AN INTERVIEW WITH BOSS DESIGN’S VIRGINIA SEAWARD
Sustainability Legacy 2008 – 2021
Sustainability is a buzzword that features on almost every corporate agenda these days but years ago there was a distinct lack of awareness. It was something that interested me personally but only became part of my job when a major client asked us to get rid of some old office stock we were storing for them. In those days that wasn’t unusual and landfill was usually the answer. But there was a sea change underway and I couldn’t help but feel there had to be a better way. Enter Waste to Wonder, a fledgling charity whose mission was (and still is), to help companies ethically clear office spaces and pass redundant furniture and equipment on to those who need it. I made a phone call and kick-started a long and rewarding collaboration that continues to thrive to this day. It’s incredibly satisfying to see products that we build to last a lifetime given a whole new lease of life and over the years, we’ve worked together to divert some 1620 tonnes of equipment from landfills and equipped over 750 schools in 18 countries with office equipment.
But it was when Waste to Wonder asked us if we wanted to fill a container bound for Africa, that we really saw the impact the work can have. It was both sobering and humbling to see how one man’s rubbish really is another man’s treasure – but it was also striking to see the effect it had on our own staff here in the UK. Everyone wanted to be involved and everyday staff were bringing in all sorts of things that could make up the consignment alongside the office chairs, tables and equipment we were collecting. We were inundated with volunteers and there was a tangible sense of pride in being part of something so positive.
As the goodwill and well-being increased, so too did job satisfaction and productivity. It was clear that something profound had taken place and that if we wanted to harness these sorts of benefits in the long term, we needed our ethical approach to permeate all aspects of the business and not just our products. Unusually for the manufacturing sector at the time, we started looking at ways to incorporate more sustainable approaches into our workforce as well as our products and processes.
We set up a meeting with representatives from every corner of the business – from cleaners and engineers to office staff and the management team. We gathered in a local hotel and, in what has now become known as our staff environmental suggestion scheme, invited everyone to suggest ways they could build sustainability into their jobs. The response was phenomenal. It meant different things to different people but the passion and enthusiasm were collective. Everyone contributed and we left that meeting with a framework for our very first three-year Boss Design sustainability plan. We had suggestions on almost every aspect of the business and almost immediately started to implement those changes. From reviewing the products we used for cleaning and in the factories to reduce toxicity and waste to reducing our heat, energy and light consumption. We introduced policies to make all our plastic bag packaging 100% biodegradable and recycle 100% of our factory plastic waste. Where previously excess fabric and leather would have made their way to landfill, we began to develop a now well-established network of local charities, schools and arts organisations who could make use of our surplus fabrics. Any that is still leftover is stored and logged for use at a later date.
Another suggestion prompted our popular school walks and talks initiative. This programme welcomes groups of local school children and teachers to visit our flagship factory in Dudley and see for themselves what we do. It’s a brilliant way of reaching out and connecting with the local community and talking to them about our sustainable and ethical approaches. Encouraging the next generation of skilled manufacturers, designers and craftsmen and women is critical for the future of our business and people are always surprised by the sorts of career opportunities available to them on their doorstep. On the back of that first meeting, we also started to look at how we could invest in our people, extending our Continuous Professional Development and training opportunities, as well as always ensuring the highest safety standards and creating safe and welcoming places to work.
We were early adopters of a company-wide sustainability and wellness strategy and owe much of its success to the fact that it grew organically from the bottom up rather than being imposed from the top down. Everyone got involved, took ownership and could see their ideas making a difference. Very quickly, Boss became known for its expertise and pioneering approaches and in those early days, we were often asked for advice by clients who weren’t really sure what terms like ‘carbon neutral’ meant or how to go about creating a meaningful strategy for corporate social responsibility.
Fast forward to 2021 and while there’s more awareness, there’s little sign of the Boss sustainability agenda slowing down.
Reduce, reuse and recycle have become our watchwords. We aim to reduce as much as we can: reducing waste but also reducing the need to replace by developing premium, sustainable products built to last a lifetime. We also try to use as many components and materials that can be replaced or reused at the end of a product’s life cycle and when that isn’t possible, we recycle. Our Dudley HQ is proud of its zero-landfill status and these days, we even use a percentage of our waste to generate electricity that powers our own production line.
We’ve won numerous awards and industry recognition for our approaches and are extremely proud of our transparency and track record as a responsible UK manufacturer. Over a decade ago we were among the first manufacturers to introduce product data sheets that show at a glance what materials and components are used in a product’s manufacture, as well as its recycling profile.
These are now a standard across the industry. Our Sustainability and Wellness Manifesto has become a way of life and is aligned with the ambitions of WELL V2 the UN sustainability goals. Sustainability and ethical practices are built into every stage of a products’ lifespan from conception and design through to production and on into delivery and end of life. Our products are built to stand the test of time with ethically sourced materials and using the very latest in innovative manufacturing techniques to dramatically reduce and in some cases eliminate emissions.
Since 2005, all of our factories have been powered by renewable energy and we continue to be uncompromising about working with suppliers who meet and share our sustainability values and strict compliance regulations. In 2016, Boss invested in an 80-acre forest in North Carolina, USA, meaning we are currently sequestering 200 tonnes of CO2 annually which is equivalent to around a quarter of our current global CO2 output. We’re also about to invest in a ‘Miyawaki’ forest scheme – where brownfield sites are densely planted using native seedlings to create a complex ecosystem that improves biodiversity and absorbs CO2. And by 2025 we aim for all our sites globally to be zero waste to landfill and to be a truly Carbon Neutral manufacturer.
It’s remarkable to think how far we’ve come as a business in such a relatively short space of time – but it’s a testament to the open-minded ‘can do’ attitudes found in every corner of Boss Design that we’ve managed to achieve so much. Looking ahead and global pandemics withstanding, climate change and making our world more sustainable are set to be the dominant challenges of our times. They are challenges that affect us all and that none of us can afford to ignore. When we set out on this journey, we knew these things were important but we were naive as to how much they would occupy us in the not so distant future. Back then ambitions to become a carbon-neutral manufacturer felt unachievable.
Now, anything less is inconceivable.
Boss Design, May 2021