Sustainable business models: Green Growth Business Boot Camp

I was invited to take part in a panel at Kingston University for their Green Growth, Business BootCamp. The aim of the sessions is to address the increasing need to develop environmentally more friendly products and services and help enterprises & entrepreneurs make the most of the opportunities created by increasing consumer demand, resource costs, and regulatory controls in the eco-field.

The second event in the series was looking at sustainable business models and innovation; What business models are available, and how can they be introduced? What are the elements of a business model?

Ecoinomy

goCarShare

Markers

The panel session included myself talking about Ecoinomy – the behaviour change company who motivate employees to use less energy in the workplace, GoCarShare – helping people car share by hiring out the spare seats in their car and Makers – connecting designers, manufacturers and retailers with the very best UK manufacturers.

All three companies have strong values, focus on a sustainable business model and have society and the environment in mind.

  • I discussed how Ecoinomy have had to approach different stakeholders in different ways to explain the value of the system and about the importance of using the correct language to engage with people. The business model relies on direct cost savings being made; the system produces opportunities to reduce energy consumption, opportunities to motivate employees and ways to change general office behaviour – we call this a win-win-win system – the environment gains by CO2 emissions being reduced, the economy gains by people being efficient and using less and society gains by employees forming community groups to save money for a local cause of their choice.
  • goCarShare encourages people to think about sharing car journeys to help reduce the number of empty seats on the road (and in turn reduce the amount of CO2 and pollution) and help share costs. Drummond Gilbert (founder of goCarShare) opened by saying that he learnt there are 38 million empty car seats in Britain everyday and he wanted to do something about it. Based on a Collaborative Consumption model which uses swapping, sharing, bartering, trading and renting to create business, goCarShare rents car seats on journeys. The environment gains because there are potentially less cars on the road which means reduced emissions, the economy gains because the driver gets help with petrol costs and society gains because….well, I car shared once with Craigs List in California and had a great experience. Whether it’s a case of having help stay awake, potentially sharing the driving or just enjoying the company, car sharing is a great way to change attitudes to the way we use our cars. goCarShare had a lucky break last summer when they partnered with UK music festivals to encourage festival goers to share the driving to the events. The Secret Garden Party even taxed people who had empty seats in the their cars!
  • Chris Pett of Makers discussed how important it is to make the designer the heart of any manufacturing process to add value to the end result. Keen so use local materials and a sustainable supply chain, Makers turn sketches and prototypes into real products making sure that the product has not travelled miles to the end user but made the product where the end user is – while making sure their products are tested to international standards. The right supply chain and pricing is as important as the look and function: Makers’ design service is focused on producing commercially viable designs ready for manufacture. Our design clients can also use the Makers production service to produce the finished product.

After the panel discussion we answered questions from the audience. This is what I took away and hope everyone will remember when developing their sustainable businesses:

Do you believe in what you do? It is essential to believe 100% in what you are trying to achieve. The ‘green’ and ‘eco’ world can be a tough place to succeed in if you want to quickly prove that you are sustainable. You must persevere, be articulate and not let people put doubts in your mind.

How are you adding value for the end user? You need to remember that although you believe in your business, service or product, you still need to think about why the end user will use it. Whether you are changing behaviours in the workplace, offering a sustainable supply chain or helping provide cheap car journeys, you need be clear what makes you different to your competition.

How do you explain what you do? Not everyone will understand the language you use to describe your business. You probably talk to like-minded people most of the time but there will always be people who either don’t want to understand or who are unfamiliar with eco focussed business. Think about changing the language you use to target the person you are talking to if you want to engage with them.

How many times have you written your business plan? It’s important to have a business plan that you are happy with but it’s also important to not be afraid to veer away from it. If an opportunity comes along to collaborate with others, partner with another business or change your model, then do it if it feels right. With the changing economy and people becoming more environmentally conscious, it is sometimes worth being ready to change your business if it will help you reach your end goal quicker.

Who did you last speak to about your business? Networking is essential. You never know who you might meet who could help you and your business. Not only at networking events or conferences but everyday! A small link may lead you to a large connection which could open doors and even raise your profile considerably.

