Sustainable not Special
Updated: May 10, 2020
A guest post from Dwynwen at Loch Ness Knitting
My business Loch Ness Knitting has been one the go for a few years now and full time for a year. I’m thoroughly enjoying the work and the challenge of being self-employed. I’m also delighted to be making a profit as a business and will be looking to expand. However, as I seek out support for expansion I’m coming across some interesting hurdles.
At the heart of Loch Ness Knitting is a commitment to sustainability. For me this is the principle that business will not harm others directly or indirectly during any part of the process. In fact, I set up my processes to embrace the principles of a circular economy, making sure that the end of my hand dyeing process is a positive contributor to the environment.
Not everyone agrees on what sustainability is or means. There is no legal definition for use in advertising and now that we are out of the EU we won't be adopting their business terms. So, although I and many other businesses are using the term sustainability, you the consumer have very little to check that against. There are some industry schemes that assess production lines, but most are unsuitable for small makers like myself and not widely known about outside their industry circles.
Right now, at the stage of business planning for expansion, this lack of agreed definitions is causing confusion as many business people already use the term sustainability to refer to financial and economic sustainability. This is not the same set of principles and is causing confusion.
The second hurdle in my plans for expansion is that when mainstream banks and investors are familiar with sustainability, they expect me to be part of a charitable organisation. It makes total sense that highly principled organisations such as charities have become champions of sustainable enterprises, and I have no issue with that. However, I’m and very clear my business is a business and not a charity, I’m running a profitable operation to make a living for myself and in the future my employees.
I firmly believe in the importance of sustainable business in the mainstream. I’d go further by saying that the attitudes that I’ve experience of limiting sustainable companies to charity projects or special status sends the ironic message that the environmentally principled sustainable business model is not financially or economically sustainable. Given the level of public interest in sustainable business and products at the present time nothing could be further from the truth.
So it is important for me in those meetings and more widely to challenge the notion that sustainable business is limited to the charity sector or special and limited project roles within larger organisations, because this ‘special’ status sends the message that sustainability is unprofitable and therefore cannot function in the real world. ‘Special’ status undermines the fundamental and urgent message that sustainability is for everyone.
Long term ‘special’ status reinforces beliefs that sustainable products and choices are too expensive, inaccessible, too difficult for everyone and that it is part of an elite lifestyle not a mainstream everyday choice. It is my belief that if sustainable business is to fulfil its potential for the environment and the economy it needs to become the new normal ASAP for our banks and investors.
Advocates of sustainability accept that there are absolutely some consumer discussions and compromises to be made but my feeling is that it’s really important for sustainable to be a positive choice and not something that people feel forced or shamed into doing. Informed consumers will force us all to step up to the plate and require us all to be better businesses.
That’s not to say that there shouldn’t be some sort of support or incentive to establish a sustainable business. In fact in order to catch up with decades of unsustainable practice this is necessary and would be hugely welcomed, but the sooner sustainability shakes off the mantle of ‘special’ status and is properly and equally evaluated by banks and investors the sooner your consumer choices can match your principles.