In our third episode of season two of 15 Minutes With we’re talking to Andrew Griffiths. Andrew is the Director of Policy and Partnerships for Planet Mark.

Alongside his work at Planet Mark, Andrew is the Chair of the Institute of Directors National Sustainability Taskforce and a TEDx speaker. Planet Mark is a sustainability certification that supports organisations and real estate to measure and reduce carbon emissions and increase social impact.

In this episode, we talked to him about the customer experience and sustainability. We asked him about a recommended process for achieving sustainability goals, look at the value of grassroots efforts and find out the truth behind greenwashing.

 

Ways to Listen

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Transcript

Graham  00:13

On this episode of 15 Minutes With we’re talking to Andrew Griffiths, Director of Policy and Partnerships at Planet Mark. Planet Mark is a sustainability certification that supports organisations and real estate to measure and reduce carbon emissions and increase social impact. He’s also the chair of the Institute of Directors National Sustainability Taskforce and a TEDx speaker. We talked to him about the customer experience and sustainability. Ask him about a recommended process for achieving sustainability goals. Look at the value of grassroots efforts and find out the truth behind greenwashing.

Shelley  00:43

Andrew. Hi, welcome to the podcast.

Andrew  00:45

Lovely to be here.

Shelley  00:46

Could you tell us a little bit about customer experience and sustainability, why they are important and how they work together?

Andrew  00:52

I guess the first thing to realise is often people think about sustainability as being something that only young people are interested in and, or certainly predominantly, but actually, there was a survey of 1.2 million people all over the world done by the UN. It’s the largest survey of its kind about January last year. And they basically found that more than 60% of every age demographic in every country that they surveyed around the world believes that climate change was a global emergency. And the difference between the youngest generation, youngest generation were the most extreme. But the difference between the youngest generation and the oldest generation was only about 10%. It’s less than you think. The clear message from that is everyone cares about this doesn’t matter what market you’re in everyone care. So don’t do it just for the young people do it because actually, there’s a growing majority who really do believe in and care about this stuff. But second thing in terms of how does that translate across into commercial results. And Unilever actually did sort of a really fantastic example of this, where they about five or six years ago, they divided their brands, they’ve got tonnes and tonnes of different companies and brands sit within their portfolio, they divided them into two buckets. One was brands that had a clear purpose based approach, they had purpose at their core. So it’s brands like Ben and Jerry’s who had become a B Corp and things like that. Then they had their non purpose driven brands. And then they followed them for about five years. And they found that across the board, their purpose driven brands outperformed the non purpose driven brands, in terms of profitability, growth and resilience during things like the pandemic purpose driven, strong ESG linked brands had had a much greater performance. And that’s what led to Unilever deciding to adopt a purpose driven approach across their portfolio and go to all of their non purpose driven brands and say, right, you guys should find a purpose because this is good for business.

Graham  02:36

That’s amazing. We’ve certainly seen examples and the research we’ve done with people like Tom’s we were looking at loyalty programmes, and going down a non traditional route and kind of a mission lead loyalty programme where people will, like you say, align to a brand because of what they believe in and what they stand for. How do you go about doing it? Because we know that it’s great, and we know that customers want it. But where do you start? It seems like a journey that has so many entry points, what happens if you pick the wrong one? Is there a wrong, it’s a bit of a minefield, I guess.

Andrew  03:05

I’d say that there isn’t really a wrong starting point. If you’re starting with a serious intention of wanting to have an impact and bring about meaningful change, then that is already a good start. Because sustainability is a broad church, there’s a lot of different areas within it, whether it be environmental, social, governance, the different parts, but I guess to sort of start with carbon, similar approach that you’re going to take with all of them, you can’t manage what you don’t measure is where I kind of start, you can imagine sort of your CFO saying to you, Hey, I’d like you to save money in the budget, cut some money out, cut with a bunch of ways that we can cut our costs in the coming year. Now, I don’t want you to measure anything, I also don’t want you to set any targets, I just want you to give me a list of things that you think will reduce our costs. And then we’ll give that to our investors. And there’ll be incredibly happy, absolutely not like your investors will laugh you out of the room if you pulled that stuff. But that is what a lot of companies are currently doing on sustainability. So carbon and money are not dissimilar. If you’re not measuring anything, how do you know whether or not it’s working? How do you know what your payback period is, what your return on investments are? How do you know what’s working best, what’s not working, and what to do more of or less of. And so you really got to start with measurement, then it’s really around engagement and getting cracking and getting underway, working to engage your employees, engaging with your suppliers, engaging with your investors, and providing people with sort of the upskilling, empower them on what they want to do see it as a journey that you’re taking your business on each step along that journey is about making the next step for making progress. But really baking that into your ethos. No one has a plan for how they’re going to be financially profitable in 2050. We’re asking businesses to have a plan on how they’re going to be net zero and 2050. And the reason you’re confident that your business is still going to be around and still going to be profitable in 2050 is not because you have a plan specifically on how to get there. It’s because you’ve put in place really good annual governance processes, and that’s a cycle of measurement. It’s a cycle of planning budgets and targets and see you’ve got to have built those governance processes around net zero. And for larger organisations getting into the social dynamics and the nitty gritty, there’s again, the same thing, measuring, engaging with people building out your plans, building out your targets, and then going through that cycle of achieving those targets.

