Enabling profit with a purpose

In 2015, at an historic UN summit, world leaders adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The SDGs aim to transform our world across the most pressing global challenges; from no poverty and zero hunger, to reduced inequalities and quality education.

But what does this mean for business?

Whether you are a local or global business, we operate in an interconnected world and there are global trends that will affect you, your people, your customers and your suppliers as well as the environment and wider society in which you operate. The world is changing, whether it be climate change, resource scarcity, wealth and inequality shifts, or even demographic changes; and business is directly connected with and impacted by these, and more, sustainability matters.

Whatever the size or nature of a business, there are many sustainability related factors to be considered, understood and reported on. Even for matters without regulation, many stakeholders demand their businesses to behave responsibly and demonstrate their actions and impact.

Just IMAGINE if…

Aside from existing business’s performance contributing to the SDGs, what about new ideas? What can be done differently? It’s this challenge that led us to get involved with ‘Just IMAGINE if…’ – a unique business competition launched by Paul Lindley, founder of Ella’s Kitchen, and the University of Reading. Open internationally, and with an impressive £75,000 worth of bespoke research to be won, individuals were invited to apply with their own sustainable business ideas that would tackle at least one of the UN’s SDGs. A panel made up of business leaders, academics, social innovators and entrepreneurs judged the entries to select the finalists, who were then paired with a mentor – a business leader or entrepreneur – to support them on the development and presentation of their idea at the innovation event on 28 February.

Having worked with many fast growing and entrepreneurial businesses and individuals, we often hear their ideas and plans for the future – not just for business growth, but their desire to make an impact in their communities. Mark Bishop, Partner, Grant Thornton, sat on the judging panel and said of the finalists, “These are extraordinary ideas that could make an impact, not just in terms of being profitable business ideas, but to address the challenge of the SDGs in real terms in both local and global communities. I’m excited to see them all move forward and make a difference in the world”.

Profit with a purpose

During the innovation event, Grant Thornton held a workshop focusing on Goal 8 of the SDGs: Decent Work and Economic Growth. The breadth of this goal means it has the capacity to have a far reaching impact across many of the other SDGs, whether we talk about the basics of human life – poverty, inequality, sanitation; or environmental aspects such as climate, energy and the ocean; or the more obvious connections in sustainable communities, responsible production, and industry and infrastructure.

We discussed how businesses as a force for good, providing decent work, can complement strong economic growth, and how this has the power to affect many of the SDG’s. Grant Thornton’s Planning for Growth research found that businesses who are purpose driven, tech confident, invested in the top line and well networked are taking their growth to the next level. And it’s these factors, along with aligning people to the business strategy, which can empower a culture of bold and purposeful decision-making.

Maggie De Pree, co-founder of The League of Intrapreneurs, and one of Grant Thornton’s Faces of a Vibrant Economy, also joined us to share how working to develop brilliant ideas from inside the system, rather than outside, can help to shift the way business works.

And the winner is…

Ten finalists, both UK-based and global, pitched their ideas to an inspired audience during the day. Designed to tackle varying SDG’s, entries ranged from early years coaching, alternative education and food chain innovations, to sustainable fashion and mental health enhancing beauty products, to end-of-life planning and transforming the sex and feminine hygiene industry. All incredible, forward-thinking proposals, but only one could win the research prize.

A gala dinner followed the innovation event, during which the winner – voted for by the audience – was announced. Alexander Wankel, of Kai Pacha Foods, has developed a socially and environmentally responsible brand of plant-based milks from climate-smart Andean grains. Sourcing native quinoa at fair prices, the company seeks to provide a sustainable answer to the booming global demand for plant-based alternatives to dairy in a way that minimises environmental impact, conserves genetic resources and promotes climate resiliency.

The prize will allow Kai Pacha Foods to obtain the research expertise it needs to enable the company to scale to international markets. It will also provide vital research into quinoa diversity, allowing the organisation to focus on conservation of particularly climate resilient native varieties.

Competition founder, Paul Lindley OBE said: “I am so happy for Alexander in winning the opportunity to boost impact and scale his business and to build lasting change through world-class University research. Every one of our just IMAGINE if… finalists were truly outstanding and I don’t doubt each will go on to turn their ideas into reality. This is not the end of the journey for any of them, indeed it is just the beginning.”

Sustainability matters affect all businesses and provide significant opportunity for growth, as well as to tackle the SDG’s and use business as a force for good. Through a forward-thinking, innovative strategy and by addressing the challenges in identifying key impacts, measuring and reporting performance, with external assurance to back up what is being said, business as a whole can be transformed and we can come together to create a common sense of purpose and direction across our region, and beyond.

For more information and insight into how your business is impacted by sustainability matters, please contact Paul Holland, Grant Thornton UK LLP.

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