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Is our Sustainability Thinking all Wrong?

In recent years there has been increasing support for the notion that greater sustainability leads to improved profitability and success. If this is true, then making an organisation as sustainable as possible should maximise its profits and positive impact. And yet most organisations focus on incremental improvements in sustainability. Should we instead be thinking about organisations’ full sustainability potential and working backwards to figure out how to get there?   Rethinking Sustainability Goals   Every year organisations face the difficult question of what comes next for their sustainability. The answer is usually an incremental improvement on a number of environmental and/or social metrics, with the magnitude influenced by competitor achievements or internal consensus of what is possible. What if instead the activities of an organisation were examined to identify the inherent full sustainability potential of each activity that it does? So instead of thinking about moving an organisation’s sustainability incrementally forwards we instead identify its full sustainability potential (environmentally and socially) and work backwards to figure out the big steps to get there. Interface, the carpet tile manufacturer, did just this in 1994 when it set itself Mission 0 – to have no negative impact on the world across seven dimensions. Maintaining this vision of the company’s most sustainable form (as originally defined in 1994 and recently updated in 2017) has helped it to maintain market leadership and a premium positioning in an increasingly cut-throat industry, competing against much larger companies also offering broadloom flooring. Was Interface just lucky? Can a full sustainability potential approach be adopted in today’s rapidly changing world? Below, a case study in another sector...

Profitable Sustainability Wins that You Can Achieve this Year

As sustainability professionals, we are all looking for organisational actions that deliver sustainability benefits AND profit improvements within the year (let’s call them Sustainable Wins). Four often-overlooked actions are suggested below and the conversation continues at the Twitter hashtag #SustainableWins. Pressure to produce in-year Sustainable Wins As sustainability budgets are shrunk, sustainability professionals are under ever-increasing pressure to deliver environmental, social and economic benefits – all in the one year before budgets and KPIs reset and the annual cycle starts over again. To achieve in-year profits, sustainability actions need a short lead-time, rapid payback (or low capital requirement) and of course significant environmental and/or social impact. There are not many Sustainable Wins like this and, in our experience, they can be easily overlooked. Here are four Sustainable Wins that we have found which are new to many organisations: Remanufactured office furniture Taking the long life elements of quality office furniture (like steel and aluminium frames), checking, recoating and then reassembling them with new outer parts to as-new condition is known as remanufacturing. While this circular economy approach is new to the office furniture industry, most brand name photocopiers have seen up to seven previous lives, demonstrating the high quality results of remanufacturing. Because the long life elements of office furniture are the most expensive (economically and environmentally), remanufacturing reduces the cost of a quality furniture item by around 50% and its environmental footprint by 80% (Giuntini & Gaudette, 2003; McKenna, 2012). Organisations like the NHS are using remanufactured office furniture to improve their offices with high quality, beautiful, ergonomic, brand-name furniture at contract furniture prices. Image: NHS Public Health...

Paris Agreement supports sustainable innovation

The Paris Agreement on 12 December 2015 is great news for sustainable innovators. Key Points of the Agreement (full text here): Agreement to keep global average temperatures “well below” 2°C above preindustrial levels and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C Non-binding, depending on countries’ own “nationally determined contributions” which were submitted prior to the Paris summit and which result in a global annual emissions total of 55GtCO2e – which is estimated will result in a global temperature rise of 2.7°C. So beyond the national plans, which themselves require significant cuts beyond current programmes, additional reductions are still required to achieve 2°C (considered to require a global annual emissions of 40GtCO2e). Developed nations will set up a $100B p.a. fund providing “climate finance” to help poorer countries to adapt to climate change and reduce emissions. “Encourages” the voluntary cancellation of units issued under the Kyoto Protocol, including certified emission reductions that are valid for the second commitment period towards eliminating the accumulated surplus of credits, which would delay action. Why it is significant The Paris COP (and its lead-up) saw significant support for action to address GHG emissions from many sectors of society including business, investors, the church (e.g. the Pope’s second encyclical) and of course all 200 governments at the negotiation. We believe that underlying the Paris summit is a maturing of global thought to a position of acceptance and the development of a rational plan to tackle the problem. We have seen a progression consistent with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s model of the stages of change[1]: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. The drive for a 1.5°C...

How to Collaborate for Sustainable Innovation

Sustainable innovation often requires collaboration to access the skills required and value on offer, but is it not easy. ‘How to Successfully Collaborate for Sustainable Innovation’ was the subject of the 14 October Lavery/Pennell Sustainable Innovation Breakfast in London, which brought together corporates, startups, financiers and not-for-profit organisations (including BP, Balfour Beatty, Interface, Virgin and the BBC). The discussion is summarised below. Why Collaborate? The rationale for collaboration is clear (as discussed at the July innovation breakfast), and includes: Many sustainable innovations are beyond the delivery capacity and capability of any single organization, such as those requiring scale, varied skill-sets, or significant funding. By their nature, some sustainable innovations require peers to work together. An example is the aviation industry in relation to noise reduction, fuel efficiency and alternative fuels. Other innovations are only viable if value is added by different types of stakeholders, such as companies working with not-for-profit organisations to combine beneficial products with credibility and market access. Speed is becoming ever more important for innovation; large companies traditionally do not do fast/agile well – collaboration can help address this. Figure 1 shows the types of value that different partners can bring to an innovation project. Figure 1: Different Parties Bring Different Strengths to Sustainable Innovation   Collaborative Innovation Approaches Recent Lavery/Pennell research identified 11 innovation approaches used by a range of companies[1]. Eight of these approaches involve collaboration (see Figure 2). Good practice companies use most of these 11 innovation approaches, but many acknowledge that they do not do all of them well. Figure 2: Innovation Approaches used by Leading Companies   Inspiring Examples Several successful...

Circular economy creates office furniture savings

You can now buy as-new remade office furniture for less than half the new recommended retail price, thanks to the circular economy. Used and recyclable have limits While used office furniture has always been an option, it has traditionally involved compromising on quality. And some manufacturers produce furniture that can be recycled, but this does not usually provide cost savings for buyers. Remanufacturing is better Remanufacturing involves none of the quality compromises while bringing substantial cost and environmental savings. Here is how Rype Office, an award-winning furniture company using Circular Economy principles, does it: Rype Office takes the long life components of used furniture, like steel frames which last for hundreds of years, and rebuilds the rest of the piece around them. Modern precision equipment and the latest resurfacing technologies produce high quality pieces that look like new – a real alternative to expensive new furniture. Those long life components are the most expensive and environmentally harmful to make new, so the cost is reduced by half and the environmental footprint by more than two thirds. High quality furniture at a good price For example, the remanufactured Orangebox G64 shown below (a leading ergonomic chair still in production having sold 1.3 million) is indistinguishable from new. Rype Office sells it for £240 compared to the new recommended retail price of £600. End of life savings too Consistent with the principles of the Circular Economy (as espoused by the Next Manufacturing Revolution, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and The Great Recovery), Rype Office offers to lease its furniture or buy it back furniture at the end of each life. This saves customers...

Building disruptive new businesses

This video offers practical lessons on how to create a disruptive business, with details on building a circular/remanufacturing business. Greg Lavery explains how Lavery/Pennell has fashioned its own disruptive business model and created Rype Guides and Rype Office, a furniture remanufacturing startup that is challenging the UK furniture industry. This presentation occurred at the July 2015 EPSRC Industrial Sustainability conference in...