Innovation and enterprise blog

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Introduction

This blog is written by members of the Business & IP Centre team and some of our expert partners and discusses business, innovation and enterprise. Read more

15 October 2021

How Do We Sell Sustainability to Consumers?

In 1969, John Lennon said, “we’re trying to sell peace, like a product…like people sell soap or soft drinks”. That same approach is needed today to sell sustainable goods and services and we need data to help us figure out how to get them to resonate with people.

Some of the most popular sustainable behaviours according to Mintel’s research are driven by frugality, led by meal planning to avoid wasting food (61%) and buying fewer new clothes (58%). The sustainable consumer groups we have identified are more likely to agree with the statement ‘I have a budget that I try to stick to as much as possible’. It is this ‘return on investment’ mentality we need to appeal to when pushing solar panels and EVs, not just environmentalism.

Sustainable products and services should also appeal to people’s sense of well being and self-preservation. A sharp indication of just how seriously UK consumers are taking climate change and pollution is shown by the proportions interested in buying air conditioning (30%) or air purifiers (32%) to make their homes cleaner and safer. Health also informs the growth in greener transport behaviours seen this past year and those who have walked (45%) or cycled (17%) more often. 

Sustainably-minded consumers have stronger peacock tendencies, being more likely to agree with the statement ‘I like to stand out from the crowd’. Refurbished tech reseller Back Market appeals strongly to these values, addressing the growing problem of e-waste by selling products 70% below their new price, all delivered in a Freedom campaign that celebrates being ‘different’ from the sheep who line up en masse to pay more for the latest phone.

iPhone advert by Back Market, with the campaign tagline "Buy Different."

There’s still time to make a personal difference

The good news is that a small majority (54%) still believe we have time for redemption, and slightly more (56%) believe that their personal actions can make the difference. For brands, the opportunity here is to become the chosen partners of those consumers looking to make a difference. The challenge thereafter is for brands to maintain that relationship by proving what difference they’ve made and reporting back on that impact. So how can they do this?

Bar chart showing consumers' sense of optimism and impact in the UK - 54% believe we still have time to save the planet and 56% believe their personal behaviour can make an impact

1. Don’t cross consumers’ ‘red lines’

When asked to choose their top five considerations when purchasing coffee, socks or soap, consumers typically select two or more sustainable features, but they won’t sacrifice product quality, efficacy or brand familiarity for sustainability. We should never forget that a sustainable coffee must first and foremost deliver pleasure, taste and quality before anything else. These rules apply to packaging too: its primary role is to protect the product within to ensure that the energy and other resources that went into its production are not wasted. Their footprint will be much higher than that of the packaging itself. Patagonia is one of the very few brands to have had the courage to explain its reasons for using plastic in these terms.   

Mintel barometer showing most important factors when choosing one at home coffee product over another.

2. Educate on and disclose impacts

Consumers are fixated on ocean plastic (62% say it’s a top three environmental concern) yet even accounting for its production using fossil fuels, its incineration and disposal it generates less than 4% of annual GHG emissions. More consumers prioritise ocean plastic than a loss of biodiversity in the oceans as a concern, but Sea Shepherd’s revelation that 46% of plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is actually fishing nets, confirms that fishing and food have a far greater impact than packaging when it comes to damaging the ocean and the role of its biomass in storing carbon. It’s the duty of brands to be transparent on their business’s biggest areas of impact when it comes to releasing carbon or methane. 

3. Offer tangible, local solutions

When it comes to accepting the reality of climate change, it’s a case of ‘seeing is believing’, with national levels of concern around climate change grounded in what people experience in their own countries. The visibility of ocean plastic is one of the reasons why it resonates so highly and this element of tangibility will also be key in whether people engage on issues. This may hardly seem an earth-shattering insight, but it signifies the importance of tangibility and localism when it comes to delivering sustainable solutions, confirmed in characterisation studies showing ‘sustainably-minded consumers’ to be distinguished by the high emphasis they place on values like ‘community’ and ‘localism’. This means that corporate initiatives – wherever possible – must deliver local visible benefits like cleaner local air from brands using EVs or investing in urban tree planting schemes.

Mintel Sustainability Barometer showing consumers' attitudes towards climate change. 51% in the UK are concerned about climate change and 42% believe that the UK is suffering from climate change

4. Sell in the science

Just 45% of UK consumers agree that “science can provide solutions to the climate crisis”, which is pretty disappointing when we consider how intrinsic available technologies (solar panels, batteries, fuel cells, hydroponics) and those still in development (carbon capture, climate engineering, zero-carbon manufacturing materials, chemical recycling and lab-grown foods) are to us achieving emissions reductions. The pandemic has afforded us a zeitgeist moment to seize upon the speedy and spectacular successes in RNA vaccine development and trust in science needs to be built up by brands to help us achieve progress to net zero. Brands need to be brave enough to explain the benefits of science and synthetics instead of taking the easy option of celebrating ‘natural’ for all of its’ supposed purity. Palm oil, beef and coal are all “natural” resources, but they are finite and threatened and release GHGs in their production.

