Sustainability. People tell me everyone’s talking about sustainability but when I actually ask people what does it mean to them or their business, not many can give me a clear answer. What I do know is that not being sustainable, or not having a sustainability strategy in place could actually harm my business in the near future.
The first thing that concerns me is how not having a sustainability strategy in place could harm my business. So I took myself off to the one organisation that might have the answer; Cynnal Cymru – Sustain Wales.
I started by talking to Rhodri Thomas (Rhodri is Training Manager so knows a thing or two). I asked him how supply chain businesses could be affected? “It’s quite simple really,” says Rhodri, “Imagine you want to supply a product or service to the public sector, a social enterprise or a major corporation. You’re asked, or invited, to tender. Somewhere in your tender document will be a section on sustainability. The organisation might ask ‘What are your views on sustainability?’, ‘Do you operate sustainably?’. They might even ask for a copy of your company’s sustainability policy.
You don’t have one so you don’t tick the box, or you cobble together an answer that you think will appease the person looking over the tender document. The reality is, or will be, you’ve probably excluded your business from any chance of being considered for the contract. To companies that have been used to getting contracts, this may come as quite a shock.”
My initial thoughts are this is just more bureaucratic box ticking – the public sector creating more hideous hoops for the down-trodden businesses of Wales to jump through. The truth is we’re living in a world that we haven’t taken particularly good care of for quite some time. We’ve written some big cheques against the environment and, probably most saddening of all, it is our children’s and grandchildren’s generations that will have to honour those debts.
That’s basically what being sustainable is about – not just recycling paper and ‘being green’, but using sustainability to think about how we do business.
There are huge opportunities if we grasp them. Sometimes, unfortunately, when the carrot doesn’t work, government has to wave a stick at us. Over a few weeks, I asked many business people what sustainability meant for them? Nearly all couldn’t really give me a coherent answer. Most talked about recycling or global warming but when I asked them to talk about ‘sustainability’ in the context of their own business, they struggled. Perhaps, it’s this ambiguity that is the problem.
After meeting Rhodri, I chatted with Mari Arthur. Mari has recently taken over Cynnal Cymru – Sustain Wales. Mari has been in business off and on for most of her working life so can appreciate both the private and public sector approach to sustainability. “Major global brands have embraced the concept of sustainable development seeing it as an opportunity for innovation in product design, service delivery and business models,” she says. “Being sustainable can save money, make a company more efficient and a workplace safer and more pleasant to be in; it encourages loyalty amongst staff, greater trust from communities and a willingness for partnership and procurement from the public sector.”
I’m intrigued by her enthusiasm. I imagine sustainability is a difficult concept to sell because the perception is that it will cost companies to implement. It’s fine for Coca Cola to ‘be sustainable’, it fits with their marketing strategy, and they have a huge global budget to reinforce their messages, but what about a small supplier Wales? Can they honestly be expected to appreciate there are opportunities here for them?
“We know that the concept of sustainability is the future: business as usual is not an option. So, to encourage Welsh businesses to make the most of emerging legislation and the growing culture of sustainability amongst the major brands, we have developed a university accredited course for the business leaders of Wales. We want Wales to succeed,” Mari says.
“We’ve developed a course for people who are in work and have a management or leadership role. It is assessed at Level 4 which is equivalent to undergraduate. It is ideally suited for someone who has been tasked to develop the sustainability approach of their organisation from a blank page or rudimentary level. Recent students to complete the course are working for Principality Building Society, Melin Homes and ACT Training and have developed detailed action plans for their organisations as part of their work. It’s been a very positive experience for the employees and the companies and we feel, with the training, advice and support provided by our team, that the organisations have got a great deal out of the experience but there’s always more we can do. The whole culture has to change.”
Ultimately, the work Cynnal Cymru does ensures leaders have the information and skills to bring about positive change by developing their understanding of the principles of sustainable development. By helping leaders and business owners embrace sustainable development, the chances are business practice will change and start to produce tangible, measurable benefits. It’s always been the case that, practically, if you can show a business a change that makes a profit, it’ll embrace it wholeheartedly.
“I agree,” says Mari. “If businesses large and small improve their sustainability practices, then that company’s customers, the environment, the economy and society will also be the winners in the end.”
I ask Mari if it’s a challenge getting companies to commit to the sustainability cause and how they are trying to change attitudes. “In May this year we launched a membership drive. As a member, we can help you on your sustainability journey and
offer support, advice, training and guidance on the things you can do to improve your environmental impacts, make your business more successful and contribute to the well-being of Wales.
“By bringing together the improvements our members are making, we will be able to tell a bigger story that will inspire others to make their own contribution.
Wales faces a number of challenges but together we can meet them and turn a challenge into an opportunity. We see our role as a supportive network that shares learning, challenges thinking and inspires change.”
Later this year, the organisation will host the Sustain Wales Awards to showcase “the excellent examples of what many people and companies in Wales are doing under the umbrella of sustainable development.”
Mari is keen to remind me that their ‘Relevant, Resilient, Responsible’ workshops for management teams develop integrated thinking and teamwork around an ethos of sustainability and business responsibility with the ultimate aim of boosting revenue. This reassurance that sustainability can actually be financially rewarding is probably the key to making sustainability a focus for business. Is it affordable? Is it profitable? Will it contribute positively to the bottom line? Having said that, if we don’t take sustainability seriously we may all pay a much higher price in the long run. The meter is running…
Cynnal Cymru – Sustain Wales
Mount Stuart Square, Cardiff Bay
Cardiff CF10 5FL
029 2019 2021