Start your sustainability journey

Seán Holland paid Simon Brown, partner and managing director at Positive Momentum, a visit to discuss the future of sustainability in home technology.

Simon Brown {pictured below right} has spent the last 15 years helping organisations to embed sustainability into their businesses in ways that make a real difference rather than simply box-ticking CSR checklists.

Brown believes that innovation within technology industries is key to minimising the impact of a climate crisis. “Broadly speaking the technology industry is 5% of the problem when it comes to global emissions, but it’s 80% of the solution.”

Brown stresses that this is a generalisation, but it effectively illustrates a point: technology has a huge part to play in fixing the world’s problems and could be a powerful agent for change. But where to begin?

Getting started can seem overwhelming when there are so many areas that can make a difference and, when it comes to product development and manufacture, supply chains are often complex and sometimes lack transparency.

Brown is interested in progression of companies, how they begin their pathway towards progress in sustainability. This may begin with compliance, especially for UK companies exporting into Europe. The EU requires a disclosure of products, showing their level of carbon intensity and proving where their products come from and how they are eventually disposed of.

Companies wanting to meet these requirements may need to hire a third-party to support them, but Brown says ignoring them is not an option: “Companies need to get their head around it as they’ve got to do it.”

It may seem onerous but Brown believes it’s paying off as it’s often a company’s first entry point to considering issues surrounding sustainability and starting to think about ways to become more sustainable.

According to Brown policy and compliance lift the bottom levels of companies but says this rising-tides approach does not solve the pressing issues of climate change and leaves a gap between the companies who are innovating at the highest level and those who are just meeting compliance. Brown and Positive Momentum want to encourage innovation and challenge companies to create products that pull the industry forward.

Brown returns to policy: “If you look at Europe, at the moment, you’ve got some really powerful regulation coming in around disclosure with Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), or due diligence.” CSRD requires companies trading in the EU to disclose their environmental and social impacts, and how their environmental, social and governance actions affect their business. The EU regulation came into effect last year and targets a wider set of companies than previous measures, with reports for new companies due in 2025. CRSD applies to large companies with over 500 employees where there is a public interest in the company. The reports will be made available for stakeholders and the public.

However, the set level of compliance is much below what the best businesses are doing. Brown wants companies to see the economic value in sustainability and create new and more eco-friendly ways of operating. He works with companies and people who are industry leaders, people who push forward technology. Being an industry leader can also have a ripple effect. If a large manufacturer or distributor makes a concerted effort to establish themselves as a company that has a sustainable business practice, then the companies that supply the raw materials or the products can be encouraged to become more sustainable to fit within the initial company’s supply chain and continue the business relationship. Companies are connected and are part of each other’s carbon footprint.

Progress in sustainability and profitability are also connected, as Brown notes: “Embedding sustainable thinking is a phase beyond compliance.” Businesses need to re-think the way business is done fundamentally, which is for him the most exciting part. Technological innovation is going to be a major part of solving any climate change.  Brown is confident of this approach where industry leaders encourage sustainable business practices.

Brown also spoke on the issue of ownership. Each year new products are launched, but what happens to our old products, and can companies take more responsibility in creating a more sustainable product lifecycle?

To create new products while using the raw materials from products at the end of their life would create a more sustainable business practice while also creating a closer tie with the end user he argues.  Recycling products can often fall on the end user, but Brown believes that the onus can be switched to the manufacturer.

Brown believes a more streamlined solution for recycling is the idea of leasing, or “as-a-service” such as Sky Glass TV. This would entail a revaluation of ownership of products in the home. Clients could source a product from a vendor, for example a TV, and when a new version of that product is going to be released the manufacturer would take older versions and use as much of the old product as possible to create the new one.

Brown believes the companies will want their raw materials back: “We need to get to a place where companies want the chip, want the precious metal, want that plastic. They want it back because they need it,” he says.

This would significantly reduce waste while also establishing a long-term relationship with the end-user, creating a customer for life. Brown is aware that companies taking back the product will: “Look at the way systems are designed to be able look at the data in the home. If you know what's in a home, what it's made of, how long it's been there, you could diagnose how effective it is, you could start to really add value to your customer. Because you can start to build these contracts with them that say, ‘we'll take it back when we've got a better one for you’.”

Brown is briming with ideas about how the wider technology industry can make steps to ensure a better world but, as the saying goes, “change begins at home”. And Brown is a shining example with his commitment to sustainability extending to his own home, a converted 1850’s cottage. Brown says when they bought the property it “burned oil like there was no tomorrow” but they have now transformed it into a Control 4 connected emission home of the future.

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