Mintel Sustainability Barometer showing percentage of consumers agreeing that science can provide solutions to the climate crisis. Only 45% of people in the UK believe this compared to the lowest 25% in Japan and highest 58% in Canada and China.

5. Use clear metrics and language

What will convince consumers to purchase products that claim to have environmental or social benefits? 

To build belief in science and to convert potential into actual purchases, companies need to offer a new sustainability lexicon and use simple data and metrics that consumers can understand. Some 44% of UK consumers want labelling that shows a product’s environmental impact and 40% want this communicated in terms they can understand (eg litres of water used or km travelled). Mondra has developed colour-coded on pack “eco scores” that will go on trial in the UK this autumn and go some way to meeting that need.

Naked Bacon packaging with colour coded packaging on "eco-score"

Richard Cope is a Senior Trends Consultant at Mintel and author of the Sustainability Barometer. Join Richard at our Start Up Day 2021 event on 11th November. He'll be hosting a session on understanding sustainability trends in the UK right now - an unmissable and informative event for all small businesses wanting to start up sustainably. 

13 October 2021

Turn your brilliant idea into a business

Our annual flagship event, Start-up Day is back again. Our free day of online panel discussions, talks and training is back on Thursday 11 November and will feature more than 50 speakers all helping aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners to not only start-up, but start-up sustainably.

Over the years, we’ve had thousands of people attend our events both online and in person around the UK. We’re catching up with some to hear what they’ve done since joining us.

Sara-Jayne Slocombe attended BIPC Manchester’s Start-up Day in 2019 and was self-employed supporting other businesses with their annual reports and admin. This then developed into project work and Amethyst Raccoon was born. Hearing from other people who had been in her shoes, who were now the ones giving the talks was one element of the day Sara-Jayne connected with.

‘The biggest takeaway from Start-up Day was appreciating how much and what is involved in starting up a service-based business, and learning that it is completely do-able and can be dealt with in bite-sized chunks.’

Since October 2019, Sara-Jayne’s business has gone from strength to strength, despite the pandemic. ‘If anything, I’ve had more business. For me, the main effect was being flexible with payments to support clients who had been impacted by Covid. Looking ahead, I hope to pick up more clients, finish my booking keeping qualification and connect with industry leaders.’

Speaking to those who are thinking about starting their own business, Sara-Jayne says, "Get really clear on what you want to do, why you want to do it, and who you want to do it for."

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Norwich-based magician, David Fung, started his business with the help of BIPC Norfolk in 2018. ‘I first attended Start-up Day and gained many tools and much knowledge near the beginning of my journey. I later signed up for an accounting one-to-one session, which answered many of my questions and put my mind at rest.’

Start-up Day helped David get more knowledge and understanding of the ‘business fundamentals – there’s so much to learn if you’ve never done this before. In addition, the BIPC has given support in local networking and increasing publicity, and are really accessible if I have questions or need other support.’

David’s advice for others looking to start their own business, “Plan first, then just do it. You can learn by doing. I remember attending Start-up Day and asking a business mentor “What’s the next step after this workshop? Is there a part two?” and she replied “The next step is to do it. Start your business.” Take small steps; before you know it, you’ll be running a business.’

Start-up Day can also provide networking opportunities and allow people to share their skills to support other entrepreneurs. Northamptonshire-based business, Clock and Compass Coaching, founder by Daniel O’Connor, made many connections during BIPC Northamptonshire’s Start-up Day in 2019. ‘One of the people I met went on to design my logo and website, I met the person who runs local networking events and from a workshop on copywriting, I then used that copywriter for my website. There was one other person there I met through networking on the day who became my mentor for a year. Lots of great workshops and lots of great connections which have led on to helping me really boost my business.’

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Jessica Runyard, founder of Runyard Editorial Services, studied English Literature at university as she knew she wanted to go into the editorial world. However, living in Devon meant the opportunities were few and far between.  She set up freelance and is helping self-publishing authors. Jessica also worked with businesses, helping with their websites. She offers a wide range of services around editing for the local area as well as being a freelancer where she has also worked with people overseas.

Jessica attended BIPC Devon's Start-up Day and found the discussions about networking very helpful, the importance of networking but not over networking. Jessica feels like if she could’ve networked more this year than she could’ve been making a bigger profit by now.

"The most memorable thing about Start-up Day 2019 was the talk on accountancy and business banking – things that I knew very little about but were very interesting. After the talk I knew where to look and who to contact, which was very helpful."

She also took away from the Start-up Day some key things for starting a business that she never knew, for example, when she needed someone to do her accountancy. She learnt how long she could stay a sole trader, when to be registering for VAT – all very important things for when starting a business which she didn’t know about before attending Start-up Day.

Jessica’s advice for others starting a business; “Be confident. Imposter syndrome isn’t a thing, you may feel like an imposter but, everyone feels like an imposter, just do it. The more you sit there and say you can’t do it, you will never start if you come up with an excuse."

Book onto our Start-up Day 2021 event, here.

