"You can't operate a business on a dead planet." Business leaders, take note. Find out how every company, big and small, can move to a more sustainable model.

The climate crisis threatens to wipe out humanity unless we do something about it. Workspace hosted a Business Insight Dinner at Brickfields in Hoxton to show how business leaders can address the impact of the climate crisis, with advice from experts at the cutting-edge of the sustainability movement.

Read on to hear from our panellists:

Fiona Place, Associate Director, Climate Change & ESG (Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance) Lead for Anthesis Group based at The Leather Market

Karen Jamison, Head of Sustainability for Workspace 

Leah Riley Brown, Sustainability Policy Adviser for British Retail Consortium 

Louisa Ziane, Chief Brand Officer at Toast Ale

Hannah Pathak, Director UK/Europe for Forum for the Future

Listen to the discussion here:

Why should you become more sustainable?

"Climate change is an emerging risk that has short, medium and long-term implications for businesses and needs to be on the radar of forward-thinking business leaders," says PwC, which advises 420 out of the 500 Fortune 500 companies.

The four key risks to be aware of are: the transition to a low-carbon economy, which presents both risks and opportunities; the physical impacts on your business; investor and customer pressure; and regulatory pressure.

You can't operate a business on a dead planet."

Leah Brown, Sustainability Policy Adviser, British Retail Consortium

What does this mean in practice?

  • The UK's plan to shut down all coal-fired power stations by 2025 as we move to a low-carbon economy has implications for energy-intensive industries.
  • If you source raw materials from regions like flood-ravaged Wales or fire-ridden Australia, what will you do when supply dries up?
  • Investors and customers alike are increasingly dumping businesses that fail to address their carbon footprint
  • Businesses face regulatory pressure to disclose how climate risks affect their bottom line.

Where do you start?

It all starts in the mind. Hannah is in charge of projects tackling issues like climate change and sustainable nutrition. She says, "The most critical enabler for success is not around carbon footprint, but your mindset." Once business leaders commit to a sustainable mindset, then the operational work begins. 

Louisa co-founded award-winning Toast Ale, making a commitment in 2015 to tackle food waste by using surplus bread to brew beer – up to 44% of bread in Britain is never eaten – and give all profits to charities fixing the food system. Toast embodies the principles of the "circular economy".

Leah is working on developing a carbon roadmap for UK retailers. She says, "The scariest part is to have that mindset shift. Write it down, get senior buy-in and work across the business to establish a mindset and action plan for what your business' future will look like."

What will your business' operating environment look in 2030? Business leaders are used to forecasting financial risks but climate risk is only now being talked about at business schools. The World Bank estimates that as many as 143 million people will be displaced by 2050 due to climate change.

Hannah says, “What that means for consumers, workforces and our sense of community will be very different. Ask people to move into that future zone.”

Use trend cards or a risk register to figure this out. The Higg Index from the Sustainable Apparel Coalition is also an online resource that has helped companies like Adidas, Disney and Walmart set goals and measure sustainability performance.

Fiona from Anthesis works with companies to identify environmental risks in their supply chains; she recommends cost-benefit analysis to understand both the physical and transition risks.

She says, "Understand what changes can be made to reduce those risks, clarify what capital expenditure is needed and where best to focus that investment. This can include looking at the security of physical assets but also looking at suppliers."

Listen to Fiona Place explain how Anthesis Group helped a commodity trader understand how the climate crisis will affect their business

Sainsbury's is one example of a company that did a root-and-branch impact assessment to deliver its largest savings in its 150-year history, through key investments made in improving sustainability, says Fiona. The supermarket supports the UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals and is reducing its emissions, water use and waste. This year, Sainsbury's slashed its carbon emissions by 35 percent and reduced plastic on over 100 million items.

Sustainability can mean different things to different businesses. When Ocado wanted to recycle unwanted uniforms, it didn’t think anyone would want them because of the Ocado branding. But it worked with prisoners at HMP Northumberland to turn the uniforms into new items, like aprons and tote bags.

Leah says, “When we talk about sustainability, we run the risk of being vague. It's about those practical applications.”

Leah Brown (centre), Sustainability Policy Adviser for British Retail Consortium shares her advice on how to be more sustainable. 

Help, I'm overwhelmed!

Becoming a sustainable business takes work, but help is at hand. Start with the B Corp certification to measure your company's social and environmental performance; just fill out a free, online impact assessment form and join 50,000 other businesses in figuring out how to do better. It takes between one to three hours to do a full business health check for most small businesses. 

Kate Sandle, Director of Programmes and Engagement at B Lab UK, says, “A first step for businesses interested in measuring their social and environmental impact is to use the free B Impact Assessment tool. Any company wishing to certify as a B Corp has its performance assessed by B Lab across all dimensions of its business. These companies are on a journey of continuous improvement to ensure business leverages its power to be a positive force in the world.”

Score 80 points or more on the test, and you can apply to become a certified B Corp and join the B Corp community. It opens up huge opportunity for collaboration with an aligned network, which meet in person at monthly socials and via a digital platform called B Hive. This channels and helps to bring about a change in mindset to a far wider audience that a business can speak to in isolation.

As a B Corp, you commit to people, planet and profit in your Articles of Association. Your purpose and ethics help to guide business decisions by putting the fiduciary duty on the Directors. When Toast collaborated with a brewery in Cape Town, South Africa to manufacture beer, they found themselves in a quandary during the drought in 2018. Brewing beer is water intensive – it can take up to 10 litres of water to brew a litre of beer. 

