On November 2, we invited a panel of entrepreneurs to Patch to discuss the topic of ‘Creating Sustainable Change’. The evening marked the launch of Patch Seasons, our new cultural programme dedicated to ‘The Planet & Sustainability’, and saw us explore core ideas linked to the intersection of business and sustainability including shifting consumer expectations, the B Corp movement, green investing and more.
Chaired by Patch’s founder, Freddie Fforde, the panel included Jon Wright, the co-founder of one of Europe’s largest smoothie brands, Innocent Drinks, and co-founder of venture capital fund, Jam Jar Investments; Camilla Dolan, the co-founder of the UK’s largest early-stage, impact-driven venture capital fund, EKA Ventures; and Murvah Iqbal, the founder of the UK’s first mass-market zero-emission delivery network, Hived.
If you couldn’t make it to the event, we’ve pulled out a few of the conversations we had throughout the evening. We hope you’ll find this a useful resource to aid you on your own journey to 'Create Sustainable Change', in whatever way that might be.
“Sustainability needs to be baked into your business plan from the very beginning.” Murvah Iqbal
Murvah founded Hived in response to the explosion of online shopping during the pandemic, coupled with a newfound love of cycling London's empty streets. Yet despite the fact that her company is very clearly rooted in tackling an environmental issue - the CO2 emissions generated by e-commerce - she was quick to clarify that “zero-emission is not the USP. The USP is that we’re the best delivery service”.
Rather than being a differentiator, sustainability was now a basic requirement of any new business, Murvah told us, that needed to be as deeply integrated into the business plan as a company’s financial or hiring strategy. It could no longer be an afterthought.
“The science is always evolving and we’re constantly learning.” Jon Wright
When Jon co-founded Innocent Drinks with a couple of friends back in 1998, there was nothing in the business plan about carbon or plastic or the environment. Instead, the trio just wanted to create a healthier product that they would be proud of.
However, as time passed and their knowledge of Innocent’s environmental impact grew, their priorities shifted to focus on how ‘healthier’ might also be applied to the planet and not just people. This began with an examination of the company’s carbon footprint followed shortly after by plastic usage and supply chain transparency. Fast forward to 2022 and Innocent is one of the leading smoothie brands in Europe renowned for its sustainability efforts. Yet despite that, Jon, who now sits on Innocent’s board of advisors, says that they’re all still learning. The science and technology are changing at such a rate that no one can claim to have all the answers.
Murvah highlighted the opportunity of this learning mindset. In accepting the amount there is to learn, people and companies are much more willing to collaborate with each other on the understanding that a holistic approach to sustainability will help accelerate change. Hived's partnership with Maersk, the global shipping company, is a good example of this, whereby Maersk enjoys the insights of working with an agile startup that is constantly experimenting and trialling new innovations, whilst Hived can tap into Maersk's wealth of scientific and tech resources.
“There’s been a generational change in consumer expectations. If you have kids, they’ll demand [environmental action] of you.” Jon Wright
Younger generations are playing a vital role in shaping the future of how we live, work, produce and consume, holding both businesses and also their own parents to a higher standard, says Jon, who often finds his children commenting on his green habits at home.
All of the speakers cited increased public scrutiny as a positive evolution. “If there’s something we’re not doing, let us know”, says Murvah. “We want to improve”. Both Camilla and Jon spoke about their enjoyment of supporting others through this process, with Camilla saying that Eka Venture’s role was to help people make better decisions and act as a partner to startups who need support when justifying sustainable decisions to boards. Similarly, Jon spoke of his excitement around working with farmers in Innocent’s supply chain who were motivated to develop more sustainable farming practices. “The real joy comes from helping others on this journey, rather than choosing only to work with those already ticking the boxes”.
“Does the B Corp journey bring real value?” Freddie Fforde
As we continued to discuss industry standards, the conversation turned to The B Corporation Movement and its value in 2022. B Corp Certification is awarded to companies meeting the highest standards for social and environmental performance and has boomed in popularity in recent years, with a long waiting list in the UK. However, it’s an arduous process (it takes approximately 12-18 months) and Freddie referred to some press commentary that it’s not worth the time for an organisation just to prove they're doing ‘something good’.
However, with two existing B Corp members (Innocent Drinks and Eka Ventures) and two aspiring members (Hived and Patch) on the panel, the general consensus seemed to be that yes, there was still real value in the certification. Much of this came from the fact that the certification demands a 360 assessment of all aspects of the company, helping structure ESG goals and exposing blindspots that might not otherwise have been identified. Additionally, B Corp requires members to continue improving their performance, supporting long-term cultural change in how companies operate. At Innocent this has led to the appointment of ‘B keepers’ - people from across the business who make sure that the company both delivers upon and stays true to its B Corp values.
“That’s not to say you’re not a sustainable brand if you don’t do it”, says Camilla, “but there is lots of evidence showing that B Corp brands are outperforming non-B Corp brands”. As an investor in early-stage, impact-driven startups, Camilla has plenty of experience working with founders on the B Corp journey and leaves us with a piece of advice - “it’s easier for small brands, so better to start early”.
“There’s been a radical shift in the value people put on sustainability in business.” Camilla Dolan
Camilla and Jon highlighted the particular opportunity they see for green startups in recent years. This results from a combination of shifting consumer expectations, technological and scientific advances, and policy changes, which have demanded a re-evaluation from investors of the economic value of sustainable services and products.
For purpose-driven founders, this industry shift means more opportunities to get their ideas and companies funded and also work with investors who care about the key issues and challenges. This was something Murvah flagged as being particularly important, always opting for investors who understand that change is slow and are willing to wait and support the hard decisions. “There’s also so much infrastructure in terms of incubators, programmes, mentor schemes,” adds Jon. “Thankfully, we now live in a world where people recognise the value”.
“Are we getting the entrepreneurs we need to create the necessary change?”
As the evening drew to an end, the conversation turned to ‘what next?’.
Whilst the responses varied (spanning “it’s going to get much worse before it gets better” to “ we need to address systemic models”), the key takeaway was around the positivity that all felt about the people addressing it.
Both Camilla and Murvah celebrated the quality of entrepreneurs and employees looking to break into the sustainable startup world, whilst Freddie raised the incredible role that technology has played in lowering entry barriers and allowing us to connect across industries, ages and geographical locations. He finished by voicing his belief in the talent of people and the fact that ‘great people are everywhere’, which for those who are familiar with Patch, will know is one of the core reasons the company was founded.
Patch Seasons: Creating Sustainable Change
A big thank you to everyone who joined us for this event and especially to our three panel speakers, Camilla, Murvah and Jon. This felt like a brilliant way to kick off Patch Seasons, particularly when over 3000 miles away in Egypt, global leaders were gearing up to discuss very similar topics at the United Nations’ 27th Climate Change Conference.
Here at Patch, we’re on a mission to create accessible spaces that invite conversation, debate and exploration, all of which we saw at this evening’s event from an audience of over 40 people ranging in age from 16-60! If you missed this talk but would like to attend another of our Patch Seasons events centred on ‘The Planet & Sustainability’, then keep an eye on our Patch Seasons page. Here you can find all the information and ticket links to upcoming events. Alternatively, you can watch the full discussion below.
If you’d like to find out more about our speakers or their companies, you can follow them on LinkedIn (Camilla Dolan, Murvah Iqbal, Jon Wright) or visit their company webpages (Eka Ventures, Hived, Innocent Drinks, JamJar Investments).