2020: The year facts came back into fashion
It has certainly been a tumultuous year. But behind the disruption and loss that characterised 2020, we have noticed something more positive: it might just be that facts are coming back into fashion. This year, many politicians have learned the hard way that COVID won’t be outmanoeuvred by rhetoric or opinion. And the progress we’ve seen against the virus has been a triumph of science and numbers, and practical innovation.
Similarly, when it comes to sustainability – nature and climate – we’re experiencing a sea-change, as businesses and their investors are asking us to help them make strategies based on data and evidence. They know that the facts of sustainability will come home to roost unless we understand, measure, and take purposeful action: (1) to address our impacts on the environment, and (2) to repair the damaged natural systems that will otherwise make their impact felt on us, and our businesses.
This isn’t about focus groups, or public relations exercises – rhetoric or opinion. When we make progress on the environment it will be because we have understood what is important, where the key risks are for businesses and society, and when we have taken proportional, practical action to address them. The environment has become material.
Where does this take 3Keel as a business? Already it’s propelling us forward, fast. Our clients are now clubbing together to take meaningful action on commodities like soya and palm oil. We’re being asked to navigate credible, fact-based, pathways to net zero emissions. Asset managers want to know how to match their sustainability needs to the land holdings in their portfolios. We’re being asked to do the forensics on businesses’ sustainability strategies – do they stack up? Will they pass the test of the next crisis?
We only expect this to continue. For our part we’ll continue building up our outstandingly bright and expert teams. We’ll be using our natural curiosity, creativity, and technical rigour to bring our clients the best, long-lasting solutions for taking material action. And we’ll be expanding our influence across the business ecosystem – linking land, to business, to investors and asset managers.
This excites us, and gives us real – realistic – hope. We think businesses will be at the heart of solving the crisis in humanity’s relationship with the rest of nature. We expect that the most successful businesses in coming years will be the ones that act on the facts, to reshape themselves into climate-smart and nature-smart enterprises. And we’re committed to helping you to make this happen.
When we make progress on the environment it will be because we have understood what is important, where the key risks are for business and society, and when we have taken proportional, practical action to address them. The environment has become material.
We’ve been busy working with clients old and new, from innocent drinks to the British Retail Consortium
Supporting business ambitions to deliver a credible net-zero future
Two recent developments have changed the landscape for advising on greenhouse gas management this year: the mainstreaming of Science Based Targets by the SBTi, and the formal adoption of ‘net zero’ climate goals. Both developments have shifted the market, the former requiring companies to be more rigorous and ambitious in setting decarbonisation targets, and the latter focusing minds on longer-term transformation and, importantly, its financial implications. We are now supporting a growing number of Science Based Target validations, including as part of our on-going sustainability partnership with innocent drinks, for which we have used ‘next generation’ modelling to create a climate dashboard pulling supply chain data from across the business.
This year we were at the forefront of net zero thinking for one of the UK’s most significant industry sectors, working with Canopy Sustainability Consulting and Mike Barry to develop the British Retail Consortium Climate Action Roadmap, which includes five pathways for ongoing work by the industry to make net zero targets a reality.
We are aware of the underbelly of vacuous net zero commitments out there (never-never targets, business as usual, and expensive comms campaigns…) so we have been gratified to work at the other end of the scale with the Co-op. Continuing our close partnership, we have worked together to understand what net zero targets mean in practice, including the internal governance needed to embed them for a 10+ year time horizon. We expect similar assignments to follow in the coming months, as the ink dries on other net zero commitments, and the real work begins on making them a reality.
Tackling deforestation risk through business coalitions and smarter data
The issue of deforestation risk from agri-commodities has gained steam this year, and this has now grown to become 3Keel’s largest practice area, led by Dr Steve Jennings. Despite the welcome focus, many knotty challenges remain, and we are proud of our work to innovate new methods and processes. Data is one key barrier – over the last decade or more we have watched the rise (and in many cases falls!) of software tools to ‘solve’ supply chain data tracking. For the last three years, Will Schreiber has led our team to devise a different ‘3Keel’ approach to gathering and analysing commodity data for grocery retailers – particularly palm oil and soy. We are now seeing big growth in the programme, which enlarged to 11 retailers in 2020/21, with data collection from over 1000 supplier companies.
We have established four Transparency Coalitions to collectively request key sustainability criteria on importers of soy, palm oil, and cocoa, and most recently for meat packers in South America. The theory of change is that alignment of customers, and precision on the questions asked, can influence the supply chain to seek higher standards – and we are already seeing results and a raising of the bar through our more established Coalitions. We have seen continued impact from our work with WWF-UK in 2018 to develop the Risky Business methodology, which assesses the deforestation risk from imported agri-commodities, such as soy and palm. Our findings have been cited by the UK government in developing proposed legislation for due diligence on imported forest risk commodities. We have since updated the WWF-UK report – see Riskier Business – as well as applying the methodology to assess deforestation risk for commodities imported into other European Countries, including Switzerland, France, Belgium, and Denmark. We have also adapted the assessment principles to assess deforestation risk in global commodity procurement for a major European grocery retailer, proving the flexibility of the method at corporate scale.
Deforestation risk has continued its rise up the agenda on sustainable commodities
Helping to close the loop on materials – from coffee pods to apparel
Dr Alex Hetherington heads our Circular Economy practice area, and she has led our team facilitating the development of Podback. This is a unique collaboration between the major UK coffee brands, to tackle the current challenges faced by consumers in recycling the 340 million single-use coffee capsules used in the UK every year. Podback has set up a new segregated collection stream to enable recycling and material recovery for plastic and aluminium pods and, after its launch later this year, will ultimately include widespread kerbside collection.
