The “how and why” of business

When big brands feel the need to define their “purpose” – or as I prefer to call it, their “how and why” – does it mean the tide has changed against what was traditionally considered the “sole concept of business”?

Historically, economic theory has taught us that the purpose of business is to “offer value through products and services to customers and to make profit to increase shareholder wealth.” 

Refocusing on ‘purpose’

But look around at some of the most successful consumer brands such as Apple, Unilever, Nike and you will see that “purpose” is now up there with profit and business leaders are challenging their organisations to find (or rediscover) their purpose. 

A recent survey by Deloitte determined that 87% of executives believed companies perform best if their purpose goes beyond profit. 

Profit is critical, it is not dirty word, it is needed to provide economic stability, to feed investment and innovation.

But running alongside this is wave of focus on the “how and why” of business which attracts business growth and skilled staff.

The future of profit

So I wonder, what is the future for organisations who are still purely focused on profit for its own sake?

I am seeing this tide of change increasingly in the work and projects in which I am involved. It is clear to see some organisations that are awakening to this zeitgeist and those businesses are seemingly growing and prospering. 

Implementing social value

In the last few weeks alone, I spent a day with senior leaders looking to define and stretch the “social value” their organisations can deliver as part of business-as-usual, and I also worked with a similar group looking to fundamentally change the their operations are delivered, at really progressive pace. 

I have read investor reports that have identified that large financial institutions are recognising that radical change is needed to address rising inequality and man-made climate change. 

I have seen the launch of new joined up campaigns to address air quality in London and learnt more about new business models challenging the existing linear models and improving wellbeing in work.

Good is the new cool!

When I go to Clerkenwell Design Week I often bemoan the lack of sustainable initiatives, but at the 2019 edition I saw a packed room focused on “Designing with Climate in Mind”; and when Eco Innovator Mark Shayler shared that “Good is the new Cool”, I thought: “‘Yes, about time!”

We are regularly bombarded with much negativity about the state of our nation and planet.  There is a lot of uncertainty and polarity that is impacting on business planning.  But alongside these negatives, we are witnessing seeds of change.

“We are all responsible for helping to nurture these when we see them, to help deliver a better type of business and society.”

Don’t get left behind…

So if your organisation is still focusing just on the “what” they are doing, and not ”why” then perhaps it is time to take a look around and consider ”how” business can operate in a better way for staff, society, the environment and ultimately the bottom line.   

Contact me 

P.S. Check out more good news from the Circular London week..

Business in the Community’s Circular Economy Taskforce

Six social benefits of businesses developing a circular service

The environmental arguments for moving to circular business practices are extensive and are well known among those already following the principles.  However,  what are the wider social benefits for an organisation moving towards circularity, and how can identifying these benefits help to drive the agenda?
In early March I was challenged to talk about Social Circularity as part of the workshop being held at the Futurebuild event from the perspective of the Circular Office. This led me to reflect on the broader scope of delivering more circular services, and what the positive impacts on business include. There are measurable environmental results in terms of carbon savings and water usage, but we must not forget those social outcomes that are difficult to quantify yet wholeheartedly positive.

Journey into circular service development

Premier Sustain form part of the Business in the Community (BITC) Circular Economy Taskforce. It operates a range of sustainable services for redundant office furniture and IT and AV equipment. Services include sustainable clearances, resale, donation, remanufacturing, refurbishment, repair and recycling operations.
In 2016 Premier Sustain was rewarded with the Queen’s Award for Enterprise for Sustainable Development for our contributions to sustainability. Its journey into circular service development meant looking at an existing business model and recognising areas of market failure, identifying those points at which the easiest decision was to waste rather than reuse a redundant asset. Having a core ethos of sustainability at the heart of the operation resulted in key social benefits through all areas of service provision.

