Episode 55:
Navigate - Don't forget about sustainability

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“For us, when we talk about regeneration and regenerative impact, sustainability is no longer enough. And that’s truly at the heart of what we believe as an organisation.”

Tune into our latest episode of Freight to the Point as we’ve featured another Navigate session from February with Charlotte Pumford from Vivobarefoot on ‘Don’t forget about sustainability. It’s not going away.’

Together we explore:

  • Using B-Corp as a framework to implement sustainable practices
  • The importance of data and how to set a baseline for GHG emissions
  • How businesses can move from a sustainable business to a regenerative business

Charlotte Pumford

Charlotte has almost 10 years of experience working in sustainability across the textile and footwear sector, spanning global FTSE 100 organisations, high-growth SME’s, local government and the management of a small-scale start-up when she founded her own brand in 2013.

For the past 3.5 years Charlotte has been working at Vivobarefoot, a UK-based natural health brand making barefoot footwear and experiences that bring people closer to nature. Charlotte heads up their Regeneration team, managing their journey towards becoming a truly regenerative business, the strategy that delivers on that vision.This is also accompanied by their B Corp Certification and value chain environmental impact programme. Recognised by Edie in 2020 as one of the UK’s 30 under 30 sustainability leaders, Charlotte is a passionate advocate for the protection of our natural world. She believes businesses can be a force for change, identifying the regenerative solutions we need to address global challenges.


Episode 9: Sustainability in the supply chain with David de Picciotto

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Welcome to another episode of Freight to the Point. This week we’re featuring another Navigate session, which we recorded this February. The session we’re featuring is: “Don’t forget about sustainability. It’s not going away.” With Charlotte Pumford, head of sustainability and regenerative impact at Vivobarefoot. Vivobarefoot is a UK-based footwear company with a focus on providing high-quality footwear with minimal impact on people and the planet.

In this session, we explore the practical implementation of sustainable practices and how businesses can go beyond and generate regenerative impact.

Ian Powell:
Vivobarefoot focuses a lot on its regenerative impact in the business and your value chain. Could you give the audience just an overview of what that is and what that actually means?

Charlotte Pumford:
Yeah, sure. We use slightly different terminology, I believe, to most players and most organisations across our industry. For us, when we talk about regeneration and regenerative impact, sustainability is no longer enough. And that’s truly at the heart of what we believe as an organisation.

In terms of sustaining what we already have with a lot of the environmental degradation and damage that we have on a global aspect, with obviously climate change ever increasing in terms of impacts, sustainability is no longer an option for us, we believe at Vivobarefoot. We are on a journey and on a mission towards true regenerative impact. And that really means looking at the impact that we’ve caused and trying our best to renew and restore and repair the negative impacts that we’ve made, and try and maximise on positive impact as far as we possibly can.

We know that we’re a smaller organisation in comparison to lots of the organisations that we share space with across the industry. And so, for us it’s super important to be able to collaborate. And collaboration is a huge aspect of regeneration and us getting to that stage in the future.

And then, when we talk about value chain, essentially, I think most people would know that as a supply chain. For us, we believe that a value chain is one which is collaborative, it’s one which is adding value at every stage. Traditionally, especially in our industry of around apparel and footwear, supply chains are very one way transactional. But we want to be fostering supportive, collaborative, long-lasting partnerships across our value chain, which really do benefit every single person and every single organisation along the way from start to finish.

Ian Powell:
Cool. That’s great, Charlotte. Thanks a lot.

Sustainability, having been a steady drumbeat in culture, in governments, and with campaigns over the last decades, as someone who… You’ve worked in the sustainability field within various companies, how has this been reflected on the business side?

Charlotte Pumford:
I think in various different guises really, with various different levels of urgency and attention and strategy and resource and focus. I think I’ve been quite fortunate, especially in Vivobarefoot, where sustainability is absolutely fundamental to our business model. Beyond 10 years ago, when the organisation was founded, our founders were absolutely set on integrating sustainability across every aspect of organisations. I think that was quite niche at that time and maybe not representative of everyone across the industry.

