“The reasons for businesses to become more sustainable are multi-faceted,” says Office Friendly managing director Julie Hawley. “Yes, it’s important to be aware of your environmental impact. Yes, it’s the right thing to do. But it’s also about lead generation, too – it creates a different conversation with your customers.”

Office Friendly reprofiled themselves as Business Development Specialists two years ago, setting up three new services providing SMEs with marketing, training, and social sustainability support – and clearly the latter was a no-brainer for the firm.

Julie says: “For a long time, and probably as a result of sustainability being in the media and with TV natural world programmes like David Attenborough, our customers had been asking about issues like single use plastics, recycling, and corporate social responsibility (CSR). Big corporates like Sky were pledging to be single use plastic free by 2020 so we knew this was on the agenda for businesses and a key area we could be supporting them on.”

The company was established 25 years ago as a dealer group within the office products industry, negotiating price and bringing services and tools to its community of 150 independent office product resellers across the UK. With the brand repositioning came three key areas – KascAid the creative and marketing agency, Pioneer its learning and development arm, and CSR and social sustainability programme Weaver, all services now being rolled out for businesses in Sheffield City Region.

Developed in partnership with independent sustainability consultancy Carbon Smart, Weaver certification recognises five areas: carbon footprint, waste management, single-use packaging, sustainable products and social responsibility.

Marketing director Katie Metcalfe explains: “The Weaver framework involves a personalised sustainability action plan and a summary report measuring and analysing the business’s achievements with three certification levels – blue which means businesses Comply, silver which means they Compete and gold which is Champion. The Weaver certificate and emblem enables them to display their credentials.

“When it comes to sustainability, many employees, customers and stakeholders expect transparency and accountability action from businesses. Weaver helps implement sustainable practices and means customers can show they are a trusted supplier taking things like carbon footprint, energy usage and community involvement seriously.

“One customer we work with who supplies the construction industry knew single use plastics on site was a big issue for them – and his biggest customer challenged them with the five Weaver areas. He has gone through the process and brought other customers on board including a gift bag supplier who was wanting to source an alternative bag product and went with a bamboo one which is looking to be used at a major golf tournament in the US.

“Some customers can be shy about showcasing their community credentials and think of it as bragging – one was repatriating their cardboard waste by giving it to a local allotment to use to suppress weeds. We explained they were doing the local project a disservice by NOT promoting their community work because it raises the profile of that organisation and may encourage other businesses to do the same.”

Katie says: “Weaver shows existing and potential customers how committed businesses are. Having sustainable business practices can attract new contracts, giving a wider reach and giving extra publicity, too.”

Adds Julie: “Sustainability and CSR are also increasingly a big part of tenders, too – Weaver shows you have proper policies and practices in place.

“We currently have 16 businesses on board with a further ten waiting in the wings and other businesses are keen to become more sustainable but don’t know how to and need signposting. There needs to be a lot more education about it and the frameworks available like Weaver. We’re working with Sheffield City Region Growth Hub and Skills Bank to reach more businesses in the area and will be running workshops in 2020.

“We need to get the sustainability message across and out there.

“Ultimately, it just makes business sense.”

For more information www.ofweaver.co.uk