Crystal Doors: Sustainability leadership in 2022 will be defined by radical, disruptive transparency
EXCLUSIVE: UK-based manufacturer Crystal Doors is planning to add real-time emissions and energy data to its website, with managing director Richard Hagan saying all businesses must show "radical" transparency and changes to their purpose if the climate emergency is to be addressed.
Last February, Crystal Doors beat nine other shortlisted companies to be crowned SME of the Year at edie’s Sustainability Leaders Awards. The judging panel were impressed by the company’s ambitious response to the climate crisis, including a 75% reduction in operational emissions between 2015 and 2021, paving the way for complete carbon neutrality in 2022 (a milestone that Crystal Doors is on track to achieve).
Emissions reductions were achieved through programmes like onsite solar generation, smart sensors for lighting, LED retrofitting and material efficiency, with residual emissions offset using UK-based nature-based solutions including peatland restoration projects in Scotland. Additionally, Crystal Doors began disclosing risks in line with the Task-Force on Climate-Related Disclosures’ (TCFD) framework in its 2020 accounts.
edie’s judges acknowledged, also, that the business is not suffering from ‘carbon tunnel vision’, instead embedding sustainability and purpose in all departments and taking a holistic approach. Targets relating to other issues, including waste and social sustainability, were all achieved to or ahead of time. All staff have bonuses tied to sustainability-related KPIs. Crystal Doors has completed its B Impact Assessment and is hoping to confirm B Corp certification this spring.
Hagan acknowledges that, being a small company with less than 50 employees, Crystal Doors “has the speed and autonomy to be radical… to go greener and go faster”. Indeed, for example, there is currently no B Corp certification framework for large multinationals. Nonetheless, he believes that larger incumbents will be pushed to change just as quickly, if enough SMEs act as “beacons” of sustainability-related ambition.
Speaking to edie ahead of his appearance at the 2022 Sustainability Leaders Forum (scroll down for details), Hagan said: “We, as a small, small company, can become a beacon. We can show what’s good. We need leaders that have kind hearts and the energy to support others – rather than to amass their own wealth. If customers say they like brands with this kind of leadership, that then puts the pressure on the bigger companies.”
“You need three things: A moral compass, a look through the lens of nature and the spirit of humanity. You cannot buy any of them.
“When I first started doing this, I was asked why. Now, everyone sees that there is brand value in accelerating beyond what is required.”
“Required” is an interesting word here. Nations are increasingly padding out their long-term net-zero targets with new mandates for corporates, including rules on TCFD disclosures and low-carbon transition plans. And, in almost all cases, investors and consumers are moving more quickly than legislation.
The devil is in the data
Nonetheless, Hagan has observed that investors and consumers are often confused by a lack of standardisation in how companies disclose sustainability-related data. This point has been raised many times by experts in fields such as ESG investing and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Moreover, Hagan believes that many large firms are relying on “mistruths” to attract green-minded consumers without doing the hard work to change their business models or their sense of purpose. He points to, as examples, fast food chains ditching plastic packaging but failing to tackle deforestation in supply chains or only offer plant-based foods; oil majors with non-science-based net-zero targets, and retailers touting ‘circular economy principles’ while not designing for durability and reuse.
“People will make informed decisions, but what we are seeing at the moment is non-truth,” Hagan argues. “Companies are happy to put out claims to consumers and say ‘there it is, you challenge it’, without striving to challenge themselves.”
“We need to start dropping illusions and facing reality. We don’t have the time. Despite all our efforts, global emissions are rising.”
For Crystal Doors, the next stage of communicating sustainability progress goes hand-in-hand with the digital transition. The company is exploring how real-time data relating to energy use, emissions and air quality can be added to its website.
There are already smart-meters and internet-of-things-connected (IoT) sensors in Crystal Doors’ factory in Rochester, installed with support under UKRI’s ‘Made Smarter’ scheme, Hagan confirms. The business is also located close to a local air pollution sensor and is preparing to install one inside the factory.
While Crystal Doors has a small carbon footprint, Hagan hopes this approach will inspire companies far bigger to stop simply reporting on emissions annually – a method that can prevent early identification and action on emissions hotspots. He says: “Investors and customers are starting to say: ‘we haven’t got 18 months for your accountants to play games’.”
Showcasing solutions and successes
For other companies looking to improve the quality of their emissions data, Hagan’s advice is to invest in good accounting and then to “go for some easy wins that can save costs and increase profits”.
In his opinion, proving the business case is crucial to inspire further action from other organisations – and to keep employees motivated and engaged internally. The need for businesses to keep “proving” the case for sustainability has been a bugbear of many leaders at organisations of all sizes and sectors over the years, even getting a mention in former Unilever chief Paul Polman’s New Year blog for 2022.
Hagan goes on to speak of his respect for individuals like Greta Thunberg, who point out the severity of the crisis, and groups like Extinction Rebellion, for exposing to the general public how their banks are supporting fossil fuels. Yet he believes the narrative is, at present, too heavy with fear and not focussing enough on solutions.
He also emphasises the need for strong partnerships to create – and tell – good sustainability stories. While Crystal Doors recently committed to action on all 17 SDGs, Hagan says the most important Goal, the “cornerstone”, will be SDG 17, Partnerships.
“Individually, I can’t change the world. No one can,” he summarises. “Getting out of our siloes and talking to each other is essential. We need to go greener and go faster, and that can only be achieved in networks.”
Register now for edie’s Sustainability Leaders Forum 2022
edie’s biggest event of the year is returning as a live, in-person event for 2022. The dates have been moved from early February to March, to ensure collaboration and celebration can take place in person.
The Sustainability Leaders Forum will now take place on 8 and 9 March 2022, and will unite hundreds of professionals for inspiring keynotes, dynamic panel discussions, interactive workshops and facilitated networking. There will also be digital tickets.
Taking place at London’s Business Design Centre, the event will feature more than 60 speakers, including experts from Natural England, the Green Finance Institute, the World Economic Forum and the Centre for Climate Repair. We’re planning our most diverse and inspirational programme yet.
Richard Hagan will be co-hosting a workshop on how to be an effective climate leader in business at 11.30am on 8 March. He will be joined by experts from the Aldersgate Group, Say Do, Greggs and Unilever, as well as the Deputy Mayor of London Shirley Rodriguez.