In terms of for larger organisations, I think there’s often reputational risk and a lot being asked. And often in terms of legislation, they’re obviously the first that are legislated against, and so there are more drivers around legislation for larger organisations in sustainability than there are for smaller ones currently. Do I think there should be a level playing field? Absolutely.

But in terms of as we’ve seen it, I think raising awareness from customers, from NGOs and charitable organisations, and of course, obviously the impacts that we’re already seeing from climate change, are only ever increasing awareness. And that’s built momentum up to your point about a steady drumbeat over the past 10 years.

Ian Powell:
That’s great. And yourself as a board observer, Charlotte, how do you see boards treating sustainability when it comes to linking strategic objectives and outcomes and reporting and really cementing the business future?

Charlotte Pumford:
I think it’s imperative, really. I think boards often innately and historically have been very much commercially driven. To have someone even just observing but is able to give opinion and give thought to strategic decision-making and how the business moves forward, especially for Vivobarefoot as a growing business, it’s really, really important for us and for the decisions that I’m a part of on the board. At Vivo, we use our B Corp certification as one of our cornerstones and our frameworks for how we want to continuously improve.

There’s a huge aspect and a huge amount of information there that we take from in terms of looking for continuous improvement around governance and around how we structure the board itself, how we make decisions, obviously, for the longer and shorter term for the business. And we’re really making sure that in all of the decisions that we’re making, sustainability and, hopefully one day, regeneration and impact does play a part in those decisions and it is absolutely considered.

Ian Powell:
That’s great. That brings about a bit of an interesting question around that practical implementation of sustainable practices. As a B Corp, Vivo, you’ve decided to be a sustainable business, more broadly a regenerative business. But how do you see that that reflects in the way that you approach your value chain?

Charlotte Pumford:
Good question. I think for us, what drew us and attracted us to B Corp initially was the fact that it’s so holistic. A lot of frameworks out there across the industry for sustainability are very much, maybe, one or two aspects focused on various things, rather than it being the whole business model, and opportunity to change and the way that you operate as a business entirely. Across the pillars of the B Corp impact assessment, there’s various aspects around environment, around customers, around community workers and governance that we draw from to work with our value chain partners.

And I think, to the earlier point that I mentioned in terms of making sure that we’re not just having transactional, one-way relationships with our value chain partners, governance aspects of B Corp really try to build on having trustful relationships and honest relationships and building trust outside of just a transactional relationship, which we’ve historically seen across the industry. It looks at where we are sourcing materials from. It looks at how much we’re paying our partners. It looks at how much they’re being paid, obviously through our third-party partners. And it really looks holistically at human rights and, obviously, our environmental impact as a whole. And it gives us a framework, as I mentioned, for continuous improvement into the future.

We certified back in 2019. We’re due to do another re-certification this year, after three years. And as a part of that, we’ve used the framework over that period of time to look for improvements and to really set the business strategy as a whole in terms of where we want to be in September, but also for the next three to six years.

Ian Powell:
That’s great. Obviously, I can concur that from the relationship that we have between Vivo and Zencargo. Looking at businesses then that are yet to implement any sort of robust carbon tracking and don’t know yet what kind of improvements are available from that, could you give us an overview of, whilst working with Zencargo and Pledge, what key improvements you’ve seen from what we’ve implemented? And are there any things that surprised you within that working group and the outcomes of that working group?

Charlotte Pumford:
Yeah, sure. I think what I’d say is, we’re very much still in the early stages of that, and still in the early stages of understanding what our impact is from scope 3 emissions. We want to make sure that we’re looking at it holistically, so all environmental impact as a whole. But in terms of the work that we worked on together as a collective, it was really important for us to be able to capture that data. Often it’s really opaque across the industry and not very easily accessible.

For us, just having access to that data and having access to a complete data set was really, really amazing and something that we hadn’t had before. And then we were able to analyse that of course, and to look at what our baselines are for both upstream and downstream logistics. For us, to be able to use that going forwards to set roadmaps to reduce our impact, it’s paramount to be able to do that.