The Green Growth events is a great series for entrepreneurs wanting to be exposed to ways to succeed in business. Next week the session is looking at marketing. I hope everyone that attended the series is able to go away and set up one of the next successful eco-businesses.

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Insightful South Africa

Visiting South Africa blew me away – its beauty is undescrible, its vast landscapes are unimagineable and the ‘african skies’ are magnificant. It’s a real shame though that it’s sustainable issues are, in my eyes, desparate.

I had heard about people talking about crime in South Africa and had been told numerous times to lock car doors, not walk around at night and not to go near the Townships but no one had mentioned the environmental or social issues I’d see.

Here are a few of the insights I picked up on my 2 week travels.

ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES

Banner in Knysna - Water Stressed Area

Banner in Knysna – Water Stressed Area

It was interesting coming into Knysna on the Garden Route to see a large banner saying ‘this is a water stressed area’ – the countryside was incredibly lush and it had rained all day!

The banners were also posted on rubbish bins and on lamp posts helping them to stand out to people walking or driving by.

Although it was good to see someone being environmentally conscious and keen to get the message across but the campaign didn’t appear to be carried out futher. There were no messages to explain how they suggested the locals to cut back on their water use. And, if i wasn’t educated on water use and the environmental problems we face regarding water, I would see this sign as ‘not my problem’.

While watching tv that evening, a large star burst flash came up on the screen saying ‘save energy – turn off your television when you are not watching it’.  It was definitely eye catching and possibly a message we, in the UK should be adopting. Do the locals take note?

'eco diesel'

‘eco diesel’

Apart from the new buses that had been introduced in Cape Town after the Football World Cup and the local mini bus style taxis (who will change their route to suit customers!) everyone appears to drive.  No one commutes by bicycle and trains are hardly used (or seen!).  I saw this sign at a petrol station saying ‘eco diesel. good for your car, even better for your world’.  You could argue that eco diesel (whatever that really is!) is more environmentally friendly than using unleaded petrol but wouldn’t it better for people to learn how to ‘eco drive‘, car share or encourage better public transport?

I found it hard to find many recycling points around Cape Town and the surrounding towns.  We did, however go to a farmers market style happening in the Woodstock area of Cape Town and there people appeared to be more environmentally conscious.  There was a recycling notice stating that the neighbourgoods market was recycling and that there were separate bins to put recycling into.  Although the sign was clear, easy to read and placed in a prominent place, I didn’t see the recycling bins and am sure all the rubbish went into one bin….

Recycling notice board

Recycling notice board

There is clearly an educational element needed in the city to help people understand the necessity of how to recycle!

There was a story on the news one evening about the problem with travelling between Johanesberg and Durban.  The train currently takes a large amount of time as does driving, therefore the taxi company have decided to set up a local cost ‘taxi’ airline to fly people between the two towns. Designed to work like a taxi rank, people will line up and get on the next available plane.  When people were interviewed to ask their opinion of the new service, there were comments along the lines of ‘the local taxi service is terrible so this won’t work’ rather than ‘we should not be harming the environment by flying’.  South Africa, please build a high speed train line before encouraging cheap flights!

WESTERN INFLUENCES

'eco' reuseable coffee cup

‘eco’ reuseable coffee cup

In Western countries, especially London as I see it everyday, the ‘to go’ coffee culture is bigger than ever.  Whether it’s a fashionable thing or a convenience thing, people are buying coffees on their way to work or when they are out and about. The good thing is that people are being more environmentally conscious and buying reusable coffee cups (the KeepCup is a popular brand).

Recent research (see Lucy Siegel’s article ‘Are Single Use Paper Cups Evil?‘ in the Guardian) does show however that the energy used to produce and then wash a cup each time does not necessarily challenge the energy used to produce paper cups and recycle them….

My point here is that there is not the same ‘to go’ coffee culture, that I noticed, in South Africa but clearly the coffee shops either feel they should be selling ‘eco cups to help the environment’ or that it is a good way to make money!  Western trends are definitely strong in South Africa.

