How market research can identify & influence sustainability trends

We were joined on our podcast by Alex Smith and Polly Milne from The Sustainability Group, a consultancy that helps businesses implement sustainable practices, with a focus on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) reporting. The group also developed a platform called FuturePlus that allows organizations to measure, manage, and report their sustainability goals in real-time. They spoke about their hopes to help a large number companies focus on small improvements on the ESG front, in order to have the most significant impact. 

During the interview, our guests discussed their vision for sustainability, and how they engage with businesses and get them on board with sustainability practices. Alex and Holly explained that their clients come to them for various reasons, such as compliance, climate-related risks, financial disclosures, and the desire to be a good business with a positive impact. They also noted that consumer demand for sustainable practices is increasing, which is driving some companies to make changes.

The company’s FuturePlus platform looks at sustainability across five key themes: environment, climate, social impact, economic impact, and diversity and inclusion. It captures company data surrounding past, present and future ESG initiatives, which is then overlaid with other types of data. This information helps clients gain a better understanding of what sustainability can mean for them and make data-informed decisions on how to move forward. Polly and Alex believe that sustainability practices can learn from market research by taking a more predictive approach to identify future trends, and deeply understanding what consumers want and need.

They talked a bit about the development of the FuturePlus platform, and how they created the methodology behind it to provide a unique benchmarking system to help companies track their progress on the ESG front. With a vision for accessibility, they engaged data scientists to make a user-friendly interface that all types of companies could take advantage of.

We also discussed how any business can be more sustainable including market research companies. A little can go a long way here, as they say, “Imagine the collective impact we could have if every business just made some small improvement.” Among the five categories listed above that they examine; any business can make a start by looking at those areas. In the market research space, perhaps the governance piece – “getting your house in order” – is a good place to start. On a general level, this piece can include things such as ensuring that a solid company structure and policies are in place, as well as prioritizing transparency among stakeholders and focusing on the well-being of your employee base. In the insights industry, the governance piece can expand to examining how data is respected and used: “Having a duty of care toward the data that people are providing to us.”

They closed out the interview with some final message to listeners. Polly said, “There are lots of reasons to get involved with sustainability and to make improvements to your business. Having positive environmental and social impacts is just a really great side effect, but you can make massive improvements in your business in terms of cost savings, talent retention, finance, attracting customers and all the other things we talked about.” Alex said the best course of action is to just get started and that sustainability doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Once you identify where you want to be from a sustainability standpoint, break it down into bite-size chunks and make small changes on a daily basis.


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