Our supply chain director Daniel Fagan joined fellow B Corp Belo Bags cofounder Charlotte Bingham-Wallis at the recent Top Drawer show to talk about why businesses should be thinking about sustainability.
Daniel: It’s about future proofing your business; customers will increasingly expect you to be taking steps to becoming sustainable. It is challenging, the amount of greenwashing there is on the market, this makes it difficult for the consumer to know what is sustainable and what isn’t – for example a lot of people didn’t realise that there was plastic in paper cups. But we’re starting to see consumers become more aware, especially with the publicity around new legislation on single use plastics. We are in an industry that uses a lot of single use plastic so for us we started by looking at producing products and packaging that can be recycled. Then as we went through our journey we realised that the impact you have on people as well as the environment is also important.
Charlotte: Belo was born to support a community, co-creating a product that would provide a living wage to help eradicate poverty in the Brazilian community we work with. There’s a big connection between poverty and waste, and we saw an opportunity to tackle this not only for the environment but people as well. Sometimes people are forgotten is discussions about sustainability.
Daniel: We are all about bringing people together so social impact has always been important to us. It’s very much about finding something that feels authentic to your brand. For example, we use our head office space to put on events for the local elderly community. And we give our staff two paid days to go out into the community as volunteers. But community also goes further afield and includes our suppliers who can be the other side of the world. B Corp encourages you to collaborate with your suppliers and take them on the journey. We held a supplier conference in 2018 (and have another planned for this year). A lot of them are more experienced than we are when it comes to manufacturing. So it wasn’t a question of dictating to them but sitting down with them and discussing how we could make progress. We also send them annual questionaires and set targets. As an example, we wanted to launch a plastic free paper cup and they went out and made it possible, we couldn’t have done it on our own.
Charlotte: You have to have a strong brand aesthetic that appeals to your customer but we mix this with messaging that tells the story of the humans behind the product. Every one of our products comes with a story about the person who made it as well as the materials and their impact. We also document everything on our website so people can find out more. Showcase what you are doing, don’t be shy.
Daniel: We’re finding that consumers are really engaged with our purpose led messaging. In December around 80% of our newsletters were purpose driven and these are often our most commercially successful. The more authentic you are the more customers will engage with you. It’s important to be honest. We highlight where we’re not doing so well and what our targets are. You don’t have to be perfect to tell customers what you are doing. It also holds you accountable. Consumers want to see this and if you haven’t met a target say so and what your plan is.
Charlotte: Be prepared for people thinking what you are doing is strange, we make bags out of seat belt waste – people couldn’t see how it could be beautiful. But persist with it. Today you will find us in Selfridges. Also when we started one of the challenges was thinking we should be experts on everything. But as long as you are honest with your audience it’s fine to just jump in. You don’t have to do everything. Perhaps just focus on one goal. Start small.
Daniel: I’d recommend you set targets so you can challenge yourself. B Corp can help here, it’s a free platform, you can do your sustainability impact assessment and see where you are doing well and not so well and where you can make improvement.
Check out Belo Bags.