INNOVATION & COMMUNITY

Beer can display at Cape Town airport

Beer can display at Cape Town airport

The only place that I saw any type of local art work to do with sustainability was at the airport as I was leaving Cape Town.

I couldn’t find any information on what the installation was for but someone had clearly designed a fantastic looking tree with leaves/flowers made out of recycled beer cans.

Maybe it was a simple way to promote the beer drunk in South Africa….? I’d love to know who produced it.

We visited the Cape Wine region close to Cape Town and were really impressed with the Solms-Delta wine estate.  I had been to an event the week before travelling to South Africa where Mark Delta (director) had explained the importance of providing a sustainable future for the estate and those working on the estate. He had over come a social problem where the people working on the farm felt they owned the farm but weren’t being heard, by mortagaging his land to buy the plot of land next door for the farmers to own. This way, both the Delta estate and the local workers could work in collaboration with empowered workers for a sustainable future.  The estate runs various events through out the year to promote community projects, fundraising and encouraging local collaboration.  They also produce a fantastic range of wines (which should not be over looked)!

Solms-Delta wine estate

Solms-Delta wine estate

SOCIAL ISSUES

I was shocked at the number of social issues in and around Cape Town.  Ignoring theft, muggings etc, the general urban issues that cause everyday annoyance or problems was pretty sad.  I was surprised to hear that even though there is a postal service, you are hardly likely to receive any post (unless it is a plain, thin envelope) as it gets stolen before it reaches your letter box!  Apparently Amazon do deliver to South Africa now but the service is not regularly used due to the unlikely event of actually receiving the items purchased!

Message on a PostBox in Cape Town
Message on a PostBox in Cape Town

Maybe it’s also a problem in the UK but I noticed a letter box in Cape Town with a sign on it asking people not to put their rubbish in the box.  It is clearly a problem which means a notice was necessary.

To sum up my trip, South Africa is well worth a visit. I was pleasantly surprised that it is a self sufficient country in terms of produce yet the social issues seriously need some help.  The racist attitude and urban poverty were hard to stomach which really need to be overcome for the country to flourish.

Environmental education, better communication and western knowledge could really benefit the country and make it even more amazing than it currently is.

Have you been to South Africa? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Have you thought about your new domain suffix?

I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve only just found out that the option to have a new range of domain suffixes is going to be possible later this year! I became aware of this when a discussion about URL availability led onto the .eco suffix.

Dot Eco

I like the idea of owning the URL http://www.louisewilson.eco but having read up on the topic, I am likely to be priced out or may have to prove my environmental creds to be allowed to use it.

At first it sounds great – we can expand our Internet options with the sometimes controversial .love, .sport or even .god at the end of addresses as discussed in the Washington Post. Maybe it will stimulate our creative side, allow clearer distinction between sites and allow organisations have the domain they have always wanted. Or is it just a money making decision? Apparently the high price to own the sites will prevent cyber hackers from buying up sites but that sounds like a convenient excuse to me. Impact Lab argue that the internet could become too cluttered with the availability of the extra sites.

It will be interesting to see how strict the credentials are to be able to buy one of these new suffixes. I wonder what credentials you’ll need for a .sex site….? And will .geek be popular?

Currently half of the 220million Internet sites are currently .com or .net and it appears from quick research that the UK is one of the few countries that use unusual suffixes. It is helpful to recognise that .org is an organisation or .tv tends to be tv or media based but my frustration lies with having a .info address and email which is often rejected as ‘not recognised’ on online forms.

How long will it take for the new suffixes to be popular and accepted? Dane Carlson blogged about the subject discussing how in a decade, the .com URL is likely to be as uncommon as .biz is today when ‘hundreds of new top-level domains enter the market’.

It is a sign of the times that eco-friendly and environmental sites are now popular enough that there will be a demand for dedicated domain suffixes but I do hope that ethically, people do not buy them up to make money from them. I would like to think that the established environmental sites don’t feel the need to join the new wave of suffixes and continue to have energy, confidence and support they currently have. We do not need companies greenwashing by creating new websites.

For more information, have a look at the Dot Eco website, especially the section on policy and accountability