The Circular Economy team have also been steadily increasing their portfolio of projects on packaging design and associated lifecycle assessments, and have recently started an exciting collaborative project in the textiles sector which will be publicly released shortly.
Scaling demand for landscape-scale sustainability
When we created 3Keel, the aim was always to bring fresh thinking to some of the most intractable challenges. For the last four years, we have brought concerted energies to realising the promise of a whole landscape approach to sustainability, and our Landscape Enterprise Networks (LENs) method is now ‘coming of age’.
The seeds of LENs were sown at 3Keel from some early work on city region food systems for Prince Charles’ International Sustainability Unit. Tom Curtis has since developed LENs, with the core principle of a ‘demand led’ approach to landscape solutions. 3Keel has now initiated eleven LENs projects across the UK, several in partnership with Nestle UK, and we now also have projects underway in two European countries. Our sense is this is very much the beginning – and the LENs microsite has more details.
Staying true to our values and purpose
We are busier than ever, and despite a challenging year for many businesses, the coronavirus pandemic has not made a dent in the demand for our work. If anything, the disruption to ‘business as usual’ has demonstrated even more clearly the need for continued urgent action to rapidly bring down greenhouse gas emissions and restore nature. In addition to the brief project highlights above we have worked on many other projects and an expanding list of clients this year.
Working towards the shared aspirations of the Paris Agreement, and beyond, the next ten years are critical in making progress on sustainability. So we are stepping up our work internally too, to develop 3Keel so that we can respond to the growing needs of business, government and NGO clients as well as our partners. 3Keel has expanded steadily since our founding, and as we now approach an organisation of thirty team members, we are switched on to the need to ‘build the platform’ to support our small-but-growing-organisation. We have a clear sense of our priorities and next steps – so, watch this space as we progress our plans to set up the business for our ongoing evolution.
Central to all that we do, and to our future plans, is maintaining the highest quality of work. Having been ranked by the Financial Times (FT) as one of the UK’s Leading Management Consultants for Sustainability in 2019 and 2020, this year the FT presented us a Gold award at the top of the rankings. We are grateful, and very proud across the entire 3Keel team, that the work we do as a small, independent organisation is recognised as sector leading. And, key to our ongoing success will be ensuring we continue to hold ourselves to the highest standards.
Alongside quality, we continue to believe that we do our best work when we are true to our principles as a values-led organisation. We have backed this commitment up with successful achievement of B Corp status in 2020, passing with flying colours of 108 points. Of course the story doesn’t end there, and our post from last year expands on areas of the organisation needing attention for our continuous improvement.
And underlying everything at 3Keel is our team. Like everyone, 2020 has been a uniquely challenging year for teams to cooperate and connect, but we have improvised, flexed and persevered to retain cohesion and optimism. We are also looking ahead, and have identified key areas of the business where we want to add talented people at all levels. Over the last six months, just some of our new 3Keelers include:
Michael Lord – who is taking on a key role in our Climate Change practice area, joining as a Principal Consultant with incredible experience working on diverse projects, including successfully plotting paths to decarbonise several heavy industries.
Sophie Milner – who bolsters our technical land management capabilities, including 19 years experience working for the National Trust. Sophie is now working in close partnership with Tom Curtis, to advance the reach and impact of our LENs programmes.
Richard Scott – who has moved from long-term design consultant of 3Keel, to being our Head of Design. Richard is a rare talent who combines artistry with astute questioning, and keeps us honest in terms of how we convey the concepts of our work.
Working towards the shared aspirations of the Paris Agreement, and beyond, the next ten years are critical in making progress on sustainability. So we are stepping up our work internally too, to develop 3Keel so that we can respond to the growing needs of business, government and NGO clients as well as our partners during this vital period.
The land-climate nexus and the role of finance in driving systemic change
The fast pace of developments in sustainability over the last year naturally leads to the question of ‘where next?’ for the sector, and where to focus our attention as 3Keel. Without giving too much away, three emerging themes we are poised to help clients with next year are:
Net zero into practice: We are already seeing a big uptick in demand for the implementation of net zero strategies, in terms of financing, detailed decarbonisation pathways, governance and carbon removal options appraisals.
Interface of land management with climate: A clear 3Keel sweet spot is combining our climate knowledge with ‘boots on the ground’ work on land management practices. As the carbon removals agenda ramps up, and science advances on carbon modelling, we have been recruited to a number of large programmes to advise on best practice and opportunities for climate adaptation and mitigation.
ESG+: Although “ESG” considerations have become ubiquitous in finance, we think the effectiveness and impact of many approaches leaves much to be desired. We have already started to support a number of leading financial institutions on this agenda, and we are excited to do more in this important space – an emerging frontier in sustainability.
When we founded 3Keel in 2013, one of the core tenets we discussed was the increasing importance of resilience. Interestingly, that meme dropped away over the last few years, but 2020 has brought it roaring right back to where we think it belongs! Taking bold, innovative and, importantly, fact-based sustainability action addresses fundamental challenges facing us as a society – and importantly, this approach also creates resilient businesses that can respond to the future challenges posed by extreme weather, rapidly evolving legislation, and increasingly principled consumers. We’ll continue to focus on bringing the facts about what’s needed to achieve sustainability into play with creativity, rigour and approachability, helping our clients to adapt to a changing landscape with agility and leadership. Over the last seven years, we have continued to develop our services with all of this in mind, and our recent growth and recognition indicates we are serving an important need.
So, thank you to all of our clients, partners and other stakeholders for your support. It’s gratifying to reflect on our progress, and we are very excited to start to implement our plans for the next stage of the business to help to tackle the biggest environmental challenges with purpose, fresh ideas and a spring in our steps.
Get in touch
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