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Planet Positive: How we launched a national sustainability campaign for SMEs

I knew we were onto something when the email reply came back within 3 minutes of me pressing Send/Receive.  “Steve, I would like to participate, here are the details of my PA to make arrangements.”

He was in! Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, sustainability thought-leader and the man at the helm of a company that famously quoted “on any given day, two billion people use Unilever products to look good, feel good and get more out of life”, was on board with Planet Positive’s new sustainability campaign.  This was just the start we needed for Planet Positive’s 7-days of Sustainability.

We had set a target to film interviews with CEOs and senior executives of organisations that we considered were leading the way in sustainability.  We wanted their practical advice and inspiring views on why any business, and especially SMEs (that’s small to medium sized enterprises) should make sustainability a priority.

Our first series of interviews was filled. Soon we were in Unilever’s offices in Blackfriars, and with Ian Cheshire, CEO of Kingfisher (owner of B&Q in the UK), Andy Harrison at Whitbread (owner of Costa Coffee, Premier Inn and Beefeater Grill restaurants), with Richard Ellis at Alliance Boots and Simon Martin at HSBC.

Willie Walsh, CEP of International Airlines Group (owners of British Airways), Jon Williams CEO of Toyota GB and Ian Tyler, CEO of Balfour Beatty all agreed, so we prepared a second round of filming.

The access was unprecedented; the passion for sustainability shone through and the message to business was identical. Start your sustainability journey and you will make more money in sales, you’ll reduce your energy bills and your waste, you’ll stand out from the crowd and you will be delivering what your customers expect.

If the business case for sustainability was powerful, their suggestions for starting were simple.  Sustainability may seem terribly big and complicated, it’s not.  Just take one step at a time, you’ll learn as you go along and you won’t look back.  It was the start of the 7-days to Sustainability campaign.

Planet Positive wanted a campaign that would enable SMEs across the UK, across supply chains and sectors to access great sustainability advice.  There should be no barriers.  The 7-days to Sustainability campaign must be free to access, be simple to follow and fast to implement.

Any person in any SME should be able to pick up the programme and help introduce some of our suggestions into their business.  We wanted the best advice, from quick wins to more strategic decisions, delivered to SMEs electronically.

The campaign took shape with 7-daily emails covering the hot topics of sustainability that deliver the best business benefits, from energy, waste and recycling to transport, procurement, food, water and health & well-being.  We tried to convey the actions that would deliver the biggest sustainability bang, that is sales, cost saving, proven action on the environment, marketing benefit and employee engagement.

Planet Positive provides a sustainability certification for corporates through to micro businesses.  Through our extensive experience in bringing the business benefits of sustainability, we began to recognise that SMEs sometimes need a little extra help along the way.

Why? Because the big guys need to get to grips with the carbon and sustainability of their supply chains, and the little guys need to sort their green credentials because the big guys keep asking for statements on sustainability, carbon, water, waste – you name it, they want it.

The 7-days to Sustainability campaign brings the best advice from Planet Positive, our Technical Commitee and our expert partners, such as ProcServe for low carbon online procurement, Eco-Nomics for strategic advice on business energy saving, Abbey Business Equipment, Cool Earth, Business in the Community and Forum for the Future.

We had the inspiration, we had the practical content. Now we needed a route to market and some of the 4.5 million SMEs in the UK.   M&S and Tesco soon agreed to offer the materials to their suppliers via their online portals and media partners confirmed their support.

So, in a matter of weeks the 7-days to Sustainability accelerated from concept to national campaign.  The Planet Positive offices in Southwark, London, became a whirlwind of meetings, design and content debate, sponsorship proposals and action.

That’s how the campaign started. Just like sustainability, it was fast, simple to get started and, I am sure, we will learn as we go along.

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