“Sustainability is leaving things better than we found them” – Simon Reid, innocent sustainability manager

At innocent, popular healthy drinks company, sustainability is a number one priority. In this interview, we speak to innocent's "Captain Planet" Simon Reid.

It is Monday morning in West London, but there is a Friday-like buzz around the innocent office. Staff help themselves to smoothies, catch up in the chill zone and generally radiate chirpiness: it’s no wonder innocent was voted as one of the best companies to work for by the Financial Times.

One of their core initiatives is a top priority for businesses today: sustainability. Organisations are being forced to respond to the climate crisis unravelling around us, and increase transparency about their impact on the environment.

As sustainability manager at innocent, Simon Reid carries the weight of this responsibility on his shoulders. But despite the challenges, Simon embodies a spirit of hope. He values the strong sense of determination shared across the entire workforce at innocent.

17 Global Goals recently talked to Simon about his experience, advice and predictions for sustainable development going forward.

When you think of sustainability, what three words first come to mind?

What three words first come to mind? I think: the future, complexity but also inspiring as well.

You’ve earned the title ‘Captain Planet’. Tell me about how you initially set sail on your sustainability journey. What inspired you to do something about the environment?

I was lucky enough to grow up in Africa and in India when I was young. In Africa, I saw just amazing wildlife all the time. When I was in India, I lived in Delhi, and just saw extreme poverty, sort of right in your face.

I think for me, at a young age, the relationship between people, where they live and the environment has always been really important. Also when I was young I was part of Greenpeace, and have always been, I guess, quite environmentally minded.

When my mum asked me what I wanted to do when I was a kid, and the first thing I said was “be a rhino”, which hasn’t quite panned out.

But you’re helping the rhinos

I’m helping the rhinos…that’s as close as you can get! I just love that intersection of people and planet and trying to figure out how we – you know, we’ll soon be 9 billion people – can all live in a good way and in a way that doesn’t destroy the planet as well.

That resonates with your slogan: “Make natural delicious food and drink that help people live well and die old”.

Live well and die old right? Yeah, it’s quite unusual having dying in your company purpose…but it does the trick. People love it.

Here, we say “sustainability is leaving things better than we found them”, which I think for me is a simple way of saying what sustainability is and what we’re all about.

What does a typical day look like for you, aside from enjoying lots of delicious smoothies?!

Yes, drinking lots of smoothies! A typical day…I guess a lot of days tend to vary. I live in Oxford so first thing is getting woken up by a four year old standing right in front of my face, telling me to wake up.

I’m usually up and out fairly quick, then jump on the train down to Paddington. I work at home one to two days a week, so it’s nice to have that break. But otherwise, I’m here in the office.

Making sure everyone’s recycling?

Yes! And shouting at everyone to use the stairs: My colleague Katie does literally shout at you if you go in the lift.  

But yeah I come in, and we tend to have quite a meeting heavy culture here, so lots of interacting with people, whether it’s by the coffee machine or informally down here in the chill out. There’s lots of talking to people about whatever the specific problem of the day is.

So, I’ve been doing a lot of stuff on plastic and climate change recently, and trying to increase the company ambition when it comes to these things. There’s quite often things in town: different sorts of conferences or events and things.

We’ve recently became a B-Corp as well. And the B-Corp community is really active and it’s just really a great, inspiring community to be a part of. So I spend a fair bit of time down with them, hanging out with the B-Corps.

You describe yourself as ‘passionate about finding solutions which are both environmentally considerate and socially equitable – and which engage all sectors of society’.

I think that must have come from my LinkedIn profile which is a few years old! But I’ve been doing a bit of reading recently and one thing I’ve come across is something called doughnut economics, which I absolutely love.

It’s a theory of economics where you have what looks like a doughnut .

On the inside of the doughnut – it’s a doughnut with a hole in it – is the social side of things: so, providing an economy where people can have a good standard of living, including everyone in the world.

On the outside you’ve got the planetary boundaries, so it’s an economy which lives within the planetary limits.

For me, working for a business which wants to do the right thing is a chance to try and figure out what that donut looks like.

It’s not easy, but innocent is a business which is going in absolutely the right direction. Ultimately, we do need to live within our means as a planet and it’s something which we aren’t doing.

