Sustainability is no longer a nice-to-have but a ‘fundamental expectation’, according to FuturePlus, a sustainability benchmark platform provider. Every benchmarking company believes it has the magic formula to help your business – so how does FuturePlus stand out? Sustainable Future News talks to the founders to find out.
In today’s rapidly changing world, sustainability has emerged as a crucial aspect of business operations. For example, research from IBM has shown that organisations with strong sustainability credentials are also 43% more likely to outperform their peers in terms of profitability. Recognising the need for a comprehensive and forward-thinking approach to this, Alexandra Smith and Mike Penrose founded Sustainability Group, the parent company of FuturePlus. Launched just over a year ago, FuturePlus offers a unique solution that goes beyond measuring previous sustainability efforts and instead focuses on projecting and supporting future actions.
This innovative platform aims to empower both large and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) by providing accessible, achievable, and affordable tools to improve and track their sustainability performance across five key themes: climate, environment, diversity and inclusion, economic impact, and social impact. By bridging the gap between sustainability reporting and practical action, FuturePlus has rapidly gained recognition and attracted significant investment.
From reporting to empowerment
Traditional sustainability systems often prioritise reporting on past actions, leaving SMEs unsure of how to embark on their sustainability journeys, as Penrose explains. “The idea behind Future was [that] every other system we came across measured what people have done in the past, but didn’t actually look forward to what they intended to do, especially early to mid-stage companies.”
FuturePlus fills this gap by offering a robust system that not only measures current and projected sustainability efforts but also equips businesses with the necessary tools for improvement. By simplifying the language and focusing on actionable steps, the platform ensures that even SMEs with limited resources can navigate the complex realm of sustainability. The platform incorporates roadmaps, automated reporting tools, and expert support to streamline sustainability efforts and save businesses valuable time.
“We made it what we call accessible, achievable and affordable for SMEs,” Penrose continues. “So we simplified the language down so it wasn’t too academic, even though it measures the same things that you would expect any comprehensive system to measure, and looking at sustainability in a broad way, in terms of what actions we are hoping to expect or assisting people to achieve going to make it a better business.”
A holistic approach
By addressing the five core themes, and appreciating the interconnectedness of sustainability challenges, the FuturePlus platform helps SMEs understand the broader implications of their actions and consider the unintended consequences that may arise from a singular focus on carbon reduction. This approach encourages businesses to become better overall, not just in terms of environmental performance but also in terms of social responsibility and economic impact.
“If you only focus on carbon, you can have quite negative environmental consequences,” explains Penrose. “If you don’t look at some of the social drivers of climate change, but also inequality, then you’re not seeing the big picture.
“When it comes to diversity and inclusion, social drivers are becoming the preeminent factor. We wanted to look at what it would take for SMEs to become a better business and then provide that in a tool that’s easy to use, accessible, achievable, trackable and affordable.
“A lot of our clients then especially provide SMEs assistance in achieving those standards in order to get them up to the level they want them to be if they’re on a supply chain or an investment,” adds Penrose. “So it’s not just a management platform. It is predominantly a management and improvement platform. But that allows the aggregation of measurement and for supply chain managers to have a really comprehensive overview of what sits within the supply chain.”
Continuous improvement as the key
Unlike static assessments or one-time certifications, FuturePlus emphasises the importance of continuous improvement and firmly believes that sustainable progress can only be achieved when companies embrace daily advancements and a commitment to ongoing development.
“Everybody talks about sustainability, but it means a lot of things to different people”, says Smith. “They didn’t know where to start on this. We found there was a bit of a fog out there and we wanted to clarify it: this is what you need to do to make your business better.
“We wanted to create something that really helped people,” adds Smith. “We get a lot of bigger organisations saying ‘can you make it easy to track your supply chain?’ [or] ‘I don’t want to have to bother companies, I just want to get the data’ and I’m afraid the answer to that is no, you can’t. Secondary data is nearly always worthless because it is an assumption.”