The social benefits of developing a circular service

  1. Increased employment: Auditing, segregating and managing assets is much more labour intensive than handling them, but in protecting their value the cost of additional labour can be recovered and additional value still achieved. When we changed the way that office clearances were delivered, we immediately increased the work resource needed.
  2. Multi-skilled roles: Repair, refurbishment and reuse of assets creates the needs for a more skilled workforce than in simply managing waste. At our renew centre – where we fulfil the refurbishment of office furniture – we have 15 full-time staff covering a range of highly skilled roles. We are learning and teaching how to remake items and help improve them for future extended use. The team’s expertise increases with investment and becomes an asset.
  3. Apprenticeships into new dynamic roles: Business operations leading to new roles and circular services can require a different approach regarding skill development. We have created IT apprenticeships focused on the repair, reuse and reselling of IT and AV equipment, enabling it to be securely data-wiped and put back into reuse.
  4. Significant financial and wellbeing benefits to charities: Donating unneeded resources to those who are in need and have limited budget is a great way of delivering social value. There are an increasing number of online platforms that can facilitate this activity. Our Giving Back Project has enabled facility managers to divert thousands of redundant items from offices into charities, schools and social enterprises. This also helps larger organisations to meet their corporate responsibility targets.
  5. Reduction in furniture poverty: We have a huge problem of furniture poverty in the UK and those who can least afford it only have punitive financial options for securing furniture they cannot afford. Responsible business delivery can and should support those most vulnerable in our society.
  6. Attracting a supportive workforce: A highly engaged workforce does not like to see an employer wasting money, assets or resources. Staff and clients can benefit from a greater sense of satisfaction if the services they engage with have stronger social outcomes.

The importance of social value

These areas alone can demonstrate to any organisation that, as they engage with the concept of the circular office, they will be supporting products and services that deliver much wider social and environmental value.
As businesses move towards more circular development or work towards a circular office environment, they too can harness the additional social benefits being achieved. This will become more business-critical for many, as recent political developments have focused on the importance of social value.
In a speech last month at the Social Value Summit1, David Lidington, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, announced a shake-up of the way government contracts are awarded to make sure they consider their social impact, by looking at areas such as the employment of disabled people, the use of small businesses, the prevention of modern slavery and the protection of the environment.
Perhaps more importantly, while reporting on financial and carbon savings does exist, there is also some immeasurable value in making a real difference in the lives of those who need it most. The support we have provided to homeless charities, such as St Mungo’s and City YMCA, has meant that we genuinely have taken one person’s waste and enabled it to become the wealth of someone at their greatest time of need. There are no metrics for that. 

  1. Businesses urged to do more to help improve

This blog was taken from my blog for Business in the Community, the Prince’s Responsible Business Network.

You can’t just change the words…

Semantics and the Circular Economy

I was delighted to be asked by RWM to present at their show in Birmingham last week and share with visitors my knowledge and experience in developing commercial opportunities in the circular economy.  In particular I was asked to focus on the exceptional developments in reuse achieved by Premier Sustain, both in office furniture and now IT reuse services.

I have been a long-term attendee of this show, in its various guises and geographical locations, but I hadn’t been for some time, so I was also looking forward to seeing what was new. Given that my panel session was on the circular economy, I was intrigued to see how the industry was embracing new ways of working.

The night before, I read my latest copy of the CIWM magazine to brush up, as it were, (I have to admit I don’t read every copy). My eyes were drawn to an advert for a container fabrication company and their strapline of “enabling the circular economy” … with a picture of some roll-on, roll-off containers at a HWRC site. I was somewhat taken aback, although I’m not sure exactly why. Perhaps I just always hope for more than simply namedropping the latest ‘on trend’ phrase for marketing reasons. I am not naming that particular company as I don’t wish to single them out; they are part of an industry that has sometimes innovated more in language than in action.   I can imagine a similar advert from 20 years ago using the tagline ‘enabling recycling’ and perhaps 10 years ago: ‘enabling resource management’… Or am I too harsh?

I hoped the visit to the show would demonstrate more innovation and mindset change than this.  Now I will caveat my comments carefully – I was only at the show for 1 day, I only attended about 3 sessions and I only saw about 75% of the stands… But did I see or hear real innovation?  I am sorry to say I didn’t – just better ways of containing, collecting, processing and measuring waste.  Progression…. Well maybe, if doing the same things slightly better than before counts, but not what I would class as innovation, and certainly not the level of disruption required to move from a linear to a circular economy.

Outside of the circular economy theatre there was no focus on the upper echelons of the waste hierarchy – I am sorry if I missed the stands on waste prevention, or skipped by the services enabling reuse, my feet were too sore to manage the complete circuit.  There were pockets, to be fair, of good practice – it was great to see bio-bean in place and I was pleased to see Craig from MD Recovery present, but I am not sure what else I was missing… Or maybe I just expect too much?