Shelley  05:16

How do you suggest going about educating people within a business because often there are a few key people within a business that are interested and motivated, but it’s really about getting key decision makers on board. And also how do you then communicate that message clearly within the business as to this is the direction we’re taking things this is the journey we’re going on from here on out

Andrew  05:37

Depends on which direction you’re going right? If it’s top lead, i.e., you know, if your C suites are leading on it, the top down approach is, to a certain extent easier, because you can mandate training, and then it’s about making that training as accessible as possible. And making sure it’s really, you know, doing carbon jargon busting is what we do a lot with our members of Planet Mark, we have a whole engagement team who go in and help do carbon jargon busting, what is netzero versus carbon neutral versus carbon negative versus climate positive. All these different terms get kind of thrown around that really confusing, and no one’s really clear on what they mean. So we do a lot of carbon jargon busting and trying to put things into terms that a child would understand. Because if it’s not at that level, people aren’t going to be able to reiterate the message on as easily. If you’re going the other way, bunch of the team at a grassroots level within a business and you want to influence up you want to get your company doing more stuff, then the best thing there is to first step, find allies. And it’s very straightforward. If you’ve got Microsoft Teams, or Slack or whatever it might be put out a call out, say, Hey, I’m thinking of setting up a group for us to talk about the you know, sustainability and seeing ways that we can become more sustainable as business who’d be interested in joining. And you’re going to be surprised straight off the bat that there are a lot more people interested in than you think there are. And then once you’ve gathered that group of people discuss and agree a set of priorities on things that you think will make the biggest difference fastest, and then take that to your management team to your board. When you’ve got a whole group of people within the business proposing something, it’s very hard for them to ignore you outright, because they’re going to piss off quite a lot of their workforce in one go. And so that, interestingly is how Graze snacks became a B Corp, because a whole bunch of these staff voluntarily started getting together decided they wanted to become a B Corp, they developed a pitch, they asked to be able to as a group of employees to be able to come in and pitch the board on the idea of becoming a B Corp. And they did. And it was a long process. I think it took them about sort of two, three years, but they got there because they formed a coalition of within the business and then we’re able to influence up for a grassroots effort find allies for a top down effort, actually, the same thing is kind of true, the more you can do, yes, put in place for training and whatever. But actually reaching out and finding volunteers and empowering them one of our members Squires Garden Centres, they wanted to have one sustainability champion for each of their garden centres. So they put a call out saying who’d like to be the sustainability champion for each centre. And not only were they overwhelmed with people wanting to do that, then once they appointed someone who was empowered as the lead for that centre and said, you’ve got any ideas, take them to that person. Once that happened, those people were deluged with people bringing them ideas, and they’re going hang on a minute, these ideas were all in the business before, why didn’t we hear about them? Because you hadn’t given them a channel to say, Oh, if I’ve got a sustainability idea, that’s where I take it. So actually, you know what their big lesson was flipping out, let’s empower people. We don’t need necessarily to go out and do huge strategic exercises, let’s try asking our staff, just because actually, they’ve got a lot of brilliant ideas.

Graham  08:34

Having the ideas is one thing, but actually doing something with them is a whole nother thing, right? Because as you say, there’s a lot of jargon. And you’re kind of surrounded by all this information of all these companies doing all these things. And you have to just go on the face value and trust that what you’re being told is the truth. And then you often see other things come out that businesses are being accused of greenwashing. And again, it’s one of those things where you’re like, Okay, well, that’s fine. But what does it actually mean to me? And what does that actually mean in the whole scheme of things?

