Businesses need to broaden their interpretation of what sustainability is in order to reach their potential, James Sopwith told a gathering of leading business figures at the Made in the Midlands Expo on June 20.
While many businesses are working hard to be more sustainable, often their terms of reference and actions around sustainability are too limited, warned James Sopwith, group strategic account director of Birmingham-based multi-disciplinary engineering firm adi Group.
James set out the business case for a much broader interpretation of sustainability by explaining how it informs the firm’s strategic growth and for the years ahead in his seminar at the 10th anniversary Made in the Midlands Expo, held at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry on June 20.
“People talk about carbon footprints and resource depletion, and rightly so,” said James. “Absolutely, we must take care of our climate and environmental responsibilities.
“People talk about the financial stability of our businesses, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If we don’t generate a surplus, we can’t reinvest in order to grow. If we lose money, we perish. But, there, the sustainability conversation tends to stop.
“However, we think there’s significant value for everyone in taking that conversation much further to introduce a range of interlinking, related ideas. We want to really open things up for discussion and for action. And we try to set an example.
“At the adi Group, we believe the conversation around sustainability is too narrow in its scope.”
adi Group, established in 1990, has long questioned conventional wisdom, incrementally developing more than 30 expert specialisms in a challenge to the traditional UK engineering model of niche providers.
But adi Group is not satisfied with meeting and exceeding its commitment, as a member of The 5% Club – an organisation of employers committed to building a range of learning opportunities for employees – to raising their number of apprentices on formal programmes to 5% of total staff within five years, or with attaining the Ecovadis Gold Accreditation that places it in the world’s top 1% most sustainable and engaging employers.
In addition, the firm has teamed up with North Bromsgrove High School to give 14 to 16-year-olds hands-on experience in a real-life working environment with the aim of inspiring them to consider engineering as a career.
The youngsters spend half a day per week over two years learning hands-on electrical and mechanical skills from adi’s in-house mentors, while completing their other GCSE curricula, earning themselves an EAL qualification and making significant headway towards a Level 2 attainment in electrical and mechanical engineering.
The pre-apprenticeship scheme, funded entirely by adi Group, is three times oversubscribed and saw its inaugural 2016 intake graduate last year. Five of those 10 graduates are now enrolled on the company’s full-time apprenticeship programme.
Thinking more broadly about sustainability has paid dividends in other ways too. Consistent double-digit year-on-year growth means the adi Group now has a team of some 660 highly skilled employees working from 12 facilities across the UK and the Republic of Ireland delivering turnkey solutions to clients in almost every sector.
But the key to continuing this growth in the long term is taking a broader view of sustainability. “We need to evolve our thinking about sustainability. We should look at the long-term viability of the many bonds that hold us all together,” he said. “As people, as communities, as a society and as an economy.
“As businesses, we must recognise our mutual dependency. Not simply with our clients and suppliers, but with everything and everybody we interact with.
“Our communities rely on us for job and wealth creation, for skills development and, to some extent, for identity. But, as businesses, we depend heavily on the communities, people and organisations around us for their skills and their energy, for resources, for infrastructure and for countless things more.
“We owe each other everything and we all share the same destiny. We have big responsibilities but that brings us big opportunities, if we engage with culture and people with real intent. We’re not talking about CSR [corporate social responsibility] as a simple tick-box exercise.
“We’re talking about inspiration as an aspiration. Inspiring our communities, inspiring our teams, inspiring the next generation of engineers we so badly need in this country. And, ultimately, inspiring ourselves to achieve more and to achieve it together.”Back