Sustainability in business: a Simple Life Chat podcast

We share key topics from Simple Life’s podcast on sustainability in business, plus insights into Sigma’s green credentials in action.

Sustainability background

Sustainability as a term has been around for generations, derived from the Latin word sustinere, meaning to hold. The term came into the mainstream conversation from the UN Commission on Environment and Development 1987 report – called Our Common Future. The report brought attention to the concept of sustainable development – defined as development that ‘meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’.

Today we see the term used everywhere – from news bulletins and books to TV programmes and documentaries. With the likes of Extinction Rebellion and COP26 regularly in the news, we’re more aware of what’s happening to our planet.

When we hear the word ‘sustainability’ we tend to think about renewable energy sources, cutting carbon emissions, safeguarding the environment, and a way of keeping the fragile ecosystems of our world in harmony.

“Being green isn’t easy but to achieve our targets, collaboration is key.”

Sigma

Simple Life’s podcast on sustainability in business – three key highlights

One of the Simple Life Chat podcasts is a dedicated, double-length episode with its partners to discuss sustainability in business. This special episode features four panellists – Niamh Waldron, ESG Director at Sigma on behalf of Simple Life; Alex Roberts, Head of Sustainability at Vistry Group; Benjamin Hall, Founder and Managing Director of Loft and Phil Law, Sales Director and Co-founder of Pinksheep.

The episode examines many pivotal discussions on sustainability – and we’ve highlighted three topics where the panellists raised some crucial points.

What does sustainability mean to you?

Phil Law: “If you had asked me the same question three years ago, my opinion would have been that sustainability was a buzzword that businesses were using to look good and to tick a box to please their clients. Fast forward to today, and running a business is now not just about turning a profit or growing the business in size; it’s also about creating a positive impact which we can leave behind in our legacy.”

Niamh Waldron shared this sentiment, agreeing that sustainability was just a buzzword even up to just a year ago. However, this mindset is definitely starting to change as a result of a number of factors.

Change of mindset

Niamh Waldron: “Doing the right thing for the planet has always been of interest to me and having joined the world of ESG and sustainability in the last two years, I have seen it referenced and discussed with increasing urgency and regularity. People are voicing their concerns, challenging behaviours and leaders to take action – meaningful action. Talking is encouraging positive change and being a part of this current drive and space is incredibly exciting.”

Alex Roberts agrees that the shift has been systemic due to several factors pre-Covid-19: “People were protesting, and students were striking, local authorities, governments and organisations were declaring climate and biodiversity emergencies. The UK government enshrined a net-zero carbon target into law. It was at that time that the expectations of our stakeholders radically changed.

“I have been working in sustainability for more than a decade. For the last ten years, I’ve had to try really hard to knock doors down to convince people to take sustainability seriously, just to start a conversation. It’s radically shifted now; doors are open, people understand what sustainability means.”

Niamh also added that helping individuals and companies make the important mindset change needs to be simpler. Sustainability is often explained in complicated terms, leaving readers feeling overwhelmed and struggling to work out the best and most feasible place to start. Making the options for acting sustainably more accessible will help people see this is actually quite easy.

We also need to recognise and accept that in order to be more sustainable, there may well be a cost implication, we may need to pay slightly more. But surely paying a little more to add and demonstrate value to people and the planet is a positive impact. Niamh gave the example that expecting cheap products is unreasonable and unfair. A t-shirt shouldn’t cost 50p, and saying it does is a questionable positive statement. 

Raising the level of consciousness around sustainability

Benjamin Hall describes what Loft is doing to raise the collective consciousness around sustainability: “From a procurement perspective, we have been a leader in our industry in making sure that the factories that we use, and the materials used from those factories are ethical and sustainably forested and manufactured. We provide a removal and replacement service for furnishings within residential properties, and a lot of the furniture is recycled, upcycled and donated to charity.

Niamh Waldron, ESG Director at Sigma on behalf of Simple Life planting a tree | BTR News
Niamh Waldron, ESG Director at Sigma on behalf of Simple Life planting a tree.

However, trying to do the best to be sustainable and promote a more eco-conscious way of doing business can still ruffle some feathers. Benjamin describes how ‘greenwashing’ (a term used when a company or organisation spends more time and money on marketing themselves as environmentally friendly than on minimising their environmental impact) is being thrown around so much, which down values a lot of good work that gets done. From his own experience, Benjamin was accused of greenwashing for personally planting 25,000 trees with his company. “In what way is that greenwashing?” he said.

The consensus of the discussion was that all ESG efforts must be embraced in order for them to improve and to have a foundation to build on – every company has to start somewhere and no company’s ESG journey is ever complete.

Collaboration

When asked how important the panellists felt about collaboration within the property space and what it really means, Ben Hall responded: “Collaboration is looking for positive partnerships that cover different bases than the ones you are aligned to. Collaboration enables you to understand a lot more about how broad this topic is. Rather than only focusing on your own piece, understanding other areas of it and trying to think ahead a little bit about your impact, and what you are doing and how far that can go, that ripple effect. Collaboration is education. Loft is super open, even with our competitors – we share knowledge; it’s all about learning from each other from experience, which means we will all get to where we want to get to if we’re open and we’re honest.”

Niamh Waldron agreed that collaboration is essential, but it does come with its challenges: “Collaboration is one of our greatest challenges even just as people. We are naturally competitive, business is competitive, we all want the deal, and we all want to be successful, so the challenge is how we collaborate and trust each other. There are many challenges, but I see them as an opportunity to find a solution, and we need to work together to find them.”

Some of Simple Life’s green credentials in action

Sigma previously sourced re-usable bottles and bags for residents – which at the time felt like a great environmental initiative for the company. Since then, and when learnings had been developed, Sigma’s ESG outlook progressed.

Instead of offering something because it is re-usable, Sigma now looks at the bigger picture around it. The company looks at where it is being made, what it is being made from, the fair labour of the factory it is made in, and how it is being delivered to reduce our carbon footprint.

Since working with Phil, Sigma now also understands that using recycled paper to print on isn’t always the most sustainable option – due to the process of creating and bleaching recycled paper. We need to make challenging and questioning actions part of every process, to ensure decisions and future actions are in line with positive behaviour and impact.

Simple Life is addressing climate change and sustainability in several ways – from the construction of its homes to the energy needed to power them. Using timber for sustainable and reliable construction in quality and build delivery, Simple Life also works with partners who are just as passionate about protecting the planet as they are.

The Simple Life Chat is a podcast series tackling big issues and highlighting conversations with real residents and partners.