Circular Economy Panel Session

On a more positive note it was great to be part of such a positive panel, chaired by the FRN CEO Craig Anderson and alongside Nick Davis (Founder of Neighbourly) and Katie Thomas, Circular Project Officer from Opportunity Peterborough.  Craig commented in the opening address that it said a lot about how the waste hierarchy was prioritised that a panel session on “Commercial Opportunities from Reuse, Remanufacture and the Sharing Economy” was held as the last session at the end of the last day.  That said, the session was fairly well attended and we had some lively and engaging discussions.

During my address, I made the point that I did not see today’s custodians of waste as being the circular solution providers of tomorrow.  This was the view I had before the show and which was reinforced on the day.

Is it too much to expect such an old trade as the waste management industry to deliver such a radical mind shift change to a primary focus of waste prevention rather than ‘management’ – Is that asking turkeys to vote for Christmas?

From my work with Premier Workplace Services, (traditionally a commercial relocation company) and the significant role they have developed in commercial reuse I can demonstrate that the answers that are needed can come from all sorts of service suppliers. Alongside this I have seen fantastic innovation from circular start-ups, involved with organisations such as Advance London, and read excitedly about charity innovators such as Hubbub, all actively tackling and reducing waste at source.

The panel session felt positive, the reaction from the audience and the follow-up conversations buoyed me for the journey back to London. So, I remain positive that change is coming, from all directions – I dare say I will venture to RWM in a few years, and hopefully there will be more than simply a change in words to witness.

Photo Credit: Ross Findon Unsplash

Is it all about the money?

Not a midlife crisis…

Heading all too swiftly into my mid-forties I find myself surrounded by peers who are starting to reflect on the world, their life and what they are here for.  Perhaps in earlier years this would have simply be described as having a midlife crisis, but I think what we are witnessing is a cultural change, manifested in many different ways.

When I was growing up nearly every ‘dad’ birthday card was aimed at the couch potato, men who just drank beer, watched football and looked for the TV remote control.  These days, men of a certain age aren’t resigned to a life on the sofa – they’re often to be found lycra clad and out on their bikes, triathalon training or at the very least buying the January edition of Men’s Health.  And of course, it’s not just the blokes who are searching for something more fulfilling…

I speak myself as a yoga bending, veg juicing, meditating, purpose-searcher, albeit with a penchant for a glass of red and a curry. Us ‘mid-lifers’ are all at different levels of this process: there are still sofa dwellers, but this is a different world from the one in which I grew up. Many of us are seeing midlife as an opportunity to discover more about ourselves and our world?


Business finds its soul

I think this human evolutionary change is being mirrored in the business environment. There are companies out there that have successfully reached their social, environmental and economic sweet spot and this is benefiting their team, their environment and the community around them.

I look at such organisations and what I see are companies that love what they are doing, that have happy staff, that have not only found themselves, but they like themselves and they look good.  They have a sense of purpose and it’s certainly not all about the money. They are building a better business.


Next steps to a better business

There are many ways in which you can seek to improve your business/get your business off the couch and into the cycle lane: Think about how you can reduce the negative aspects of your operations, perhaps reducing your environmental impact in some way or providing staff with more flexible working conditions.

Or you can step it up a gear, recognising that business purpose can sit beyond profit. So much more can be delivered with a broader vision: can you take a view of how your company can work to deliver much more value and still achieve profits and growth?

It will take some innovative thinking and a commitment to a wider purpose, but real positive benefits for customers, staff and your wider community can be achieved, alongside even more sustainable profit.

There may always be someone overtaking you in the cycle lane, or achieving impossible human contortions in the yoga studio, but you shouldn’t be put off taking part. In improving your business, just like improving your lifestyle, it is a journey, it is your choice to take part, something is always better than nothing.

Your midlife ‘crisis’ is an opportunity to take on some changes, to take the next steps.

I would love to hear from any connections about how their organisations have shifted focus to deliver much wider value, please share your ideas and successes. – Building Better Business.

Going Circular

– What advice would you give?

As the circular economy grows in momentum, or certainly the volume of content written about it does, I’m calling for those of you impatient for change – like I am – to share your thoughts on what advice you would give a circular start-up business.

Continue reading Going Circular