Andrew  09:01

There’s a seesaw here. There’s greenwashing. And then a term a lot of people are now familiar with but equally on the flip side, there’s green hushing, which is people not talking about what they’re doing, because they’re afraid of being accused of greenwashing. And actually, that’s just as much a problem if not more of a problem, in some ways, because if people aren’t sharing what they’re doing, then we aren’t learning. We aren’t able to accelerate other people’s journeys based upon the learnings of others. If everyone’s having to reinvent the wheel, this whole thing’s gonna take a heck of a lot longer. We need people to share what they’re doing. But absolutely, we need them to do it in a credible way. And there’s to a certain extent, there are sort of three things on this one is the standardisation of how we do all this stuff. And actually, one of the announcements from the UK Government was that they’re going to be exploring, putting in place regulatory governance of carbon accounting bodies like Planet Mark, where we certify people’s carbon footprints, we support them on their developing netzero strategies. We’re not currently a regulated industry in the same way that an accountancy firm is they have to report to the FCA, we’re totally in favour of that sort of regulation coming into our industry because we think it’s important that there is a trust and a consistency to the way in which carbon footprints and netzero strategies are being developed. And the reason for that is there are three scopes of emissions. And you don’t need to know all the detail and all of them necessarily, but scope one is the fuel that you burn. So it’s your utility, you know, it’s your sort of gas, if you’ve got a gas heating system, it’s your cars, if you have a vehicle fleet and fuel that you’re burning directly. Scope two is energy that you use, because you’re not the one burning the fuel the gas or the coal, or hopefully renewable energy sources. You’re not the one doing that. But you are the one using the energy and you have a lot of control over how much energy use. Scope three is everything else. It’s 15 categories of scope three, it’s things like your business travel, it’s your procurement, it’s your employee commuting, it’s your pensions and investments. There’s a whole suite of things in there in terms of greenwashing, if I were to come to you as an individual human being and I say to you, I am the most sustainable of sustainable, I am a sustainability hero. And then you found out that the only thing I had measured was my utility bills and my car and I’d left out the places that I travel, the food that I eat, the products that I buy, you might not think I’ve measured quite enough to justify my holier than thou approach people being transparent on every Planet Mark certification, you can see what was measured. You know, we’re talking their global operations UK operations, one office, you can see what emissions were included in that which categories of emissions did we actually measure, and you can see the time period within which it was measured, it’s transparent, you can take one look at the comfort and go, Okay, I know what I’m dealing with it now. And that’s really what you need at that sort of solid evidentiary base. But really the top three things you can do to avoid being accused of greenwashing. Number one, show you’re working for those who want to see it, let them dive into the details. Second step is to present it as a journey, not an endpoint, but a lot of people present carbon neutrality like they’re finished. And actually, if you present it as a journey, people are much less likely to criticise you because you’re sort of acknowledging you’re celebrating a milestone or step on that journey. But you’re acknowledging that you’ve got further to go. Step three, present your next step point to your own Achilles heel and say, right, you know, we’re delighted to say that we’ve achieved an absolute carbon reduction of 11%, which was what our members did on average last year. However, within our footprint, our business travel emissions increased. And so next year, that’s going to be a real focus area for us. No one can accuse you of greenwashing, if you just pointed to your own Achilles heel and gone, this was an area which didn’t go as well. And actually that talking to work on next year, people tend to love you for it when you give that transparent approach.

Shelley  12:28

I really liked that example, Andrew, because I completely agree the whole sustainability conversation is often actually sort of framed, or I guess assumed by many people to be something that you can achieve. But it’s constant. It’s ongoing. It’s a process, and it’s never really finished. It’s just something that we constantly want to iterate and evolve and improve upon.

