Our journey to becoming more sustainable – Talking Tables UK Trade

Our journey to becoming more sustainable

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Sometimes it can feel like sustainability has become a business buzzword, so it’s important to us as a company that we're transparent about what we’re doing to reduce our impact on the planet. For Talking Tables, this means looking at the environmental output of everything we do and having key commitments to championing more sustainable practices. It’s a work in progress, but a journey we’re excited to be on. Daniel Fagan, our director of supply chain, sat down recently with Sarah, CEO of The Giftware Association to talk about the important work we’re doing and the insights we’ve learnt along the way.

Sarah: I thought you could share some of the great initiatives and work you’re doing to champion more sustainable practices at Talking Tables and what the journey has been like. It would be incredibly helpful to other businesses that are also trying to educate themselves.

Dan: A big part of our journey this year is we have submitted an application to be B Corp certified. B Corp is a group of businesses that’s mission is to change the ethos of business and make business a force for good. It’s a very holistic approach, rather than being very focused in one area of say, your product and packaging, it’s really looking at your business as a whole. So, it’s about your impact on the environment, your employees, your customers and wider stakeholders in general. The best bit about B Corp is it benchmarks your business to all those key areas and assigns you a grade on what you’re doing now.

For us, it was great to understand where we are already doing well in terms of our work in this area. B Corp also highlighted areas you could be doing a lot better and where there’s room for improvement. One of the key areas we’re now looking at is our supplier base. We’re working very closely with our suppliers and getting their input. We’re now assessing and working out things like what is their waste impact on the environment and what is their water consumption.

The other really important thing with B Corp is it touches every area of your business. Everyone is aware of it; it brings people together. The common mission, along with a framework to work with, is to make sustainable practices become the everyday norm. You can’t go into something like B Corp without having it from the very top level of your business, having that support and filtering it down. What’s brilliant I think is that framework, it’s constantly challenging you to do better and keep going on your sustainability journey. For me I think our work in B Corp is the next step for us. More companies are getting on board with it and it’s a growing trend. I know there is a huge waiting period now. We’ve submitted our application but we’re now waiting to be certified. For businesses that are wanting to be become more sustainable, I would say B Corp is a great way in helping to implement sustainability practices across your whole company. 

Sarah: For some businesses both large and small there is a fear that changing products and packaging and processes to be more environmentally friendly is quite challenging, obviously time consuming and crucially expensive. You’ve had a lot of those pain points to go through, what would you say to this? 

Dan: You can’t deny that promoting sustainability across your whole business is a challenge. At Talking Tables, it was really about breaking it down and also, I guess, not being too hard on ourselves. It’s going to be a journey; it’s going to take time. Break it down, set key goals. We set key goals we wanted to reach on certain products for e.g. our home recyclable napkins, we had a project plan in place of how we were going to do that, what teams were involved to make it happen, how we would work with our suppliers to make it happen, and then how they would work with their raw material suppliers.

Then also setting KPIs for our business, so say we have a KPI that we want to have 95% of our products plastic free or to not include single use plastic, that filters down to our developers as they’re making new products and developing new products.

The other thing that is really important, is you have to collaborate with your supplier base and supply chain. We had a supplier conference in 2018 where we got our suppliers and factory owners together, and lots of them have such deep knowledge in paper manufacturing and sourcing of material, a lot more knowledge than I have or we’re ever going to have. We brought all of those key stakeholders together and we debated the different challenges we might face. Things like price did come up, but I think because the suppliers were engaged in our journey and they could see what our values are they were more invested to work with us to find a solution. We’ve got to a point now where we’re not seeing price implications because we brought suppliers on that journey with us, so I think that is the key to really tackling that. I guess you need to see the process as a journey, rather than overnight you’re going to make everything sustainable. That’s not going to be achievable, but if you break it down, you do make changes and achieve great things. 

Sarah: Do you have any new eco products we can expect to see this year?

Dan: Yes, we’ve got some exciting plans for 2022. In line with the Jubilee we’ll be expanding our cold cup which is plastic free to hot liquids, so we have a Queen’s Jubilee hot coffee cup which will be great. Not only will it be plastic-free but home recyclable, which is one of the key targets we want to achieve. In terms of our games, we’ll be launching our first home compositable trivia range of games as well, again pushing ourselves with the materials we’re using.

 Other key areas for us is looking into sourcing closer to home. I think with the work we’ve done with B Corp, we’re very conscious about our carbon footprint. We don’t want to have all our products sourced from China. We want to see what more we can be doing in the UK and in Europe, so that will be another thing to consider. As well as sourcing sustainably. We already have an FSC license, but also, we import and develop lots of textile items, so our next focus is making sustainable textiles. A lot of our suppliers are now going to be linking with the Better Cotton Initiative and sourcing textiles from them, sources that are now accredited against those standards, so it’s all about continuing to challenge and push ourselves but delivering great products at the same time.

Sarah: Marvellous. So finally, can you share with us your mission and vision for the business so people can understand how sustainability sits at the heart of what you do?

Dan:  So, one of the terms I like that we use quite a lot is ‘sustainable joy’. What Talking Tables do is bring people together and that will always remain at the heart of what we do and want to achieve. To do that you need great products, but I think we’re very conscious when we develop products of their impact and our wider impact as well. I think we now know we can make great products but have that considered approach all the way through from the development stage right through to our supply chains. Some of the areas we will continue to focus on is making our products easy to recycle at home and removing single use plastic. I think we now know where using some plastic is unavoidable, so we’re going to have to use some plastics, but we can we look at recycled plastics, so we’re not just using virgin plastic going forwards. If we are making products that include plastic or cannot be recyclable then making sure they’re built to last and great quality, so they can be kept for a long period of time.

I guess another thing that is going to seep through, alongside our B Corp work is our focus on net zero. Talking Tables has now started the process to understand our current carbon footprint and scope out our whole business, from our entire supply chain to internally, people commuting to the office, the electricity we use in the office and so forth will build into that. At the end of this year we want to have a net zero commitment target and we want to map out and really visualise how we get to net zero. Those are some of our big targets.

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