I think just collecting that data as an initial starting point and using that going forwards and making sure we’re interacting with the platform going forwards is going to be crucial to be able to demonstrate how we’re going to reduce impact, now we know what the impact is.

Ian Powell:
That’s great. Previously you mentioned about implementing sustainable practices beyond your immediate organisation. Given how complex the modern supply chain is, and how many actors there are in that, how do you ensure that the different stakeholders within your value chain as such are adhering to your sustainability values and sustainability objectives?

Charlotte Pumford:
That’s also a good question. It’s difficult, in honesty. I think everyone finds it very challenging and the industry at whole has a long way to go. We very much focus on building transparent relationships with our partners. We run conferences on an annual and biannual basis with all of our value chain partners. We’re hell-bent on getting as much transparency as we possibly can back to raw materials.

That really is the first aspect of us, being able to make sure and, I guess, to hold our partners to account. But also on the flip side, for them to hold us to account to the targets and the ambitions that we have of becoming a regenerative business, so having very open and honest relationships and approaching partnership. I think this is the key word here as well, as we’ve talked about before.

We can talk about the aspects of how we have contracts with people and stuff, but really, at the end of the day, it’s how we work day to day with these organisations and these people. Collaboration and partnership forms the absolute bedrock of us being able to work into the future, work innovatively, obviously working with yourselves to be able to get the data that we didn’t have before in a piece of innovation, and just being able to very transparently work together in a way which not everything goes right all the time. Being able to have discussions about things and work and build on things for continuous improvement is critical.

I think, in a nutshell, to answer your question: Collaboration, getting the right data, and building trust and building long-term partnerships. And of course, obviously the logistics of contractual obligations and that sort of stuff, but we see a lot beyond that.

Ian Powell:
Talking about that data, from what you did with us at Zencargo and the outcomes that we’ve essentially delivered, how does that support you in communicating specific goals across your supply chain partners or your value chain and setting out the sustainability roadmap there?

Charlotte Pumford:
Again, critical. It really supports the decisions. To make well-informed decisions in terms of understanding what our impact is, and having a look at the volumes that we’re shipping, having a look at the types of product coming from where, the partners we’re manufacturing with in the specific regions, all of those key aspects of strategy moving forwards and looking at how we can reduce impact and consolidating, et cetera, is super important.

I think it’s only becoming even more important when you talk about anything externally that you have the due diligence and you have the data to back it up. There’s obviously lots of aspects of people making various claims and targets. We want to be doing that with meaningful information that backs up what we’re saying. Both externally but also externally to our value chain partners, we’ve been open and honest about what our calculations look like, what the data looks like, also involving them in the discussion and the round tables around how do we collectively reduce our impact here, and getting people involved and making it… Again that buzzword, but… as collaborative as possible.

Ian Powell:
That’s great. Thanks very much for that. And then, I suppose, as a sustainability-first business, which you guys are, and setting your store going forward and driving future improvements, what does your roadmap look like and how are you essentially improving your execution in the future from a value chain perspective? And also, how you’re measuring it as well, that’s key.

Charlotte Pumford:
I think point one would be absolute transparency. Trying to get as much visibility and transparency as we possibly can is fundamental and paramount to what we’re trying to achieve. I think secondly, and the innovation around that, but B Corp continues to be the framework that we will utilise for continuous improvement. All of those touchpoints that were just up on the screen have impacts in various areas for collaboration with our partners, so we’ll continue to use B Corp as we gain future transparency over the value chain and hopefully engaging and working to reduce impact from there.

And I think, really lastly, is having a real commitment and a real drive and real ambition internally to make change. We’ve discussed before, but this isn’t going away. It’s going to be only ever increasingly more important that businesses and organizations are able to adapt to a lot of the challenges that we see coming, and quite often probably those that we don’t see coming. Having a commitment and buy-in and resource allocated internally, alongside the frameworks and obviously the transparency and the collaboration, is also super important for us and every other organisation, I believe, to make positive change.

