A deeply embedded sustainability action plan results in a positive impact on business performance. Being able to grow a profitable business while improving the environment and society as a whole at the same time. That’s what Sarah Whale wants to achieve with her work.
Profit Impact had the valuable opportunity to speak directly with our Founder Sarah Whale to understand what inspired her to align sustainability with business impact and why Profit Impact was the right driver for change.
Sarah Whale is a financial sustainability professional and leads on sustainability matters for the ACCA in The Practice Room. As a proud B Leader, she empowers others who want to lead organisations through the B Corp certification by providing a range of services that helps understand and manage business impact.
Tell me about your career history and how it led you here?
Sarah: My career has been almost all embedded within finance, mainly within operational finance roles. Although I have had a couple of my own businesses in the past as well. My career and job choices have invariably been driven by my personal situation. Raising children whilst working is hard and in fact, it was even harder when my children were born. It's fair to say that my career path does not look particularly traditional. What this has given me is a broad view of business and sectors.
I left my last senior finance role with no plan. The only thing I knew I wanted to do was something that aligned with me as an individual but I had absolutely no idea what that would be.
Fast forward a yoga retreat and an investment in some wonderful executive coaching and I realised what my ambitions were. I've always wanted to run my own business and I have a creative and strategic mind. Likewise, my values drive me to do the right thing. I decided I wanted to run a business that allowed me to do the right thing.
At the time I did not know that this was sustainability. Having researched what doing the right thing was within the spirit of finance, I realised this was linked to ethics and governance and the way you make decisions.
This is what led to the founding of Profit impact. Our mission is to help our customers make long-term holistic decisions.
What’s the difference between the financial reviews and planning sessions in your previous positions compared to Profit Impact?
Sarah: Great question! Financial reviews and planning do not differ, it's more that they become more rounded. I think some people worry Profit Impact does not focus on the numbers but actually, without financial sustainability you have no business. You cannot grow, you cannot invest in people, you cannot pay your people or commit to your suppliers.
So when I say they become more rounded, what I mean is we look at the goals that the business wants to set itself for its social and environmental impact and these are considered alongside the financial goals.
Ethics and governance play a part and we work with businesses that take their commitments to ethics and governance seriously. This means the conversations we have are honest and transparent. We don't play games with the numbers, we have open conversations and we make plans based on these, sometimes difficult, conversations.
How do you measure success?
Sarah: Success is measured based on the goals that you set for your business. This could be as simple as maintaining positive cash flow whilst growing an engaged and satisfied team.
It could be a commitment to implementing a plan to reduce your environmental impact. It could be a change you put in your business to help areas of the population that need helping.
Success is driven by what an individual wants to succeed in. If that individual is a business leader and they set their goals with the broader team the chances of achieving their goals are greater.
Who has inspired your sustainability mission?
Sarah: I'm inspired mostly by my sister Lisa Bailey. Lisa lives her life mainly to benefit others who are in need. She has personally positively impacted hundreds of people. She has done this with very little time, very little budget and a big heart.
I have a huge amount of respect for everything that she has done and achieved. There is a large part of me that believes if society was making holistic long-term decisions Lisa would not have to do so much to help her local community
What change do you expect Profit Impact to make in 5 years time?
Sarah: In 5 years time I would expect Profit Impact to have made good progress on its mission to support SDGs 1, 4 ,5, 8 & 10. This progress would be reflected through creating decent jobs, supporting female founders, developing existing partnerships and establishing new ones.
We anticipate it being a business which will have supported 1000 businesses to make long-term holistic decisions. These businesses will then create their ripple effect and so the impact journey continues.
What does sustainability mean to you?
Sarah: Sustainability to me means making decisions that consider the long-term impact on other people and other things. Including considering those people or things that you may never see.
What is the biggest challenge you face professionally?
Sarah: We don't have standardised and mandated regulation within sustainability. It will come but until it comes there is a lot of uncertainty which gives people a reason not to fully commit.
What is the biggest driver for change in your company?
Sarah: Society. Employees want to work for businesses with purpose, consumers want to buy from ethical and responsible businesses, investors want to put their money where there is maximum financial growth. Sustainability is utterly compelling. Society wants it and what society wants society will get
What is the one piece of advice you would offer to SMEs seeking to create change?
Sarah: I'm known for my quotes. Family and friends always have a bit of a laugh at my expense. I do have a favourite quote for this and that's Arthur Ashe “Start where you are, use what you have and do what you can.”
Every business can do something to move in the right direction. I would go as far to say that every business must do something to move in the right direction.
Positive change within a business will change how you feel about your business. If you know you have plans to make a positive impact you do actually feel better for that and you do not become quite so focused on short-term financial gains. This is good for your mental well-being.
Large corporate businesses will be finding it harder. They will be committed to long term contracts, they will have factories and other premises with much larger workforces. Making change will not only take time but will cost significant sums of money to be truly sustainable
The irony of sustainability (which is the reason I believe Profit Impact will succeed) is the fact that the SME community has the best opportunity to make change and the best chance of growing long-term commercial value for their business through sustainable change.
At what point in your life did you feel personally responsible about your environmental impact?
Sarah: Only once I started to learn about the environmental impact and climate crisis did I start to understand the impact of decisions that I make.
This knowledge came quite late and I understand that if you are not living the climate crisis and are instead focusing on financial pressures at work it is hard to raise your head to appreciate the extent of the challenge we face - and how you can make a difference.
What have you done outside of work to live a more sustainable lifestyle?
Sarah: Another good question. We use refurbished technology and renewable energy. We use environmentally friendly household products where we can. We have shifted to the single car although we are struggling with that. Ideally I would want to buy an electric vehicle but at the moment the price is out of my budget and there is a very limited second-hand car market for electric vehicles. We work hard with our recycling and I don't buy quite so many clothes as I used to. So I'd give us 6 and a half out of 10, definite room for improvement.
High standards Sarah! So, what makes you optimistic about businesses’ ability to rise to the sustainability challenge?
Sarah: I think it's just a matter of time before businesses really do understand the financial benefit and the societal and environmental imperative to do this. As positive stories and case studies emerge businesses will be encouraged to step up to this challenge.
I also believe this is the case of the more you do the more you see improvements and then the more you do. Exciting times ahead.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with me Sarah. That was a very insightful and interesting interview and hopefully it will help others understand a bit more about you, your journey and your commitment to making a change with Profit Impact.
How can SMEs reach out to you if they wish to make a positive social and environmental impact while maximising their chances of long term financial success?
Sarah: Thank you for the great questions. We have a range of services and programs that can enable you to start easily today. You can sign up for our Sustainability Snapshot service after reading more about how the process works or book a call with me to discuss how we can help you. I would love Profit Impact to help you. #ConsciousBusinessPerformance