole range of support. Rationalisation of advice is also key.

“The word ‘overwhelm’ comes up quite a bit. Rationalise how you access information. The partnerships and the taking it slowly and doing marginal gains is the way forward.”

The panel

The panel was then asked how can we accelerate progress made on embracing sustainability. Andy suggested businesses helping each other, and talking with each other, is a big factor: “It is not about being competitive, it’s about being sustainable.

“People will not only share stories, but where the best practice comes from.”

He added: “We will be lobbying government for more opportunities, more programmes, more investment, more innovation on this space, for sure.”

Another topic was how much sustainability matters to the younger generation when considering a career. Lance said: “Journey time is massive now. Travel costs and also sustainability. For younger people it’s definitely a big factor.”

Becky revealed: “We did research a couple of years ago and found a quarter of Gen Z people said they would only work for a company with sustainability at its heart, and I would argue that is a lot higher now.”

Charmaine said: “When recruiting for people in my team, what people like is the fact that sustainability is central to the university’s strategy. People want to know they work for a value-led organisation.”

Closing the debate, panellists were asked what message they would give to people not yet on board the sustainability agenda.

Andy said: “Coming out of COVID it’s about more choice and people will make much more choice about where they work and where they play.”

Lance replied: “Don’t delay, don’t put it off, it won’t go away. Find the right partner, go and ask for help.”

Charmaine said: “Have a think about what’s preventing you from implementing some form of sustainability. if you want a chat, reach out to people. There is support out there.”

And Becky suggested: “Re-frame it as an investment, and not a cost.”