If we want to change the world through business, (and we do,) how we talk about our collective missions matters.
The difference between one word or another can be subtle and yet still have a huge impact on perspectives and attitudes both inside and outside an organisation.
That’s why at Ethique, once known as ‘the world’s most sustainable cosmetics company’, we're changing the way we talk about our mission.
Now, we're being more particular, and more specific because ‘most sustainable’ simply doesn't mean that much. Now, we are on a mission to regenerate our planet, through ethical business practises.
Why the switch? Put simply, sustainability is giving back what we take. It’s knowing that what we are doing is something that can continue indefinitely, at the current ‘level.’ It’s planting one tree for every tree cut down. It’s using renewable resources, rather than fossil fuels for generating energy.
But sustainability is not necessarily about improving things. It’s simply about maintaining the status quo. Doing less bad, but not more good.
Sustainability is great if the status quo is great. But by-and-large, our environment is anything but great. And the onus should be on business to take great strides to address this, not consumers, because businesses have such enormous impact. And frankly, because business has had the biggest hand in creating these problems.
If we’re going to improve the world through business, which has always been my number one goal with Ethique, we need a more ambitious approach than simply maintaining the status quo. We need regenerative business.
Regeneration is a relatively new concept in the business world, more commonly associated with agriculture, but there are some examples out there of businesses who embody these principles.
For us, being regenerative extends from the very beginning.
Starting with our supply chain and our direct and fair trading initiatives, to our products and packaging (always vegan, cruelty-free, palm oil-free, plastic-free and home-compostable), to the logistics we use (using sea-freight over air and double offsetting the unavoidable carbon emissions) and the energy we use to power our offices and factories (renewable and always offset as well).
But we can always do more and are always looking for ways to lessen our carbon emissions, lessen the waste associated with our supply chain and improve the experience for our team and customers.
Implementing regenerative initiatives can be daunting, but as business leaders, we need to think big and challenge ourselves if we’re going to stem the tide on the social and environmental issues that business in general has had no small hand in creating.
So, how is a regenerative business built? From where I’m standing, there are three key factors, ‘The Three Ps’.
Products: are they sustainably produced, taking into consideration not only materials, but who makes (or grows) them, how they are grown and how they are then processed?
People: does the business treat their team and suppliers well? Fair contract terms, fair trade sourcing of materials? Are people treated as an asset, or as a nuisance?
Processes: this is where things like carbon offsetting and minimisation come in. Using sea freight instead of air, investing in renewable energy tech and tree planting around the world, or even something as simple as ensuring your office turns off the air con at night (honestly, a lot of offices don't).
The issues are huge and can feel all at once overwhelming (‘where do I start?’) and hopeless (‘what difference can I, one person, make?’).
My advice, as it always is, is to start small and achievable. If you’re a small to medium business owner, you likely don’t have the time to overhaul your entire operation into a regenerative model, all at once.
As one of my favourite sayings goes, ‘how does one eat an elephant? One bite at a time’ (I am of course, not condoning actually eating elephants).
If you want to implement changes, talk with your team and get them on board. Change is hard and having cheerleaders alongside you, or people who will help manage the responsibility, will make all the difference.
Set deadlines, so it doesn't keep getting pushed back in favour of seemingly easier things. Some of these changes can be easier of course; switch your electricity supplier (I'm a big fan of Ecotricity, for example). Look into the investments your bank makes – does that align with your values as a business? If not, look for one that does (though granted, changing bank depending on your business complexity is not necessarily an easy change).
My favourite initiative which starts to have impact immediately for no change and a minimal monthly charge, depending on your number of staff and options you choose, is Ecologi. It's a gamified way of tree planting, but they also invest your funds into other initiatives, like renewable energy generation, carbon capture tech and providing alternative cooking facilities for vulnerable communities for example.
The bigger stuff can come when you've got some runs on the board; overhauling your supply chain, developing packaging that is genuinely home compostable or ditching problematic ingredients that are linked to deforestation (palm oil for example – awesome work by RJ's Confectionery recently to ditch this entirely). These sorts of things can take years, so again, take it a bite at a time.
Regenerative business might seem like a tall order but, by tackling the low-hanging fruit first, you are already making a difference.
While we have been working at this for a while, we are all still learning, so if you’d like to chat about regenerative business, reach out!