Stakeholders from the food industry and circular economy sector discussed opportunities for generating both economic growth and sustainable impact at the EU Startups Summit in Barcelona. But, first, they were asked to define what a sustainable business is.
Sacha Michaud, co-founder of Glovo, a Barcelona-based quick-commerce startup that delivers products to consumers via freelance courriers, told attendees: “Our mission is not based around sustainability; our mission is to give people easy access to anything.”
Glovo: A sustainable business must be sustainable economically
According to Michaud, being a sustainable business first and foremost meant being sustainable economically.
“Glovo will not be profitable until 2024 so it needs to happen; not to go fundraising, not to go to investors. It's when your core business is sustainable. And at the same time, [it’s about] making sure you're doing the right thing for society and the planet and making sure [to minimise] some of the things that are detrimental to that,” Michaud said.
Nevertheless, the co-founder added that Glovo’s mission was to embed sustainable values into its core business units “otherwise you're fighting against the current and you're not really going to be able to move the dial”.
Glovo’s main categories are restaurant food and groceries and the startup, founded in 2015, is now present in 25 countries in Europe and Africa. It has identified three areas where it can have the most impact. The first is in reducing food waste; the second is by making its delivery platform and the logistics related to delivery as sustainable as possible; and the third is by making the packaging more sustainable.
Single-use plastic failings
However, the co-founder acknowledged its limitations in this respect.
“Let's be honest, Glovo is not great for single-use packaging,” he said. “In fact, my business - the more I grow, the more single-use packaging I generate, and we all know that's not good for the planet. I raise my hand.
“Having said that, generally Glovo isn't the producer of that single-use packaging. [...] So, our responsibility to companies is to help educate them and show them that it's good business to have sustainable packaging. How can I do that? Demonstrate that if they have sustainable packaging on my platform, consumers will be more likely to choose them. That's the best way I can drive that change.”
Doing good can make good business sense
Too Good To Go is a social impact company that reduces food waste by connecting food businesses with consumers, allowing them to sell food that is close to its sell-by date cheaply or even give it away for free.
Its co-founder and director, Jamie Crummie, agreed with Michaud that the first component of a sustainable business was having a self-sustaining business model economically, but having sustainable values was an integral part too.
“It is really centred around having a business model that truly works. The other side [...] is having an organisation that is truly doing something to benefit society, communities, and particularly the environment. It’s about aligning our purpose and profits alongside people and the planet.”
He said: “Our whole business model from inception has been about doing good in the sense that we allow individuals to rescue food from going to waste.”
Crummie said that Too Good To Go had demonstrated that social impact and environmental impact are not mutually exclusive with regard to business growth and performance. In the past eight years, Too Good To Go has built up its userbase and is now present in 17 countries across Europe and North America. Over 75 million people have downloaded the app and over 100,000 food businesses are listed on its platform.
“For every meal we save, there is a direct correlation with our environmental impact but also our growth as an organisation. The two can go hand in hand and that for us is so important. One of our aspirations going forward is to inspire the next generations of companies to do that to demonstrate that you can do good and be commercially successful at the same time.”
Rob Cassedy, CEO of Wallapop, an online second-hand marketplace that aims to reduce barriers to participating in the circular economy by making it easier for people to buy products second-hand, agreed that having sustainability as a core business value from the outset could ensure a positive environmental impact.
“For us, it has largely been about ensuring sustainability is aligned with customer success and that is inherent for us. [...] Getting more customers to use Wallapop will drive more sustainability and drive more business success.”
Using data to measure impact
However, starting out with a sustainable mission is not enough in itself. According to Crummie, businesses must seek to continuously improve, following the mantra of “target, measure, act”. Too Good To Go became B-Corp certified in 2019, and this has been instrumental in highlighting areas for improvement, he noted.
Measuring businesses’ impact to help them identify how to improve is a key part of Vaayu’s business proposition, said Namrata Sandhu, its co-founder and CEO. Vaayu is a platform whose automated carbon software allows retailers to measure, monitor, and reduce their carbon footprint in real-time.
“A big part of what we at Vaayu do with business is being able to tell customers really transparently what would be the impact of [a] decision,” she said.
Sandhu added that many of the businesses Vaayu works with are already doing a lot of work in the field of sustainability. “Sometimes it's just a case of how we quantify the work that [they] are already doing,” she said. “We talk to customers about where they can reduce impact and where they should focus as a business. A lot of businesses want to know how they can meet their science-based targets.”
In the production and manufacturing space, Sandhu said there were three key areas where businesses could make carbon savings: the product’s composition or ingredients; its packaging; and the deliveries and logistics related to its distribution.