Welcome to the second in our interviews with experts on:
Making better business decisions for a better world.
We are producing a series of articles to cover aspects a business owner should consider when reviewing their processes and operational functions for a better world, with a focus on corporate responsibility and reputation management in areas of sustainability, the natural world and local communities.
Today we hear from Paul Denney, Head of Research and Development at Snow Business.
Snow Business are world leaders in snow and winter effects. They have used artificial snow to create show-stopping winter effects for film, TV, events and visual merchandising for the past 35 years. If you have seen a film with snow in, chances are it will be theirs: James Bond, Harry Potter, Paddington and many, many more.
Paul Denney is a multi-skilled engineering executive and wears may hats from head of R&D at Snow Business to being a zero carbon evangelist. Paul is also an exceptional public speaker, ok so talking about making snow is exciting enough but Paul brings a whole new approach that engages every member of the audience and leaves them talking about him for years after.
We began by asking Paul, what some of the biggest challenges are in his industry when it comes to improving its impact on the natural world?
Managing the C02 emissions of transportation is a big one. About 1/3rd of energy use is for transportation and in the industrial sector that’s diesel. Snow Business has a small electric shuttle van to go between our warehouse site and our head office, and a PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle) that we use as a pool car. At present though there are no large, long range vehicles with load carrying capacity that we can buy to fulfil our operational needs. This is about to change though with Amazon, UPS and other large logistics dependant companies investing heavily in pure electric delivery vehicles with companies like Rivian & Arrival.
A transition away from non-biodegradable, environmentally accumulative materials is another. I guess a lot of business leaders thought that there would be a gradual phased move away from plastic towards more sustainable materials. Blue Planet and the public awareness it created has thrown a huge spanner in the works. Many companies have been left scrambling to find alternatives and find them fast. The trouble is many products only exist at the scale they do because of cheap plastic and for some applications there are no alternatives yet. At Snow Business we started this journey long before Blue Planet and so we are in a very good place now with alternative products that increasing people want to buy. If you are a company that has only just started thinking about this then you may already have left it too late, the saying goes “Get Woke or go broke”.
How are you seeing businesses, within your industry, look at the wider picture when aligning their operational functions to the ethics and values they may have for a positive impact on the wider world?
The film industry has always been notorious for its waste and impact on the environment. I guess Snow Business has always been the odd one out in that respect as we have always worked very hard to lessen our impact. Outside of what we do though things like BAFTA’s “Albert Sustainable Productions” initiative, is starting to change minds and educate film and TV producers. Look out for the little footprint logo on the last page of the credits if you want to know that the programme you just watched is part of the solution and not part of the problem.
Does your business operate any carbon-offset initiatives? If so, what are they and how do you leverage this? If not, would you put off-setting initiatives in place if you had an easy way to calculate your carbon footprint?
We do have an offset initiative in place for some products, and we use the Woodland Trust. Take-up has been slow though, hopefully it will improve.
Calculating a business’s Carbon Footprint and that of its products is a notoriously difficult and complex thing to do. Amazingly, although ISO have done some work in this area, there is no simple agreed process for working it out. I sit on the Environment Committee of Stroud District Council, which a few years back developed its own peer reviewed system of measurement which allowed us to prove Carbon Neutrality for our operations. We are currently the only Local Authority in Europe to have done this and the second in the world. If we as a country are to hit Zero Carbon at some point in the near future this anomaly really needs to be sorted out.
Sustainability is a word used a lot at the moment, thinking about the people and businesses you work with; how do you see sustainability being fully understood, and resulting in genuinely putting process in place to be a more ‘sustainable’ business?
The most important work being done in this area at the moment is the EU’s Circular Economy Directive If I was going to sum it up in a sentence it would be “Can you as a business keep doing what you do now and forever” ? If you can’t then at some point your business will fold. Focus on anything that stops you achieving long term sustainability and you will survive. Sustainability isn’t a nice to have it’s a must have, without it you have no future.
In your experience, what are the main challenges businesses face when it comes to reviewing their strategies for engaging with and improving their impact on their local community?
This might be a difficult one for some companies to hear but if you want to engage with the local community then you really need to be able to tell the truth. Authentic is the new cool, spin is too obvious in today’s social media savvy world. It’s far better to be honest with people about what you are doing than to try and green wash the embarrassing bits. People will applaud you for trying, they will damn you for trying to cover stuff up, and no matter how hard you try to cover things up the truth will out. Ask yourself am I happy doing this? If the answer is no then nobody else will be happy either. Change it before your competitors do.
Which businesses or influencers do you feel are doing a great job at reputation management and in presenting the ethics and values of their business – in a genuine and authentic way?
Tesla, Elon Musk set out to transition the world to a renewable energy future, his dream tapped into the spirit of the age, he stood by it and it’s worked. James Dyson once said to me that eco products won’t sell to a mass market until they are better than conventional products, The Tesla Model 3 is proof he was right.
With so much misinformation out there, which information sources do you feel are reliable and trustworthy for gathering facts, that you can then use to make the right decisions for your business?
Always go back to the fundamental science. The scientific method was invented by Francis Bacon in 1621 and it’s still the best method of making sense of the world that we have. I work with Universities when I can and have made great use of funding from the likes of the EPSRC. If you don’t have the budget to do that then read as many published peer reviewed papers as you can, cross reference them, carry out many experiments, embrace failure, learn from it and build your products on a foundation of knowledge.
We live at a time of great change. Political upheaval and environmental collapse threaten our way of life, technological advance runs faster than we can keep up. Never have there been so many threats but never have there been so many opportunities. In all this uncertainty the only thing that is certain is change. The world of business will be inherited by those who see the glass half full and who have products that will not cost us the earth. Business as usual no longer exists.
You can read more about Snow Business and their Environmental Ethos here.
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