Future 50: Why sustainability is more than ‘ticking a box’ for businesses

Businessman considering how to reduce his company's carbon emissions

Future 50 members discussed how they are taking steps to become sustainable businesses - Credit: Getty Images/iStockPhoto

With the United Nations COP26 summit currently taking place in Glasgow, climate change and sustainability are dominating the news agenda, as global leaders push for a new set of commitments on tackling the climate emergency.

However, it’s not only the responsibility of politicians to reduce the average global temperature rise to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. Businesses have a role to play, too.

While the Covid-19 pandemic has put a halt on commuting and business travel, businesses can contribute to global warming in other ways – whether it’s waste disposal, electricity consumption or simply sending an email.  

That being said, what incentive do businesses have to reduce their carbon footprint, and what steps can they take to show they are taking sustainability seriously? How, also, could it impact a company’s ability to raise finance for growth? 

These questions were put to a panel of Future 50 members, as well as Leon Davies, a sustainability consultant and founder of Zero Taxis, the first fully-electric taxi company in Norfolk and the UK, which was acquired by Norwich-based ABC Taxis in 2020.  

For businesses starting to consider their approach to environmental sustainability, Mr Davies said a good place to start is their local authority’s website and social media pages. "Look at what they are doing on sustainability,” he explained. “There is loads of good information, free information.”  

He also advised reading the government’s recently-published net-zero strategy, which sets out the policies and proposals for meeting the UK's net-zero target by 2050. Although at 367 pages, it’s best-suited to businesses with time on their side. 

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Many Future 50 members are already doing their bit for the environment. This includes Norwich-based GoWash, whose mobile app helps car owners and businesses find and pay for a car wash near them, while allowing car-wash owners to take cashless payments.  

“We feel the biggest impact we can have is actually helping our customers,” says Jonny Billing, founder and managing director of GoWash. “Working with fleets, for example, making sure we can put car washes on their current routes will mean they're not making unnecessary travels to wash vehicles.” 

GoWash is also working with The Carwash Company, which provides ecologically-friendly car washes across the UK and Ireland. “They have waterless solutions, so they're saving a hell of a lot of water every year," says Mr Billing. “We're hoping to start linking up with them and providing our fleets with actual facts about how many litres of water they're saving every year by using their sites.”  

Mark Hollinger, managing director of Norwich-based Future 50 member Hollinger Print, also ensures his company operates in the most eco-friendly way possible. “The print industry is actually incredibly sustainable,” says Mr Hollinger. “Any paper that we use would be sourced from European forests, for example, where at least two trees are replaced for every one that is harvested.”

Beyond boosting a company’s CSR credentials, can being a sustainable business also help when it comes to securing investment? The sense is that it’s slowly but surely becoming more important.  

“We are seeing businesses that haven't got this on the agenda possibly putting themselves in a position where they're excluding themselves from lots of opportunities, because more and more firms are looking at it as being key,” said Glen Webster, business banking regional manager for East Anglia at Barclays. 

Ed Savory, partner and commercial/corporate lawyer at regional law firm Birketts, added: “Some of the private equity money that's around is starting to look towards this – and money always drives a lot of these changes. 

“What’s interesting with the businesses looking at this is that it's not to do with the valuation point, it’s not to do with the growth point. It’s to do with doing the right thing and engaging with employees.”  

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