In early November, BOSS held its virtual Sustainability Conference featuring keynote sessions from Coventry Building Society Energy & Sustainability Lead Sophie Mason and Red-Inc founder Adam Huttly. Both companies have achieved immense progress in their sustainable endeavours in recent years. Following on, BOSS Environmental Forum Chair Martin Eames hosted two industry panels.
The first panel How do you provide substantive data behind sustainability claims? involved Kim Thurgood-Brown, Senior Business Development Manager at Exertis Supplies, Philip Wesolowski, Managing Director of Staedtler UK and Sam Shakespeare, Product Manager at Commercial Group.
The second panel, titled What are the challenges of meeting increased customer requirements? featured Julie Hadley, Head of CSR & Social Value at EVO Group, Andrew Bryers, Head of Sustainability at Lyreco UK & Ireland and James Morton, CEO of MBM Group. This discussion focused on topics related to carbon reduction and Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions.
Onwards and upwards
Mason opened the conference by detailing Coventry Building Society’s impressive sustainability journey, which has been propelled by government policies, heightened public awareness, and increased media attention. She acknowledged the challenge of accurately measuring Scope 3 emissions but remained optimistic about the achievable nature of reaching net zero. Stressing the pivotal role of governance, Mason underscored the necessity of robust leadership and decision-making for sustainable progress.
Huttly then outlined Red-Inc’s vision to revolutionise sustainability in the workplace supplies industry (for an in-depth interview with Huttly, read Leading the charge). Despite being a small business, the dealer has made tangible strides towards net zero, including offsetting delivery emissions for clients and setting targets through SBTi. He highlighted the company’s engagement with the B Corp impact assessment, emphasising its instrumental role in shaping strategy.
Answering a question from the audience regarding certifications like ISO and B Corp, Huttly acknowledged their financial investment but firmly believes the benefits outweigh the costs.
Next up was the first of the two panel sessions, which as BOSS’s Eames noted, was on the “increasingly thorny issue” of providing substantive data to support sustainability claims. He kicked off the discussion by asking panellists if such data was required by clients and, if so, are those requests increasing.
Commercial Group’s Shakespeare said initially, questions primarily came from larger corporate firms seeking basic details like FSC certification and plastic content. However, there is now a surge in demands for more precise information encompassing CO2 reduction, certifications and product life cycles.
From a manufacturer’s point of view, Wesolowski from Staedtler UK concurred with the rising call for comprehensive environmental evidence. However, he highlighted the challenges of maintaining such data due to rapid innovations and lamented the manual process of providing it. He also spoke about the burden posed by variations in requested information.
Expressing concern about the industry’s poor and inconsistent product information, Thurgood-Brown from Exertis Supplies emphasised the necessity for robust and accurate sustainability data. “It’s no wonder dealers struggle to provide their customers with the right answers; there’s no quality control. This is why Exertis has started from scratch with a new product template which we’re asking our vendors to complete,” she noted.
Shakespeare added that Commercial established its own green product criteria in 2019 and praised Exertis’ initiative as welcome and “really useful”.
The discussion demonstrated the imperative for enhanced data quality, consistency and accessibility across the supply chain. Collaboration among manufacturers, wholesalers and dealers is crucial to streamline the provision of substantive data and ensure transparency and accountability.
Regarding the issue of greenwashing, there was consensus from the panel, acknowledging that as our sector lags behind others in sustainability, greenwashing isn’t as prevalent – yet. They agreed on the importance of healthy scepticism toward environmental claims, with Wesolowski underlining the need for customers to be more proactive in challenging the veracity of such claims.
The final session tackled carbon reduction and Scopes 1, 2 and 3. The view among the panellists was clear: businesses are increasingly seeking information on net zero journeys, including Scope 3 emissions. Notably, enquiries – especially those from the public sector or tenders – are becoming more intricate.
There was unanimous agreement on the crucial need for accurate and full-scale intelligence from suppliers. MBM Group’s Morton noted that larger clients often engage specialist organisations to ensure detailed data collection, target establishment and sharing of reduction initiatives. As with product data, there was a call for industry-wide standards for carbon emissions reporting. Lyreco’s Bryers suggested that a centralised platform supervised by a third-party organisation could be a potential solution.
Morton flagged three key issues: a lack of resources, unreliable data and the absence of a standardised data collection methodology. However, he noted although customers currently understand the complexities of providing carbon footprint facts, this patience might not endure indefinitely.
EVO’s Hadley put forth a thought-provoking perspective, noting that clients sometimes expect an “absolute” on carbon footprints, which doesn’t presently exist. She added: “We’re all making strides, and as long as there is transparency in the calculations and methods used, then we are doing as much as we can given the various guidance from protocols.”
The devil lies in the data. There needs to be a lot more thorough evidence forthcoming, especially on corporate CO2 emissions and the environmental credentials of products. The data needs to be standardised and accessible to everyone, and the only way to achieve this is through industry cooperation.