A sustainable future: Engaging the ecosystem in green business and careers

A blog post by Cumberland Lodge Fellow, Adenike Adewuni, reflecting on the second session of our Climate Futures: Youth Perspectives conference, held on 16 March 2021


Ahead of the 2021 UN Climate Change Pre-Conference (Pre-COP26) in Milan, Italy, this September, and the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26), Cumberland Lodge organised the Climate Futures: Youth Perspectives conference to provide a platform for young people to share their thoughts and ideas.

The four-part virtual conference, hosted on Zoom in March 2021, explored the limitations of, and opportunities for, environmental activism, representative democracy and international political action, with regards to the future of our planet. The conference also examined the role of education as well as the impact of human behaviours and lifestyles in protecting the planet.

This blog post reports on the second session of the conference, which examined Green Business and Careers. Emily Gow, Programme Officer at Cumberland Lodge, introduced the guest speakers:

  • Jouja Maamri – UK Delegate to the G7 Youth Summit and Director of Impact at Regenerative Creations
  • Louise Stevens – Former Head of Circular Economy at Innocent drinks and Co-founder & Director at Stevens.Earth Sustainability Consultancy
  • Louise Quarrell – Chief Operating Officer at Avieco.

The session started with presentations from the speakers, followed by a question and answer session. We then split up into breakout rooms to come up with innovative ideas on how different kinds of organisation could become more sustainable.

Key drivers of sustainability

So, what is sustainability? Sustainability involves avoiding the degeneration of natural resources in order to preserve an ecological balance. More generally, it refers to the capacity for the planet and human civilisation to co-exist. One of the speakers highlighted that some key drivers of greater sustainability include:

  • Commitments set by governments and enshrined in law
  • Increased legislation as yardsticks for sustainable business practices and continuous improvement
  • The right type of ‘pressure’ from investors, through the assessment of companies’ performance, before granting access to capital.
  • Consumer influence on the market-share that companies enjoy, through ethical and sustainable consumption.
  • Public awareness-raising through various channels, such as social media, the press, TV programmes, events, reports, books, and prominent public figures (such as David Attenborough or Greta Thunberg).

As active participants in the global economic ‘ecosystem’, we can all influence businesses to take sustainable action through our choices and preferences. For instance, ‘putting our money where our mouth is’ through ethical banking and investments, and committing to more sustainable consumption. We can also engage with businesses by asking challenging questions and by using the power of social media to voice our demands. After all, organisations care about social media.

Engaging the business ecosystem

Another speaker explored different routes to pushing for a better environmental equilibrium, either as an individual or as a business, by making sustainable career choices and championing purpose-led business. They advised working for companies that have sustainability at the heart of their decision-making, for example. Asking questions about companies’ sustainability records and reports, as well as doing some prior research on the company before joining, could also be effective ways of highlighting the importance of their sustainability initiatives and actions.

Leverage points for sustainability in manufacturing companies include:

  • Sourcing sustainably by using locally available raw materials and reducing food miles
  • Reducing packaging and using recycled plastics and packaging materials
  • Engaging consumers with product labels. For instance, innocent uses the recycling label and logo to draw consumers’ attention to their importance
  • Building offices, factories and shop floors with sustainable materials and within easy access to raw materials. For example, we heard that innocent’s CO2-neutral factory building, under construction in the Rotterdam Food Hub, is designed to reduce waste and use less water and energy, and it is located close to the ingredients it uses.

We also heard about the B Corporations movement for businesses – a certification scheme that ensures that businesses balance purpose and profit. B Corps currently consists of 3,720 companies, operating in 150 industries within 74 countries, working towards this unifying goal.

One of the highlights of this session, for me, was that all three speakers signposted participants to different resources and practical advice about how we can engage in sustainable business at different levels and different opportunities to explore. These resources included:

  • The Escape 100 – a list of organisations that are leading the way in putting people and our planet on a par with profit

Going through these resources opened me up to diverse engagement opportunities that are available for everyone, especially young people.

If a green job does not exist, create it. If you have a great idea, put it into practice.

Participants’ thoughts on different case-studies

In virtual breakout rooms, the conference participants shared their views and offered solutions on how different businesses might become more sustainable, across a broad range of sectors, including fashion and entertainment, transportation, retail and supply chain, food, and hospitality, and building and construction.

For example, one group suggested that a more sustainable way to organise and run music festivals would be to replace fossil-fuel-powered equipment with equipment that runs on renewable sources such as solar, wind or water power. They also proposed downsizing, sourcing sustainably, and engaging local talent, and combating sound pollution through silent disco technology, instead of blasting sound from loudspeakers. To discourage the use of single-use plastics at festivals, this group advocated setting out green policies like the ones implemented by the Glastonbury Festival.

Within the fashion industry, ideas included using sustainable materials (for example, biodegradable cosmetics) giving renewed value to preloved clothes and accessories, and upcycling scrap fabric.

Similarly, in the food, hospitality and retail, participants suggested sourcing materials locally and using sustainable packaging to reduce supply chain length and minimise carbon footprint. Other suggestions included encouraging consumers to buy in bulk and support package-free shopping through new refill or bring-your-own-container initiatives.

Another group recommended that coffee shop owners should promote the use of reusable cups and highlight seasonal and locally produced menu options. Portion-size control for food and dose limitation for hand soap, toilet cisterns and water taps could also be an effective tool for improving resource efficiency in these settings, as well as the use of second-hand furniture and natural plants (rather than plastic) for furnishing and decoration.

The red thread that cut across all the different sectors is the need to reduce, repair, reuse, and recycle things, instead of buying new.

We need to promote a circular economy aimed at eliminating waste and rechannelling waste from the different sectors into resources and raw materials for production. Also, businesses and organisations should be encouraged to report on the sustainable actions they take; portraying and instilling good values for looking after the planet whilst using their platforms to educate and engage with the public is vitally important.

Many businesses can also cut overhead costs by getting people to work remotely thereby reducing the carbon footprint of commuters, and leveraging the use of digital technology through virtual events, social media, electronic newsletters and flyers, and digital advertising.

Looking ahead towards COP26 and beyond

The diverse, thought-provoking interactions during this session exposed me to a whole new world of opportunities for building a sustainable future through green business and careers. Without a doubt, every opportunity comes with its challenges, but by working together, everyone achieves more.

We should normalise talking about the different initiatives and actions that promote sustainability within our organisations and emphasise the importance of reporting these initiatives and actions efficiently, however small they are.

For businesses, mapping out sustainable management strategies, and measuring their environmental impact by tracking realistic and effective key performance indicators (KPIs), are effective ways of monitoring progress and uncovering the potential for future improvements.

Workers should also speak up if they feel their organisation is not doing enough and they have innovative ideas on how to do things more sustainably. We should not underestimate the influence of individual influence and purpose-led work on the world around us.

The views from this international audience got me thinking, ahead of COP26, about some key areas that could be explored further:

  • Harnessing the barter economy (trade by barter and exchange of talents, goods and services), instead of buying things
  • The importance of promoting good health, happiness and wellbeing in society, to go hand-in-hand with a more sustainable planet.

As with everything else, the Covid-19 pandemic has had detrimental effects on the economy. Will the pandemic pose a threat for organisations to go back to unsustainable means of processing as well, or will it open up new opportunities to change the status quo?

Climate Futures: Youth Perspectives