"We Believe…"; a manifesto for Corporate Activism. This post marks two significant events – all deeply personal for myself, Patrick O’Gorman and Richard Walker as individuals and as co-owners of Bywater. The fact that they have coincided is no more than a reflection of a series of commonly and passionately held principles.
What is good for the planet can also be good for business.
Richard has written the Green Grocer: One Man's Manifesto for Corporate Activism, which has just been published by Dorling Kindersley, principally in his role as the visionary MD of Iceland Foods.
Of course, I'm delighted to see constant references to Bywater throughout, a business we started together as idealistic graduates. Richard has taken Iceland on an extraordinary journey in recent years: one that has taken him personally from learning the ropes shelf-stacking on the shop floor to leading the business. This and his radical pivot towards environmental activism have seen him become a regular on the BBC's Question Time.
The courage and determination he’s shown in tackling head-on issues of palm oil and deforestation, then plastic waste in the supply chain, and now peatland degradation have inspired and encouraged us to radically re-imagine what we can, arguably must, achieve through Bywater.
These are all issues Richard feels personally committed to, and he has used the power of Iceland to great effect, amplifying his voice through the reach that gives him.
Richard has demonstrated that what is good for the planet, what you personally believe in and commit to, can also be good for business. Conviction compels attention, regardless of size.
Belief is Irresistible
Like Bywater, Iceland Foods with 2.5% market share is small compared to some of the giants of food retail. But Richard’s radical openness has given Iceland a voice, an audience and an influence way beyond its size.
Richard’s personal belief and vision have positively ‘infected’ Bywater and we are fully committed to the power of ‘corporate activism’ and having positive influence greater than our size This has enabled us to leverage our long-held personal beliefs to much greater impact and carry many more people on our journey. As Nike founder Phil Knight says in his excellent ‘Shoe Dog’ (mandatory reading for ‘team Bywater’), "belief is irresistible".
Why we come to work.
And this is unavoidably personal.
With Richard we've reflected hard on our why?. We’ve long been clear on what we do and are building a reputation for a portfolio of very distinctive projects. We’re proud of how we work, particularly our relationships with the people with whom we cross paths on our journey. These are the result of imaginative and transparent public consultation processes in which we get personally fully involved; and also the relationships with the team of creatives and experts for whom we strive hard to be an enlightened and supportive client.
You can see our 'guiding principles' - a guide to how we work and what to expect of us - here.
But why do we do it? Why do we exist as a business – essentially, a collaboration of friends? The inevitable conclusion, with the benefit of hindsight at least, is that this isn't about money. That’s a necessary means to an end. Each of us as business owners, Patrick, Richard and myself, bring a different, powerful and deeply personal response to our why? But it can be distilled as: a conviction in the importance of people and relationships, a belief in the power of radical ideas and design to inspire change, and a commitment to protect and preserve the natural environment for future generations. That's why we come to work.
The second significant event for is the publication today of a Manifesto that aims to capture the spirit of those personal motivations.
At heart, it's a simple declaration of our Cause and our determination to Affect that re-orders and focuses our energy:
Profitability is a means to an end, not an end in itself. A broader, more inclusive and far-sighted sense of prosperity should drive our long-term thinking.
Alongside this prosperity, the creation of places that become loved and cherished by future generations should be the yardstick by which we measure our success.
To achieve this, our decisions must be rooted in an understanding and affinity for the people we work with and build for, and a guiding principle of minimizing our impact on the ecosystem of which we’re a part.
All of this implies an attitude of nurturing and tending steady, sustainable growth rather than extracting quick returns – the language of cultivation and relationship-building not industrial automation.
We'll continue to drive the agenda for greater use of large-scale timber in construction in this country – an area in which the UK is shamefully lagging. Obstacles remain, not least the influence of the insurance markets in tempering innovation.
And we will continue to build off the experience of our award-winning Paradise project that exceeds by almost 50% the RIBA 2030 carbon targets in terms of CO2e per m2 ( www.paradise11.co.uk ).
With typical steel and concrete office buildings emitting up to four times as much CO2e, and current rates of urbanization equating to building a New York City every month for the next 40 years, mass timber has to form part of a range of innovative measures, and we will continue to push this particular agenda. But this cannot only be a question of better new buildings, especially in the UK where 80% of the building stock we’ll inhabit in 2050 already exists.
So we're expanding the low carbon-impact design thinking from the Paradise project into the re-use of existing structures wherever practical. And we’re focusing on bringing forward a new generation of low-carbon London workspaces backed by £250m of institutional capital. These efforts are not only focused on responsible design and construction to minimize the carbon impact of refurbishment, but also on building a compelling carbon-narrative to challenge the wasteful and unnecessary refit which is the industry norm.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the fit-out sector. And, while there's continual innovation in less environmentally damaging products, fundamentally we need to challenge the paradigm of fashion-led waste, and start to champion 'responsible re-use’ over the lure of the new. We’re proud to have used recycled and remanufactured furniture in our projects to date and will continue to champion a cause with the potential to reduce carbon emissions by up to 60% over the lifecycle of an office building.
And, supported by Richard and Iceland, we’re rethinking retail parks and town centre shopping. Firstly by looking at how we can pivot retail parks to act as carbon stores. And secondly through projects like Smithfield Yard (www.smithfieldyardbelfast.com), which are designed to revitalize overlooked neighbourhoods, bringing local communities with us rather than alienating them.
We see this as our personal Cause - a generational imperative to inspire people with the ideas that can protect our planet while building shared prosperity and places. We are determined to leverage those personal convictions though Bywater following Richard and Iceland’s example in becoming corporate activist in the real estate sector.