🤝#1 - Meet the Partners: Good Business
MEASURE Database. Featuring Sarah Howden, Senior Consultant.
A decade ago, corporate carbon accounting was far from the norm. Today, we’re living in a different world. With the effects of climate change becoming increasingly clear, customers are demanding action, and so are investors. It can be a tough ask for businesses, especially those with limited resources, to meet these demands. Internal teams are unlikely to contain the relevant expertise needed, so finding a carbon accounting partner is a big and often essential first step.
Our new ‘Meet the Partners’ series interviews the experts helping consumer goods businesses around the world get a handle on their heat. Each interview will provide you with insight into what makes them different, a glimpse into their work, and tips to help your business thrive.
Good Business has been in it from the start. An industry heavyweight, their two decades of experience mean they know what works, and more importantly, what doesn’t. Their message?
“The iconic brands of the future will be the ones that recognise the need for a thunderbolt of transformation and deliver on it.”
We caught up with Sarah Howden, a Senior Consultant at Good Business, to get to grips with how sustainability consultants can help, and how businesses can help themselves.
👉 First thing’s first, how does Good Business work with organisations?
Great question! So broadly, we work with organisations to help them create positive social and environmental change. That could be helping them to calculate, report and reduce their carbon footprint; working with them on behaviour change campaigns to reduce smoking uptake or food waste; helping them partner with charities or run social programmes or campaigns around issues that matter to their customers or employees… we perform a range of functions!
We also help businesses develop strategies and targets that span the full range of 'sustainability' issues - from health and safety to corruption to human rights. And we work with them to identify the issues where they can have the biggest impact as a result of who they are and what they do
👉 It seems that Good Business has a really wide scope, with individual consultants specialising in different areas. Is this accurate, and if so what’s your focus?
Absolutely! For example, I spend about 50% of my time on our SKY Girls programme which is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It's a behaviour change campaign that we run in partnership with several agencies based in sub-Saharan Africa, to encourage teenage girls not to take up smoking. It's a really non-traditional approach in that instead of telling girls what to do or emphasising that smoking is bad for them, we create magazines, TV shows, movies and so on focussing on topics they're interested in and embed messages about resilience and confidence within that, to encourage them to stick to their decision (check out their programme here).
I also do a lot of writing - campaigning reports, sustainability reports, helping companies better communicate what they do to people who care (investors, customers, employees and so on) - and using this process to challenge them to go even further.
👉 We are keen to dig into the process of measuring emissions. When a brand comes to you with the goal of measuring their emissions, what would be your first step?
The first step would be collecting data on where they are now. We'd use an externally-certified methodology to measure their current greenhouse gases across their business - through things like energy usage, employee transport, levels of waste produced and so on.
Then once we have a 'carbon footprint' we can use this to establish how quickly, and in what scenarios, the business could reach a certain milestone. With many of our clients we focus on aligning with the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) - these are targets for companies that allow them to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris agreement.
Is that just as applicable to smaller brands as it is to larger ones?
The methodology is relevant to brands of all sizes, but the level of complexity definitely changes from business to business.
👉 If a smaller business came to you with a relatively vague goal ('we want to make our business more sustainable') what would be your first step?
So we actually did have something like that happen recently! A company came to us, and they have an amazing, super sustainable product, but they’re growing really fast and wanted to make sure the rest of their business keeps up with the sustainability of their product.
We'd normally start with a process called 'materiality'. This means helping an organisation establish the sustainability issues they should be focussing on by nature of what they do. So for a chocolate company, that would likely be things like health and nutrition, whereas for a social media company that might be data protection. We do that normally through conversations with people within and outside the organisation (like NGOs) who can help to identify which are the most important issues for that business
This process helps to avoid situations where a business can be accused of greenwashing by doing a very high-profile campaign in an area that has nothing to do with their core business. And then we might use tools like benchmarking against similar companies or against externally certified targets (like the Science Based Targets initiative) to help them decide what ambitions and activities they should pursue, in what areas.
That's really interesting, so helping businesses narrow their focus not only makes their strategy more effective but is also essential from a marketing and brand identity perspective!
👉 What are a few simple things that any organisation can do to reduce their impact?
The first things that spring to mind involve tackling carbon emissions. Switching to a green energy tariff can be very easy, yet it’s a big chunk of most organisation’s carbon footprints. Particularly if you’re a company with a long supply chain, if you can encourage your suppliers as well to switch to green energy tariffs that can make a huge dent in your emissions. It’s often the same price or even cheaper, so there’s really no financial downside.
The other thing I’d encourage all businesses to think about is business travel. I think the pandemic has made us all think a bit more about whether we actually need to fly for those meetings or whether we can just do it virtually. My hope is for that kind of considerate use of travel to stick around.
👉 What common misconceptions do brands have before they start working with you? Are there any common surprises?
The idea that plastic is public enemy #1, for example, and the belief that food miles are the most important part of a product's carbon footprint (the way that the food is produced is actually - in almost all cases - much more important). People often want to see things in black and white but the reality tends to be more complicated!
👉 What areas of becoming more sustainable are particularly tricky for smaller consumer goods businesses?
Going net zero can be particularly hard for small businesses. We've recently been involved in the launch of Net Zero Now, which is about helping small businesses - who often don't have the budget for specialist consultancy or expertise - to reduce their emissions by clubbing together with others in their sector.
👉 How much do your services cost?
There’s no one answer to that, it varies from brand to brand, depending on exactly what they need and how long we work with them.
Sarah ended our interview with a line so perfect, it would be a crime not to give her the final word:
What we’ve been saying for 20 years - that doing good is good for businesses - is becoming truer every day.