We are facing some of the biggest challenges of our generation. In the midst of a global health crisis and climate emergency, our Managing Director, Andy Fishburn, challenges the foundations upon which businesses are built, and proposes that we should all be designing more sustainable and values-led solutions to our greatest problems.
The Cost of Capitalism
We must acknowledge that business has a role to play in this. For too long, our economic system has relied on taking raw materials to mass produce products that are flown half way around the world - for much of it to be discarded in short order and sent to landfill.
Marketing has a role to play, too, often creating false wants and needs. It claims the world is on fire, then fans the flames.
But Things Are Changing
Business, when done right, can be a tremendous force for good. We need entrepreneurial thinking like never before to help us build a better future and to address some of the biggest challenges that we face.
That's why it's so important that we consider what we build next.
The events of 2020 have led many people to reflect on what's important. To think about the choices they make and how they want to live their lives.
As we look to rebuild communities, the economy, and the world more broadly, we have a real opportunity to build for the better. To build businesses that deliver more than just profit.
The Rise of Conscious Consumerism
We're all becoming more aware of what brands stand for and how they do business. Consumers are using this to help shape how and where they spend their money. Ethical spending hit record highs last year and now accounts for over £41bn in the UK alone.
And ethical consumption has become so much more than Fairtrade bananas - it's a conscious consumerism that covers everything from food & drink, fashion, finance, energy, travel and more. It takes in factors such as the environment, animal welfare, human rights and social justice.
Conscious consumerism has been on the rise for over 20 years and continues to grow year-on-year. With 'Millennials' and 'Gen-Z' set to make up over 75% of the working population by 2025, actively choosing to back brands and businesses that do things 'the right way' is paramount. It's clear that this isn't just something that's 'in Vogue'.
It's therefore encouraging to think that the businesses and brands that will not only survive, but thrive, in the future, are the ones that embrace this challenge and look to create more than just financial value, but instead seek to have a positive impact on 'People' and the 'Planet', whilst also delivering 'Profit with Purpose'.
Patagonia. Allbirds. Etsy. Toast Ale. Proper Corn. Abel & Cole...
These are all very different types of businesses, but have one thing in common — they’ve all committed to building their businesses as a force for good - as well as for profit - by becoming certified B-Corps.
In doing so, they have committed to conduct themselves on the basis that people and place matter and to use their products, practices, and profits to do no harm and to benefit all. And for that, they should be applauded.
These may feel like idealistic goals, but B-Corps take their commitment to sustainability and fair business seriously - so much so that they’ve gone through a rigorous certification process to measure it and to receive the B-Corp seal of approval.
If you're thinking of starting a business or are in the formative stages of scaling, addressing all of these areas might seem daunting. But starting where you are and doing what you can is a great way to begin. Don't let the pursuit of perfection prevent you from starting in the first place.
A Life-changing Cup Of Coffee
At Virgin StartUp, we work with thousands of founders every year to help them start businesses that not only survive, but thrive. Many of these founders have put purpose at their heart - not because it's the easy thing to do, but because it's the right thing to do.
Here are just 5 of my favourites, spanning food and drink, travel, fashion, beauty and feminine care.
I share them in the hope that it inspires you to think about how you can embed some of these ideas in your business...
- Change Please - A life-changing coffee company. They use the profits from each and every cup to train people experiencing homelessness to be baristas, giving them a Living Wage and helping them back onto their feet. The founders have recently launched 'Serious Tissues' too, another great, purpose-driven business - check them out!
- The Flash Pack - a progressive travel company, whose 'Flash Pack Foundation' sees them support the local communities they operate in, whilst putting them on a path to be carbon neutral by 2023.
- HeyGirls - Founded by Celia and her daughters Becky and Kate, HeyGirls is on a mission to fight period poverty in the UK, by giving all of the profits from their 'Buy One, Give One' products to girls and young women in need. To date, they've given away over 10 million products.
- So We Flow... - A sustainable fashion brand, making functional movement clothing for men who practice yoga, climbing and more. Founder, Jake, recently wrote a great blog sharing his thoughts and motivations behind building So We Flow... into a brand that was about more than just business.
- UpCircle - A sustainable beauty brand that's pioneering 'by-product' beauty. Taking what would otherwise be waste ingredients, such as used coffee grounds, and turning them into all-natural beauty products.
Okay, just one more…
- 'Ksoni' – Meaning "Earth" in Sanskrit – the founders, Joti and Banasa, have used an innovative aluminium packaging solution for their range of all-natural and plastic-free bathroom products.
Changing Business for Good
Whether you're thinking of starting a business, or simply choosing which businesses to support with your custom, I hope the idea of building for the better resonates with you.
Small businesses have a hugely important role to play in being the change we want to see in the world. Either as Founders - or as small business supporters - together, we can help change business for good and focus on leaving an impact - but not a trace.
Andy Fishburn is Managing Director at Virgin StartUp