Start-up Day is in partnership with Santander

Red Santander logo

29 September 2021

The Pandemic Business Boom

As businesses across the country closed their doors in March of 2020, it was unclear just how long these doors would remain closed. Small businesses found themselves facing a frightening and confusing time, having to pivot and adjust to the continually changing landscape. In many cases, however, this pause in time allowed some to reflect on their career goals and even prompted them to launch their own businesses. We spoke to four such businesses, who either pivoted or started up during the pandemic and explored how they were able to grow despite unpredictable circumstances.

Carolyn founder of Afori Books
Carolynn Bain, founder of Afrori Books

For Carolynn Bain, the pandemic and the civil rights uprising that started to unfold in the summer of 2020 highlighted the importance and need for her to start up her Brighton based business, Afrori Books. Afrori Books is an online bookshop that specialises in books by black authors, their mission statement is simple; to support black authors, create diverse bookshelves and be a voice for justice.

As a National Network business, we were able to assist Carolynn by providing local information and resources to help her grow during this time, specifically ways to source funding to expand the business into a physical shop via our Business & IP Centre Brighton & Hove.

"Starting a business during the pandemic is an unusual thing to do. However, I think what had a bigger impact on us was starting a business during a pandemic and during a civil rights uprising in terms of Black Lives Matter – they can’t be separated for us. Many people were at home, reading books and for the first time ever really the world was sitting still, watching these things unfold before them. That had a massive impact on us and, in a positive sense, bought customers to us who previously maybe would not have considered looking at books by black authors. As we go forward, we are in the middle of crowd funding as we are looking to open a physical shop – working in partnership with a charity in Brighton who have given us a shop space. That has also come off the back of the civil rights movement, as they want to see Brighton change and become a safe space for black authors and black people living in the city. It’s all interconnected."

Hazel Russell co-founder of the Woodlife Project
Hazel Russell, founder of the Woodlife Project

Another National Network business, who recently took part in our Innovating for Growth programme, that has seen growth during the pandemic is The Woodlife Project. The Norfolk based business, founded by Hazel Russell manufactures beautiful, innovative, eco-friendly wooden products for the family home with a focus on meal times. The Woodlife Project, who got support from BIPC Norfolk, mostly sell online on their own website and wholesale through a variety of different retailers, most notably during the pandemic they are now available on John Lewis and, like Afrori Books, will be looking to have in store product space soon too. "Our proudest moment in business so far has been getting into John Lewis, as they were one of our ideal retailers from the offset. We are online at the moment - in the nursery section with our bear, fox and rabbit plates. If all goes well we will be in store soon."

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Jen Lam, co-founder of Stitch and Story

Jennifer Lam also took part in our Innovating for Growth programme, she is the co-founder and CEO of Stitch and Story based in London, which is an online crafting company on a mission to make crafting simple and easy to learn. During the numerous lock-downs, confined to their homes, people were getting back in touch with their creative side which bode well for this crafting business and allowed them to grow despite the uncertain circumstances.

"We’re here to inspire a new generation of crafters with our DIY kits, yarns and materials. During the pandemic Stitch and Story grew enormously. I think we were one of the lucky companies who were able to grow because everybody was in lockdown, looking for a new skill or hobby to pick up at home. Stitch and Story provided many customers with a new skill in knitting and crocheting and so we expanded very quickly online predominantly, albeit it was very stressful!"

One of the biggest changes to Stitch and Story was the team; they more than doubled the team during the pandemic from seven to 22. "We had to recruit everyone virtually at the time and it was stressful as we had no experience in doing that before - the BIPC really helped in providing us resources for this."

Judy founder of Delmora in her studio space
Judy Chicangana-Matthews, founder of Delmora

Start-ups in London Libraries business, Delmora, founded by Judy Chicangana-Matthews, offers a variety of beautiful jewellery items and accessories for women. Judy launched her first product at the end of February, weeks before Covid hit. "The impact was huge. In the beginning, people were buying the essentials such as food and toilet paper, so jewellery was considered a luxury. Nowadays, many people are concerned about their jobs and how that is going to impact their finances.

Covid also affects my KPIs in terms of delivery. I use the service Royal Mail 24, and I have had severe delays on the delivery of the parcels. To compensate my customers, sometimes I offer discounts as a part of the customer service. This practice has seriously affected my margins, so surviving has been very difficult."

Thus, the need to pivot and test out new business models to grow her business came about. By adding a loyalty program to her business, she was able to ensure repeat purchases and a loyal customer base. "My response has been offering discounts to my customers and creating programs to increase the brand’s recognition. For example, I offer the Delmora Club discount to all my customers in which the members have exclusive access to special discounts and pre-launch of our collections. We also recently created the program named Delmora Brand Champion that aims to get more positive reviews around our online presence."

Despite the devastating effects of the pandemic, we are pleased to see small businesses surviving, thriving and growing through it - it has highlighted the importance of small businesses, which are innovative, provide jobs and support local communities. In turn, there has been an increase in public support for local small businesses, to help ensure they remained profitable - a trend we hope continues long after the pandemic has ended.