B Corp Month: ‘My Cambridge University spin-out became a B Corp – big polluters should follow suit’

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Simon Hombersley is Chief Executive of Cambridge-based Xampla, the world’s first B Corp accredited UK university spin-out, which makes natural alternatives to plastic. He spoke to Business Leader about the importance of B Corp Month and the future of business in the UK.

The 21st century has justifiably been coined the Plastics Age. The great possibilities offered by plastic led to its global proliferation. It now pervades all aspects of society and we are only just realising the true consequences for the environment and human health.

We’re all guilty of using plastic, but much of the waste we see comes from the same big brands. A recent audit by Break Free From Plastic saw volunteers across 55 countries collect more than 300,000 pieces of plastic waste, 63 percent of which was clearly marked with a consumer brand.

These brands make up some of the biggest names listed as signatories to the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment, including companies representing 20 percent of all plastic packaging produced globally. But putting pen to paper doesn’t bring about change. Despite seemingly commiting to slashing plastic pollution, signatories only reduced their use of virgin plastic by 0.1 percent from 2018 to 2019.

One much more meaningful solution is for companies to receive B Corp accreditation – displaying measurable commitment to higher standards of business practice, not only in relation to the environment, but socially and financially too. March is B Corp month and my Cambridge University spin-out Xampla is one of the 3,200 B Corps celebrating their commitment to driving the world toward the common good.

Some 15 years ago – before Xampla existed – the scientists behind it were researching the functions of natural proteins, looking at the remarkable capabilities of materials like spider silk. But the real signficance of the research became clear as they realised its potential to change the world outside the lab.

The team discovered a way of making materials that behave like conventional plastic, but are made entirely from plant proteins, decomposing into nothing once used. As the world woke up to the plastics crisis, it became clear that this technology could be transformational. And that Xampla had the potential to be a better business from the start.

Impact became not just the focus of our products, but the core focus of every facet of the business. And to demonstrate this, we became the first UK university spin-out to be accredited as a B Corp. Just three years in, we’re already responsible for more than our bottom line. And if we can do it, incumbent businesses including the world’s biggest polluters can too.

Becoming a B Corp is not only a sure sign to customers that impact is woven into a company’s DNA. You also have access to a community of like-minded innovators, and you attract the best talent who want to work with value-aligned companies. Crucially as impact becomes an increasingly important global issue, you stay ahead of future regulation that could limit growth further down the line.

Xampla has come a long way in the 15 years since our scientists started researching the potential of natural proteins. The world – and global brands – hadn’t woken up to the plastic crisis then. But now consumers are demanding something better from business. They’re demanding a level of environmental and social stewardship that we’ve never seen before. Big and small businesses alike, there couldn’t be a better time to join the B Corp movement.

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