2020 Vision expert insight

Harriet Lamb on why sustainability makes business sense

Date: 04-03-2016

Tagged as: ArticleGameplanStrategySustainability


Sustainability isn’t just about being fair or being green, says Harriet Lamb, who led Fairtrade for 16 years. It’s about businesses securing their supply chain and making goods and services with a long-term view.

As the former CEO of Fairtrade International, Harriet Lamb CBE is credited with taking UK Fairtrade products from a niche category into the mainstream, changing the way we trade globally. In November 2015, Harriet took up the post of CEO of International Alert, Europe’s largest peacebuilding organisation. It is, she says, a natural progression: “Fairtrade seeks to build the economic underpinnings of peace. We know that when farmers and workers have a stake in society and are able to earn a decent income with dignity, that helps build peace. This is the area I now focus on in my new job at International Alert.”

Harriet Lamb

“I visited a village in Ghana with then Cadbury CEO Todd Stitzer. The cocoa farmer’s sons had all moved to the capital because there was no future in farming. It was a wake-up call; if chocolate firms didn’t tackle sustainability by investing in farms and promoting Fairtrade, there would be no cocoa growers by 2020. As Cadbury put it when they launched Fairtrade Dairy Milk: ‘No beans, no bars’.”

“I think, primarily because of self-interest, companies have realised that sustainability is only going to get more important in the future. I think that’s true from a point of view of securing their own supply chain. And I think that’s true of meeting the expectations of the young. They are going to emerge as a very different consumer from the older among us who frankly hadn’t a clue where cocoa came from and probably thought chocolate grew on trees in Cadbury’s factory or something.”

“The new generation have a different awareness and a different expectation. I think you can call them generation fair.”

2020: Harriet Lamb’s six reasons businesses need to focus on sustainability

  1. 82% of young adults in the UK think businesses need to act more responsibly.
  2. Expectations from ‘generation fair’ about embedding ethics into corporate behaviour is even higher in emerging markets such as Brazil and India.
  3. The living wage imperative is a growing political issue in the UK and overseas.
  4. We will see growing engagement with Fairtrade principles – currently 1700 Fairtrade towns exist globally and this will rise.
  5. Sustainability will become embedded more deeply in business strategy.
  6. There will be opportunities for UK businesses to become global leaders on sustainability.

sustainability graphic

Points to consider:

  • Cadbury recognised that the lack of a sustainable income for cocoa growers threatened supply of their raw material: “No beans, no bars”. How robust is your supply chain? Could it benefit from becoming more sustainable?
  • Nine out of ten people in Britain know about Fairtrade. Is your business reaching this market for sustainable, ethical products?
  • Where can your ambition take you? Small ideas can breed great success. When the first Fairtrade town was established in Garstang, Lancashire in 2000, it was a new and radical idea. Now there are over 1700 towns globally and, says Harriet, “the Vice Finance Minister of Sweden has declared his ambition to make the whole of Sweden a Fairtrade nation.”

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