Posted: Wed 17th Mar 2021
On Monday, we invited 14 founders to 10 Downing Street - albeit virtually - to discuss sustainability with Alex Hickman, the prime minister's special adviser on business.
Each small business owner brought a suggestion to the virtual table for the government to consider. From open access to waste materials to the disclosure of carbon emissions, here are their ideas.
Almira Lardizabal Hussain: 'We suggest the Social Value Act be applicable for all procurements'
Almira Lardizabal Hussain is the co-founder of social innovation agency Impactful. Her question concerned the Social Value Act, which came into force in 2013. "We believe there's a missed opportunity as a requirement to adhere to the Social Value Act is only mandatory for contracts above £10 million," she said.
"We suggest the Social Value Act be applicable for all procurements, therefore providing opportunities to amazing organisations who perhaps wouldn't currently be able to put themselves forward."
Catherine Bedford: 'It would be good business sense to make people recycle'
Dashel Helmets founder Catherine Bedford brought up the problem of in-built obsolescence not just in bicycle helmets, which she said have to be replaced every five years, but consumer products generally.
"It would be great if there was more local recycling," she added. "Perhaps businesses like mine could help to fund it. It's not just bike helmets that have built-in obsolescence - you have car seats that nobody knows how to get rid of. It would be good business sense to make people recycle."
Chris Dawson: 'A big barrier to becoming more sustainable is a lack of knowledge'
Chris Dawson is the co-founder of Project Merchandise, which creates sustainable, brand-authentic merchandise. "I believe one of the biggest barriers to becoming more sustainable comes from a lack of knowledge of where to start," he said.
"My idea involves two things. The first centres around a portal of information that provides guidance on how companies can make small and big changes to be more sustainable - things such as information on eco packaging. The second is raising awareness of what you are doing to be more sustainable and then inspiring businesses to do the same."
Comet Chukura: 'We want to repurpose other brands' waste materials'
Comet Chukura, the founder and designer behind innovative knitwear brand GLOW, spoke of her intention of level up inequality in the BAME community. "As a sustainable brand, we want to repurpose other fashion brands' waste materials," she said. "We'd like to see a really open and easily accessible portal where one company can publicly say 'Here's our waste materials,' and another company can say 'We'll be able to use that.'
"That would help to close the loop on sustainability and, for brands like mine, make it easier to access waste materials."
Gary Styles: 'Every business in the UK should disclose their carbon emissions'
Gary Styles, the founder of Zellar - which connects small businesses to products and services that help them become more sustainable - brought up the SECR policy, which requires 12,000 businesses to disclose their carbon emissions.
"I believe that every business in the UK should be doing the same," he said. "And actually going further by filing a simple tax return and disclosing emission behaviours and investments in green second offset strategies. Could you see this becoming a mandatory requirement for SMEs?"
Elena Ferrara: 'My suggestion is a free service provided by sustainability professionals'
Elena Ferrara, the co-founder of organic loungewear company Rho, brought up the issue of a lack of education around sustainability among small and medium-sized businesses. "My suggestion is a free service provided by government-funded sustainability professionals," she said.
"This would assess your business and operations and provide a diagnostic report of the sustainability issues and positives within your business - your impact, areas for improvement, areas that are good. This report would also provide links to further resources and options for further support."
Karen Riddick: 'We need to drive a better market for sustainable packaging'
Karen Riddick, the founder of Second Nature Online, said that when people move into self-employment, the "practice of sustainability can be much more difficult than the theory". This is especially true, she added, when it comes to packaging.
"As a business that strives to be sustainable, I don't want to buy vaguely recyclable packaging. I would like to see truly sustainable choices. I would like to buy packaging that has been refurbished, has a high recycled content, or is biodegradable. And I think we need to drive a better market for this."
Klaudia Adrych: 'Local usually means businesses with physical stores'
FrigginWell founder Klaudia Adrych brought up what it means to support local. "I know the government has put a lot of effort into promoting High Street brands and encouraging people to support local businesses," she said. "But 'local' usually means businesses with physical stores, which is often unachievable for sustainable brands. What e-commerce brands bring to the able is overlooked.
"My proposition is to create a campaign educating the general public about the importance of supporting companies that do everything in their power to use country-based ingredients and local manpower provided with fair wages."
Lucy Kebbell: 'I would like the government to encourage brands to adopt rental and resale models'
Founder of The Vendeur - a media platform supporting sustainable SMEs - Lucy Kebbell touched on the fashion industry's embracing of rental and resale models, and how fashion businesses need more help from the government.
"I would like the government to encourage brands to adopt these new models by lowering the VAT on mending and alteration services, as well as eco dry cleaning companies. Not only will this help brands be confident about moving into resale and rental, but it will make mending and renting, and keeping our clothes for longer, easier and more affordable for consumers."
Max Smith: 'Look at benefits for small companies that commit to having material positive impact'
Impactful co-founder Max Smith spoke of the Better Business Act campaign. It wants, he explained, for no director of a UK-based business to be able to use short-term profit maximisation as a way to justify social and environmental harm.
"But I think there's a more positive step, something that's not just about not creating harm, but benefitting stakeholders. And that is to look at benefits or tax breaks for small companies that write into their articles of association a commitment to having material positive impact on society or the environment."
Nirali Mankodi: 'My suggestion is for a government body to provide dedicated, targeted support'
Superfoodio co-founder Nirali Mankodi also brought up the issue of sustainable packaging, in terms of where materials come from and how they can be recycled or reused. "My suggestion is for a government body or hub to provide dedicated, targeted support to help businesses become more sustainable," she said.
"So when we're deciding on different options, we'd know the best thing, and the impact of our decisions on the environment. And if we needed more information or further support, there would be a place to go."
Rishi Gupta: 'What really makes me feel sad is that grants are really hard to get'
Zero Waste Club co-founder Rishi Gupta spoke about bringing waste material back into the economy. "What really makes me feel sad is that grants are really hard to get," he said. "You have to spend days and months focusing on getting a grant.
"And that pushes us away from the business. As a small business, we don't have enough time to be doing that. So what would be great is something like an R&D tax credit, but a sustainability version linked to the Paris climate accord."
Sophie Segal: 'Make services accessible to SMEs at a fair price'
Co-CREATE ImpACT co-founder Sophie Segal spoke about "the support function for SMEs". "I think we really need to look at ways the government could invest either in grants or subsidising some of the costs and enable the circular economy mechanism.
"Make the services accessible to SMEs at a fair price. Because that's the challenge - working on a smaller scale the prices are much higher."
Veronica Broomes: 'Sustainable small businesses ought to be recognised or rewarded'
Small business coach Veronica Broomes said that, among the small business community, there's "much confusion" over what sustainability actually means. Many smaller companies, she said, aren't sure how to move their business on from its current state.
"Because of the confusion, there is a need for further support and education to help small businesses," she explained. "Sustainable small businesses ought to be recognised or rewarded, as well as receive help as to what sustainability means."
Thanks to Alex Hickman for his time in hearing the views of small businesses from across the UK on the topics that matter to them most.
If you have thoughts on how small businesses can be more sustainable, join the conversation in the Enterprise Nation green business group.