In a time of great uncertainty, many business leaders face resistance implementing company-wide sustainability focused practices. In times of uncertain economic futures, one common factor is how to build a viable business case to support it.
This is the focus of this article - how to build a sustainability business case from waste.
One person’s waste is another person’s treasure
“Exhaust data” is data that businesses generate as a by-product of their operations. Having no immediate value to the originating business, exhaust data is often disposed of or simply lost. Even though these data have no obvious value to the business, it often has value to others and, in many situations, once “processed” is sold back to the originating business in a different form, with new value added.
Beyond wasted bits and bytes, industries are rife with all sorts of by-products that, for the sake of operational and financial efficiency, have historically been dealt with in very linear or conservative forms. Indeed Ryan Robinson, Co-Founder of Aeropowder, developed an entirely new business, improved the circularity of several sectors, and created new revenue streams for existing businesses through the transformation of a poultry farming waste product – feathers.
Ryan is a student of biology, with a Masters in Space Physiology and Health and finds great innovation inspiration in the form of nature.
Nature is in a constant state of flux and resource management. It’s a system that’s designed of buffers, stretches and to manage vast complexity.
Ryan met one of his co-founders while playing badminton. Elena Dieckmann was researching what happens to feathers in the poultry industry and was sure there was a better solution than simply sending them to be rendered into low-grade livestock food products, or worse to be buried or burnt. Together with Convert A/S their manufacturing process partner, they created a novel, high performing thermal packaging solution they call Plummo. This solution converts a poultry by-product, feathers, into high-end packaging materials for cold (and hot) fresh food distribution.
Plummo replaces existing expanded polystyrene packaging solutions with a more sustainable product that performs better, maintaining temperatures during transportation longer and therefore improving successful shipments and reducing spoiling. These improvements deliver tangible business benefits for their clients that go far beyond food waste, including improved customer experience, and reduced shipment costs.
With this innovation, Aeropowder have converted a waste problem of one industry into customer experience improvement in another, while delivering financial benefits for themselves, their supplier and their customers. All of this, in addition to mitigating potential environmental harm that might have occurred from other methods of disposing of the feathers.
More than a break-even business case
Nearly all businesses are needing to knuckle down to get to grips with and drastically improve their environmental and societal impact, yet many times leaders are faced with uncertainty and cost.
There’s a lot of talk about of “doing good by being good” and how a lack of focus on ESG or Sustainability will lead to longer term business troubles. Indeed, there is great merit that more sustainable organisations outperform those who aren’t. This argument, while valid, has an under-tone of “break-even” thinking, potentially underplaying the importance and value of sustainability to a business. As demonstrated by Aeropowder, sustainability can define entirely new businesses and revenue streams.
This is a sentiment shared by many purpose-driven leaders, including BT’s Head of Tech For Good in this interview. In order for sustainability to grow beyond a pet-project and thrive across an organisation, it needs to “wash its face” and generate its own income.
Collaboration is key
The problems our planet faces are far too big for any one government, organisation or individual to solve alone, yet the participation of each and every one of those will be critical to our joint futures and livelihoods. It is therefore no surprise that collaboration is a mainstay of a successful sustainability journey. Yet collaboration is difficult, risky and potentially time-consuming.
Aeropowder, like many start-ups, depends fully on partnership and collaboration to reach their goals. Commenting on the risks and opportunities of collaboration, Ryan said “The fastest, most effective collaborations come from finding nice overlaps, without treading on each other’s toes”. When it comes to finding value in your own sector’s waste products or exhaust data, you need to collaborate with others in different industries and supply chains. It’s likely that those already entwined in the machinations of your industry are oblivious to the potential value of your by-products in someone else’s value chain.
Our next step in this journey is to establish a technical demonstration centre to show off the full potential of surplus feathers and develop the template that is capable of being replicated all over the world. We're looking for new partners and investors to join our CrowdCube fundraise.