How is this secondary data ‘nearly always worthless’ therefore? “It is based on second-hand reporting or self-validation and certification to create something that measures somebody based on what they’ve put in an annual report or what they think they might be doing, scraped off a spreadsheet,” explains Smith. “Spreadsheet scraping was something that we really got quite worked up by [if] you imagine calculating your travel carbon related to travel.
“The train ticket can cost anywhere between £10 and £150 for the same journey. So almost the only way you could do it is that might average between the two and that has such a wide margin for error as to make the data generally worthless,” adds Smith.
“We always collect primary data and it does take a little bit of work, but we’ve made it as easy as possible. Only then you get a real roadmap to improvement, but also an ability to report with confidence.”
SMEs can embark on a journey of continuous improvement, steadily making incremental changes that lead to meaningful sustainability outcomes. By collecting primary data and avoiding the pitfalls of secondary data and assumptions, FuturePlus ensures accurate measurement, reliable reporting, and a clear roadmap for improvement.
“You need to know what you’re doing,” says Smith, speaking on the main issues SMEs are facing in controlling their supply chain. “It was really important for us to be able to help that particularly underserved sector, SMEs, to be that outsource piece of knowledge and experience that we can push back into the market. A lot of the clients work with similar issues across the board.”
Sustainable supply chain analysis
FuturePlus offers a sustainable supply chain analysis and improvement feature that enables businesses to measure, track, and enhance their sustainability performance. The feature provides a comprehensive framework for assessing key indicators related to environmental, social, economic, and diversity factors.
Using a set of indicators derived from international standards, regulations, academic studies, and industry best practices, FuturePlus encourages businesses to evaluate the material aspects within their industry and prioritise their efforts accordingly. The feature covers various areas such as carbon emissions, energy sourcing, working conditions, and labour practices, among others.
“We have always intended to help all companies, no matter the size or sector – and certainly not just those already excelling in sustainable practices,” says Smith. “To do this, we have built with scale in mind and accessibility as a core foundation.
“FuturePlus will enable companies to benchmark their sustainability to other organisations of similar size, sector, or geography. Providing investors, customers and employees with a comparative view of the positive impact and ambition of the organisation.”
By standardising measurement methodologies, the feature ensures consistency in data collection, facilitating accurate analysis and comparison of sustainability performance across suppliers and industries. It also promotes collaboration with suppliers, facilitating due diligence and monitoring of progress towards shared sustainability goals.
This enables businesses to benchmark their sustainability against similar organisations, providing investors, customers, and employees with a comparative view of their positive impact and ambition. The platform empowers businesses to adopt responsible and transparent practices aligned with environmental, social, and economic objectives.
Recognising the importance of sustainability in today’s market, Penrose says “the finance industry was among the first to recognise the importance of sustainability due to mounting pressure. However, historically, companies have focused on measuring what is easy rather than what is truly valuable. We wanted to change this by shifting the focus to understanding the impacts of actions and driving meaningful change.”
FuturePlus recognises the vital role of supply chain sustainability in achieving overall sustainability goals. Alex highlights the key components: “It starts with understanding what you want to ask your supply chain and recognising that achieving a fully sustainable supply chain may be challenging. However, businesses can focus on making marginal gains and continuous improvement.” FuturePlus advises evaluating working conditions, procuring sustainably, and collaborating with suppliers to set and monitor ambitious goals.
Looking ahead, FuturePlus envisions a future where sustainability is seamlessly integrated into business decision-making. The company aims to embed sustainability as an essential pillar in operations, working with companies of all sizes to create a widespread, positive impact on the economy and society.
In summary, FuturePlus is dedicated to making sustainability accessible, trackable and achievable for businesses of all sizes. Through their research-driven approach, comprehensive indicators, and user-friendly platform, they provide businesses with a clear pathway to measure, improve, and integrate sustainability into their operations. Their focus on supply chain sustainability, support for businesses at any stage, and commitment to driving real-world impact will no doubt be vital as our society transitions towards net zero.
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