Sustainability – from impact investing to impact supplying

Posted by Jim Hitch, chief executive of Legal Futures Associate Casedo

Hitch: We’re not preaching but sustainability is important to us

Like most of us, I wear several hats and many of the most interesting ideas I feel I have come through ‘wrong-hatting’ – the wearing of the wrong hat in the right place.

So it was back in the first half of December where, as secretary trustee of a grant-giving mental health charity, I went along (in person!) to Cazenove Capital’s 2021 charity investment forum.

Always worth attending, this year time around it had the added piazzaz of (a) an excuse to go and physically be somewhere other than the children’s wardrobe that doubles as my office, and (b) Brian Cox (physicist, not actor).

To get it out of the way: yes, Brian Cox was excellent – childish in his infectious curiosity, and telling it like it is from north of Watford Gap. He told leaders at Cop26 that they risked erasing meaning from the Milky Way if they failed. Apparently they have yet to get back to him.

Professor Cox was there as part of the sustainability-themed day. Schroders, who are Cazenove Capital, are fully on board with sustainability. The tipping point for them, as with many large businesses, came when Covid locked down righteous teenagers alongside lever-pulling high-flying parents.

We can argue whether Schroders are green-washing or not. Though the depth of their commitment would suggest otherwise, it’s not the point of this blog post.

What struck a chord with me was the idea the ‘we’ (the charity I help run) should be not only giving to worthy causes but should also be investing in ‘worthy’ businesses. Investing sustainably to grow our grant pot is to some extent giving twice over, or at least getting more benefit out of the funds we have.

This was the point panellist Sarah Teacher of the Impact Investing Institute and others made, namely, for too long charities have turned a blind eye to where their money is invested, so long as the returns are good. How can we best maximise our investments for both sustainable and actual returns?

At that point I swapped hats. Surely this can and is applied to other parts of a business (as in other than investing)? The impact shouldn’t just be in the choices we make as businesspeople, but in the way we can bring others on board and show them what matters to us, as a business.

This needs to be more than just making, often difficult, black and white choices about who to purchase from. With goods and services, we take on trust that a business fulfils its legal obligations, but in the time of climate emergency, legislation is far behind where it needs to be.

What businesses need to be doing, large and small, is showing that our everyday decisions include questioning and understanding sustainability and trying to bring, in particular current, suppliers with us.

This is why, in addition to becoming a Green Small Business, we have developed a supplier sustainability questionnaire. The idea is that we’ll ask any new prospective or existing supplier to fill out a short questionnaire and repeat the exercise every 12 months.

At this point we’re not looking to pass judgement on suppliers, but will indicate that in a year we’ll re-ask the same questions and be looking for some movement in the right direction. We don’t intend to preach – it’s simply a way of showing businesses that need our business that this matters to us. This is all part of Casedo’s ongoing sustainability drive.

My current thinking on this is as an awareness-raising exercise. Our suppliers already know that quality and communication are key values for us when looking for new partners, now they will begin to understand that sustainability is too.

And hopefully, as time moves on, sustainability will become and assumed value in business.


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