Ian Powell:
That’s great. Maybe just another question around B Corp and the framework. How are you guys approaching your B Corp certification? And how are you managing that as an organisation to really measure that you are hitting those regenerative targets that you’ve set yourself?

Charlotte Pumford:
We have a cross-functional team of people across our organisation from every department who work on B Corp. There’re specific questions in the impact assessment related to their area of work. We have a cross-functional circle, which is led by my team, the regeneration team.

As I mentioned, we certified in 2019. We did a couple of years on our own in terms of, obviously, installing improvements and looking at what a roadmap could be for strategic improvements. We’ve done a series of self-assessments against improvement from the 2019 baseline that we have. And then we’ve done a couple of third-party mock verifications, if you like, with a consultancy, just to check that we are actually doing what we say we’re doing and we are where we believe we are, in terms of improvements.

I’d say it’s a real cross-functional effort across the business. Everyone, from the top down, legal board, executive, all the way down through the business, is fully aligned and fully committed. We’ve changed people’s job descriptions so that B Corp forms an aspect of their role specifically. And in terms of just monitoring and measuring and having, I would say, eyes on it all the time, is the key aspect here in terms of quite often it’s easy to get the certification and then leave it and then scramble around at the end once you need to re-certify again.

But for us, we knew that it formed, again, the foundation of what our strategy is moving forward beyond sustainability. It was imperative that we keep looking at it all the time or we’re engaging across the business all the time to see where we can make improvements.

Ian Powell:
That’s great. And interestingly, looking at the survey results from the beginning of this session, do you think that the B Corp framework is a good starting point for organisations really to start to dabble with or start to, should we say, identify certain things that they can implement within their own businesses that might help them to achieve certain sustainability objectives and also a longer-term look at regenerative practices?

Charlotte Pumford:
Yeah, I do. Yes. I think it’s one of the most holistic frameworks out there, which covers such a broad range of aspects across anyone’s business model and beyond. When I first started at Vivobarefoot, we did a huge recce of all of the different frameworks that are out there and to have a look at which ones we may or may not want to align to. And resoundingly, B Corp was the most inclusive and gave the best 360 picture of what an organisation could look like if they were to try and, B Corp’s line, “balance profit with purpose.”

I would advise anyone really, if they’re just starting out and trying to understand whether B Corp might be a good fit for them, it’s free to download the impact assessment and have a look around, no obligation to do the certification, and to just log in and make an account. And even just use it from there in terms of the framework for improvement. I’d definitely say yes.

Ian Powell:
Awesome. That’s great. Thank you very much. I think we’ve got an opportunity for some Q&As now. We do have a couple that have come in. Let me just review those briefly. And then there’s obviously a couple that I might throw out to you, Charlotte.

Charlotte Pumford:

Ian Powell:
If you don’t mind? Maybe a first one, “How rigorous is the B Corp certification process?” Essentially, I think, “How did you then track the factors associated to that?”

Charlotte Pumford:
It’s quite rigorous. I think there’s a series of beyond 200 questions in terms of the impact assessment itself. The certification requires you to provide evidence for all of those questions within that that you are obviously saying that you’re scoring points for. And then it’s a two- to three-month process from there, in terms of getting an assessor, and going through, and going back and forth providing evidence as requested. The assessment and the certification itself is quite rigorous.

I can only talk from the data tracking and the ability to track our improvements. I think B Corp itself gives you a quantifiable metric of improvement, because you can see the answers already laid out for you and the roadmap already laid out for you in terms of best practice. If you’re hitting the lowest rung of the ladder, you can see all of the questions and the parameters that you need to meet in future to score top points, if you like.

And obviously, it’s not all about the points. But you can see where the aspects are for improvement, so it’s very easy to track using the BIA. And obviously that gives you a framework, like the work that we did together for greenhouse gas emissions gives you a framework for being able to track and, I guess, communicate the improvements that you’ve made around certain environmental impact as well.

Ian Powell:
Cool. Great. Thank you. And then another question. I think this is more for me and you to answer jointly. “Apart from the obvious environmental benefits of tracking emissions, have you seen that this drives other benefits in the business such as increased efficiency?” I can maybe talk around that more broadly, from the wider customer perspective.