Louisa says, "It would have been socially irresponsible to continue brewing beer while there was not enough water for people to drink. We decided to bottle water and distribute it. Be clear about your purpose and how to respond to unknown situations like that."

Act with conviction. Own the issue, but keep it simple.”

Fiona Place, Associate Director, ESG at Anthesis Group

You can start being sustainable closer to home. Find like-minded business professionals at your Workspace business centre to set out how you want your centre to be more sustainable. Customers at The Leather Market centre in London Bridge got inspired at the Workspace Christmas party and set up the Workspace Leather Market Environment Group.

Karen’s goal is to ensure Workspace is as sustainable as it can be in terms of its environmental, social and governance (ESG) impact. She says, "I gather energy consumption information for that business centre and we go through recycling figures. It's such a success we have now set up a new group at Kennington Park. Workspace wants to help customers be more sustainable." To set up or join a group at your Workspace business centre, write to Karen at karen.jamison@workspace.co.uk.

Share your sustainable story

Once your business has committed to a sustainable path and figured out the climate-related risks, it's time to tell customers and investors. The annual Trust Barometer by PR firm Edelman is a bellwether for public sentiment; it shows that two-thirds of those surveyed look to company leaders to speak up directly on the pressing issues facing society and to support topics that matter to communities. Toast, for example, has declared a climate emergency, alongside other businesses. 

In time, regulators will compel businesses to reveal their climate-related risks so get ahead of the disclosure trend. Even just a page on your website that outlines your analysis and where you hope to do better is a good start. The Bank of England now demands lenders stress test for climate change and the City watchdog is even considering forcing public listed companies to disclose climate change risks.

Listen to Hannah at Forum for the Future explain every business should know what the “just transition” is all about

Take it to the next step and tell the government what you think by keeping an eye out for public consultations. Your opinion can sway what the government does. For example, it has committed to help businesses reduce their energy use by at least 20% by 2030. Click here to have your say on how offices can be more energy efficient.

Did you know? Workspace's Brickfields business centre is made from 65% of the existing foundations from the previous building, has 202 sq metres of solar panels on the roof and is kitted out with smart meters to monitor energy consumption across the entire building. Stats from Karen Jamison, Head of Sustainability, Workspace

I'm a really small business, what can I do to be more sustainable?

Try making small, incremental changes at work.

1. If we all sent just one less pointless email a day, we could save over 16,000 tonnes of carbon a year. That's the same as 81,152 flights to Madrid.

2. Print less or never.

3. Find a co-working space close to where you live and take public transport to meetings (or walk). A shared office space uses less water, heating and energy than running your own office – perfect for a fledgling business.

4. Set up a sharing table where people can leave unwanted food for others. Ditch the plastic straws and cups in the kitchen cupboard and stock the work fridge with sustainable products like Dash fizzy water and Snact’s handmade snacks.

5. Move your money. Start by choosing a responsible bank and pension provider. Does your bank have a sustainability charter? Are your employees’ pension pots invested in sustainable companies or those that mine fossil fuels like coal? Head to Green Choices to find out more about sustainable banking and ethical investments.

Guests debate how to be more sustainable in business over dinner at Brickfields business centre in Hoxton 

Want to learn more? Join The Circular Economy Club as an individual and/or business, to find out how to re-think the way you consume. Too busy right now? Subscribe to Treedom; this company will plant trees to offset your work’s carbon emissions. 

Any business, big or small, can play a part in battling the climate crisis and helping to save the planet. Keep reading to discover more information and how you can stay up-to-date on the planet's most pressing problem.

Our audience went away feeling inspired, here is what they had to say:

The panellists gave renewed hope that with the right mindset and collaboration, tackling sustainability is achievable - and actually good for business!

Alana Kennedy - Fashion District 

An interesting event about a hugely crucial subject matter. A collection of like-minded business leaders trying to make a difference.

Emma Gordon - Business Owner   

Further Reading & Listening

Green Up Your Brand. Flick to page 42 of Workspace’s homeWORK magazine to find practical tips on how to make your business more sustainable. Pick up a copy at your nearest Workspace centre.

Woke and Confused. This podcast from hosts Jess and Livvy in Bristol delves into modern-day dilemmas and explores sustainability solutions. Fiona says, "It gets to the heart of being a woke Millennial in this climate."

No one Is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg. An 80-page collection of speeches from schoolgirl and climate activist, Greta Thunberg. Karen says, "It's a great little inspiring book that doesn't take long to read."

NPR's Environment Story. This 20 - 30 minute podcast from the US National Public Radio will update you on all things climate-related, from flooding to air pollution. Leah says, "You can listen to it while you spin cycle!"

Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming. Need ideas on how to be more sustainable? Get inspired by Project Drawdown, founded by environmentalist Paul Hawken. Louisa says, "The book looks at 100 changes that can save the planet and makes the economic case for them. Addressing food waste is number three."

A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger. Learn how to ask the right questions to find sustainable solutions for your business. Hannah says, "This book helps business leaders frame questions in the right way to get innovative answers."

Hear more great insights at our upcoming WBI dinner event, The VCs are in town: A business leaders’ journey to venture capital investment, on Thursday 30th January at Workspace's Kennington Park from 6:00pm to 8:30pm. Directors and Senior Business Leaders, join our panel of experts to glean priceless venture capital knowledge and industry insight. Registration closes for this event on 21st January 2020.