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Why Sustainability Is Integral To Successful Family Businesses

Sustainability is an increasingly important topic in the world of business. As concerns surrounding the planet and climate change continue to grow, there’s increasing pressure on organisations of all sizes and from all industries to demonstrate what they are doing to reduce their environmental impact.

In this feature, Joe Oughtred (pictured), co-founder of AXIOM Sustainability and part of the sixth generation of the family behind the William Jackson Food Group, explores why sustainability is integral to the success of family businesses and how data collection is an essential starting point for reducing carbon footprints.

Sustainability & Family Businesses

From the local bakers and butchers to clothing stores, technology businesses and some of the country’s leading food companies – family businesses are an integral part of the UK economy. There’s also a strong link between the values that govern them and the core principles behind the sustainability movement.

Whilst many corporate-owned companies might prioritise results for the next quarter, as family businesses, we’re required to take a much longer-term, generational view on business strategy.

Building and protecting a business and growing a legacy is deeply entrenched within the DNA of family businesses – it’s a key part of what distinguishes our companies from other organisations.

Within the culture of many successful family businesses, there’s a distinct feeling that you don’t truly ‘own’ the business at all but are rather looking after it and nurturing it for future generations to enjoy and benefit from.

Rather than extracting as much value as possible, the aim is to create, develop and leave that value for your children, grandchildren and their families. Now, it’s up to us as family businesses to apply these same principles when considering issues of sustainability and looking after the earth. If we’re going to succeed and continue in nurturing the successful, long term legacies of our organisations, we need to lead the way and ensure that the planet is in a state where it can support our goals!

Family Businesses – Protecting The Planet & Family Legacies

Family businesses of all sizes play an important role in the economy – and we’re all in a position to do our bit to support sustainability.

Currently, small family businesses aren’t beholden to the same stringent pressures and expectations as larger corporates. For example, whilst companies qualifying as large under the Companies Act 2006 are obliged to report on their ESG performance, smaller businesses do not.

However – as discussions around climate change and the planet increase in prevalence and importance, it looks likely that smaller businesses will be expected to engage with these sorts of initiatives in the future. In addition to being the right thing to do, it’s also beneficial from a commercial perspective given the growing numbers of clients and consumers who are looking to work with and support environmentally conscious businesses.

Embracing ESG initiatives and reporting under SECR can therefore help bolster a business’s reputation, as it demonstrates its green credentials and a commitment to being progressive and relevant.

Why Should Family Businesses Engage With Sustainability Initiatives?

The family business sector is, in many ways, leading the way on sustainability and can be an example to other sectors.

They are very mindful of their decisions and the impact that they have on the environment employees and local communities. For example, they often do a lot of charitable work and take CSR very seriously.

However – we still have a long way to go, and despite the benefits that engaging with sustainability initiatives can bring to small businesses, many family businesses are still reluctant to prioritise this as part of their long-term strategy or goals.

Although business owners might want to do the right thing and improve sustainability, there can often be a disconnect between ideology and action. Even where multiple generations are aligned on the concept, it can be difficult to embed sustainable practices throughout an organisation’s operations. For many, simply knowing where to start can be a huge challenge in itself.

Other challenges include navigating areas like reducing Scope 3 (supply chain) emissions, which fall outside the reporting organisation’s control and as such, can be notoriously difficult to measure and improve.

However, if family businesses are to be successful and sustain their legacy well into future generations, it’s essential that they proactively improve their green credentials across the entire supply chain.

The topic of sustainability is only going to grow in importance, and family businesses – regardless of their size and industry – need to keep up and consciously reduce their environmental impact.

The Value Of Data

Before organisations can implement sustainability programmes, embrace carbon reduction initiatives or proactively demonstrate green credentials they need to have accurate information about where their business stands now in terms of emissions and sustainability performance.

Obtaining a clear insight into an organisation’s overall sustainability performance relies on the collection of key emissions data such as Scope 1, Scope 2 and Scope 3.

In addition to revealing an organisation’s direct environmental impact, it also shows that of its suppliers – equipping business owners with the information needed to identify areas in need of improvement and make positive changes.

However, this data can be difficult to gather and in a busy business environment, spreadsheets no longer cut it. Embracing technology and specialist software designed to automatically collect and collate this data can be an incredibly valuable tool for organisations seeking to improve their green credentials and make better business decisions.

It’s also highly beneficial for those family businesses that are already engaged with sustainability initiatives, as this data can back up sustainability claims and enable them to lead the way more visibly. Although there are lots of family businesses that have already made significant progress with regard to reducing their environmental impact, our sector can often struggle to communicate this.

Collecting, collating and measuring data can therefore equip business owners with the tangible figures needed to substantiate sustainability claims – enabling them to shout about their positive progress or specific environmental achievements and certification.

About AXIOM - AXIOM is a powerful, cloud-based platform designed to help businesses monitor, analyse and improve sustainability performance.

Covering all aspects of ESG, AXIOM sustainability reporting software has been built to help organisations cut their carbon emissions, get to Net Zero fast and accelerate their progress on sustainability. Visit their website to find out more.


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