Andrew  12:49

Is there a finish point for achieving profitability? No, not really. But if the business is in trouble, you have a plan to get out of trouble. And that’s kind of where we are now, like the moment we’re in trouble. Climate change is a problem. All organisations and people and industry and governments are all in that share a role in having created this problem. And so what we’re doing now is we’re kind of in a turnaround situation where we have to come up with very rapid plans on how we’re going to turn around our businesses when it comes to carbon, which you would do exactly the same thing if you were in financial difficulties. And by the way, carbon equals money in so many cases, you know, the cheapest unit of energy is the one that you don’t use. A huge amount of, especially the low hanging fruit, when it comes to sustainability will save the business money, things that will reduce your energy consumption. Do you want to save money on energy? Yes. Do you want to reduce your waste and thereby reduce your waste costs? Yes. Do you want to use some of your waste as a resource circular economy and therefore have to buy less resources in the process? Yes, all of these things just like good common sense business practices, people absolutely should be able to find ways that are actually going to benefit the business’s bottom line.

Shelley  13:54

Absolutely. And as you’ve said, this is everybody’s responsibility. And at some point, it’s going to become so so so important that all businesses are taking these measures. Are there any examples that you have of perhaps a sort of David and Goliath kind of influence where someone sort of smaller business or even external to a business can influence how accountability is taken on board.

Andrew  14:15

And my favourite example of this is really, in addition to my work at Planet Mark, I chair the Institute of Directors National Sustainability Taskforce. And through that I talked to quite a lot of sort of big corporate CEOs. And I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard the CEO of a massive organisation telling me that they are materially changing their sustainability strategy, investing a lot more into it as a direct result of having feedback from the HR team that graduates are asking questions about the sustainability practices of the organisation in interviews. Now, to be clear, that is a person who does not work for the company may never work for the company and might not have got the job but influencing board level strategy because they asked a question, you know, asking questions is a really powerful thing. So I always relay that example to particularly SMEs, who are worried about how am I going to get my supply chain to do what I want? Just ask the question that’s your starting point doesn’t hurt to ask question of go and ask all of your suppliers. Have you set Net Zero target? Are you measuring your carbon footprint? Either you’re gonna be pleasantly surprised and a bunch of them will go yeah, of course, here’s, here’s our information, here’s what we’re doing. Or you’re going to be another link in the chain of customers of theirs that are asking them exactly the same question that’s going to lead to them getting on their journey faster.

Graham  15:25

Have you got kind of a, I guess, a finishing piece that says this is something we recommend, it’s really practical, it’s a good place to start. But people after the thing to this can kind of almost hit the ground running.

Andrew  15:36

So I guess the round off is give people a little bit of hope in terms of what you can do. So planet Mark, we have over 700 members across every sector and industry you can think of and operating worldwide, our members last year in 2022 achieved an absolute carbon reduction of 11% On average, and 14% reduction per employee. So it is absolutely possible for you to make short term gains on reducing your carbon footprint figures that you can then talk about, we have a 99% success rate of organisations being able to decarbonize and the way that that works is I’ll hammer home sort of the message I gave earlier, which is you can’t manage what you don’t measure, you’ve got to get your baseline together. Second, you can’t progress towards something you haven’t set a target for. And then the third thing is, if you ain’t got a plan probably isn’t gonna happen. I could say that about any aspect of the business. And it would be true. And it’s still true of sustainability. So that would be what I’d encourage people to do. There’s lots of tools out there. So if you go to like zerocarbonbusiness.uk. If you go to SME climate hub, there’s lots of resources out there for you to get started. If you want to do low cost or no cost options, if you want to get to the next level. And you want to get certified and have a verified carbon footprint that commits you to achieving reductions each year and gives you the support to do that, then someone like Planet Mark can help with that. The key thing is just to get started in whatever way shape or form makes most sense to you.

Graham  16:53

Thank you, Andrew, for your time. It’s been incredible. And I think there’s so much information on this podcast that it would always be good to come back and catch up with you in a year or two and find out what’s shifted and what’s changed and kind of see whether we’re all still hopefully further along down the road or whether we’re still trying to drag people onto the beginning of the journey.

Andrew  17:11

It’s been great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Graham  17:13

That was Andrew Griffith, Director of Policy and Partnerships at Planet Mark. There is no doubt that sustainability is close to the hearts of everyone regardless of age or gender. The time is now for businesses to align their purpose to a cause and to take steps to become more sustainable in their practices. Encourage everyone in the business to get involved and create communication channels for people to get their ideas across. Start with the measurements to set a baseline, set a target and create a plan knowing that there is no finish line. And that is an iterative process. Share your learnings with others and take on the learnings of those around you. By working together we can create a more sustainable future. Thanks for joining us on this episode of 15 Minutes With we look forward to you joining us on the next one.