In terms of what other value initiatives can we drive as Zencargo on the back of measuring your CO2 footprint, is that we work with a lot of customers to drive other value projects. For example, we may look at projects to improve container utilisation and fill. Now ultimately, at the end of the day that reduces your overall number of transportations, which in essence can then contribute to a reduction in emissions’ footprint. We may also look at initiatives such as consolidation, to look at origin consolidation and buyer consolidation where we reduce, obviously, the overall number of shipments. We look at consolidating shipments to optimise the loads, et cetera.

There are a number of initiatives we may look at, should we say, supporting our customers with not only offsetting, should we say, initiatives, but also insetting initiatives. So, using alternative fuels and buying alternative fuels to reduce emissions at source directly. There’s a number of things that we can support with the Zencargo to support our customers see additional reduction benefits in their footprint. And obviously, that is also dependent on volume shipped as well and general growth, but part of our metrics that we deliver will measure that. They measure different efficiencies and so forth in your CO2 footprint.

And I suppose, Charlotte, from your side, how do you see that that reporting supports you guys to drive reduction?

Charlotte Pumford:
I think, as mentioned, we’re still very early days. In all honesty, we’ve just got the initial baseline from last year and we’re working to collect the baseline and the data for moving forwards. All of the points you’ve just spoken to, but I think particular for Vivo, insetting is fundamentally the way that we’d like to go. We have an internal impact fund that we utilise investment funding for various insetting projects around manufacturing specifically at the moment or community and partnerships.

And I believe, once we’ve got a full two-year set of data working with you guys that we’ll be able to then figure out what are the best options here for efficiencies. We’re a small organisation. Where can we place priority? Where can we get the most reduction in impact? And how can we potentially support in alignment of that with some of our other insetting opportunities and projects that we’re funding?

Ian Powell:
Great. And then another question’s come in, and obviously, if we can both pick up on this one. But the question says, “Can you speak to some of the actions or changes Vivobarefoot implemented as a result of tracking emissions?”

When we set out looking at this, one of the key things was to support decision-making criteria around mode of transport selection. And I know that a key focus there for you guys has been to look at air freight as a topic, as such. And look at actually, how can you reduce your overall air freight because that has a significant higher footprint and emissions than ocean freight. And I know that throughout the last 18 months or so, that’s been a real focus for you guys in terms of the decision criteria of do you ship stuff air freight versus ocean freight.

Obviously, there are other variables that contribute to that overall decision, but this is where the data, to my understanding, has really contributed to help you guys make more, should we say, prudent business decisions.

Charlotte Pumford:
Yeah, absolutely. And I think off the back of this, and owing from a number of years of uncertainty and various other value chain challenges we’ve seen, the business has made a decision that we want to eliminate air freight altogether as far as we possibly can. If there is a decision that’s needed for a commercial aspect, then those types of decisions now have to be signed off by the board and by the executive team. They can’t just be signed off and go, sea freight is fundamentally the primary method that we’ll want to be utilising.

Off the back of just looking at the data, as you mentioned, Ian, I think it was obvious to see the varying and the very much increased level of impact between, obviously, the two methods and modes, which we knew of but weren’t quite able to quantify before, now that we had the data.

Ian Powell:
That’s great, Charlotte. And always interesting speech, you got so many insights into the industry as a whole. And obviously, B Corp is a real insightful area, I would say, not understood by many. But you certainly have it nailed down.

We’ll wrap up here. Thank you very much for joining us. It’s much appreciated, and we’ll speak to you soon.

Thank you for joining us for another episode of Freight to the Point. We’re hosting another Navigate event on the 22nd of June from 2:00 PM BST. We’ll be covering a wide range of topics from restocking to rates to sustainability. Sign up by following the link in the information section. And of course, don’t forget to like and subscribe to our series on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts if you enjoyed this episode. If you have any questions or feedback, please feel free to reach out to us on LinkedIn. We’d absolutely love to hear from you.

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