Earth Overshoot Day comes earlier and earlier every year: we need to make sure that it is the 31st of December every year, not June or July.

There are going to be 9 billion people on the planet fairly soon and everyone should enjoy a fairly good standard of living. How do we provide that economy that works for the planet and the people?

What makes innocent stand out in terms of their sustainable practice? What can other companies learn from you? 

One of the things is, if you hang out in the office for long enough, everyone is involved with it.

It’s not just a CSR [corporate social responsibility] function or a sustainability function, but people come to work every day because they’re proud to work for a business that’s doing things in the right way.

We know that there’s a lot of pride in working for the company. I think it was a couple of years ago that we got one of the Financial Times best companies to work for awards. I think we scored highest in the whole country for pride of working for the business.

The business gives 10% of profits to charity. They do a lot of work on sustainability, whether that’s on where our ingredients are coming from, farming practices, plastic and the bottles that we use or climate change and everything in between.

People are proud of that sort of activity that we do. Also from a nutritional element as well: the products we make are always at least one of your five a day. They’ve got health claims. They’re, you know, good, healthy products that help people live well and die old right?!

“Everyone has a role, so one of their objectives is around sustainability, so it’s really quite deeply embedded within the heart and core of the business.”

It’s a combination of a lot of those things that mean people come to work really fired up and there’s a real sense of positivity, which is kind of contagious when you get into the office.

People are always wanting to do more and go further. Also, everyone has a role, so one of their objectives is around sustainability, so it’s really quite deeply embedded within the heart and core of the business.

It’s in our values: we’ve got all of our baby photos up on the wall over there [pointing]. It just reminds us of, when we were young, what we wanted from the world.

So yeah, I think innocent is a great place where you can be yourself and you can get involved with sustainability.

I’d also say that, I’ve been in the sustainability world for about 15 years, the B-Corp community is probably the most exciting movement I’ve been involved with in that time.

It’s a change in how business is done: we had to change our legal articles and association to become a B-Corp. We now have to create value to stakeholders, not just shareholders.

It is business being used as a force for good.

It’s a really fascinating time to be involved with this. There’s so much call from the public to do things in a better way and I think the B-Corp community is such a great example of how business can be done in a better way.

What are you most proud of within your career?

One of the things which we did recently, in November last year, was agree a net zero target. We now have a target as a business to be net zero emissions by 2030.

We joined a group of about 500 other B-Corps, who all announced at the same time. It took a good few months of doing all the sums, doing all the numbers and asking how are we going to do it?

Douglas Lamont [innocent’s CEO] has got to see a plan before he will agree to anything. I must have given the same presentation about 15 times to different people to get everyone over the line!

When we got to stand up and say that we have this net zero target and we’re going to be a net zero business by 2030, I was super proud of that.

But also there’s so much passion and energy now to do something more, so I think people realize there are things we can do to go faster.

There are people in marketing, in the commercial team, in the supply chain teams, who are all knocking at my door saying “Hey, can we do this, can we do that, on climate change?” It feels like it really has opened quite a lot of doors for going faster, which is exciting.

Getting people over the line for that was a really great moment.

What has been the most difficult obstacle to overcome?

One of the things which can be really hard working on climate change every day is that it is really depressing. It can be really tough.

Mid way through last year, I got quite depressed just reading all of the science, all of the reports, day in day out.

Some of it is pretty brutal and as a father of two young girls, it makes you sad realising what state the planet is in and actually how much we have got to do to turn it around.

So yeah, last year I got fairly down about the whole thing and a little bit dejected about our chances of fixing it. But thankfully, coming into work here, I had that relentless positivity.

I also heard a good quote that said “you’re never going to fix a problem if you go into it thinking that you’re not”.

You’ve just got to be positive about it. You hear a lot about it in the papers now about climate anxiety. If you’re head in it all day every day, it can get you down but you do need to have a bit of a filter sometimes.

You have to just turn it off, read about something else. But this place is just relentlessly positive. It’s always good to have so many positive colleagues to pick you up and to keep you going ■ 

To be continued.


Main image courtesy of author. Images in article body courtesy of iStockPhoto.com.

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