‘The Sustainability Activator’ – meet the environmental consultancy driving the UK’s green agenda

athesis group

For this feature, Business Leader profiled a UK business experiencing exponential growth. Anthesis Group, a sustainability consultancy, spoke about how attitudes towards greener alternatives are changing and where the company fits into this.

As the business community moves into a new, post-COVID era, the search for ‘greener’ alternatives and ideas has risen to the top of many company’s agendas, as the UK looks to move towards its ‘Net Zero’ goal by 2050.

One of the firms leading the charge is Anthesis Group. The London-based consultancy was founded in 2013, and has achieved an incredible levels of exponential growth in recent years. With 30% year-on-year growth in the last three years, the firm now boasts a turnover of more than £40m, and has over 500 employees across 14 global locations.

This employee-owned firm, works with some of the world’s largest brands to help them reach their sustainability and green alternative goals across the world.

UK Managing Director Brad Blundell has more than 30 years of expertise in environmental consulting. He describes the firm as ‘The Sustainability Activator’.

He said: “As we enter what the UN is calling ‘The Decisive Decade’, we recognise that businesses and governmental organisations need more than advice, if we are going to meet the requirements of the Paris Climate Agreement and ensure that there are sufficient resources left on the planet for future generations. Hence, Anthesis turns strategy and advice into commercially relevant action – often enabled by tech.”

Who are Anthesis Group?

The company has a three-step method as a consultancy, using its ‘Activator Approach’. First, it uses its innovative technology to analyse a business’ environmental impact. Anthesis develops insightful diagnostics of business and sustainability issues, builds engagement and identifies opportunities and risks. Through its research, it combines big data, scenario modelling and multi-stakeholder qualitative research to build a solution.

Anthesis often finds that as we move into a greener age, the solution can itself provide many challenges – as most companies have never addressed sustainability before. This is something Anthesis had to overcome to achieve their level of growth. The firm provides ideas on new tools, methods and approaches to daily business to ‘unlock sustainable performance’.

Finally, the firm implements change to hit its environmental targets. He said: “From energy generation to public engagement campaigns, and from programme management through delivery on the ground; where clients need implantation support, our specialist teams help to make plans into reality and results.”

Despite still being a relatively new company, they have grown to have an impressive list of clients. These include Tesco, Gap, Costa Coffee, The North Face, J&J, CaixaBank, Cisco and Unilever.  In the public sector, they work with city and local government administrations in Spain and in the UK, including Defra, BEIS, Greater Manchester Combined Authority, Westminster City Council, London Borough of Southwark and Birmingham City Council, to name a few.

Inspiring change

Despite being only eight years into its business journey, Anthesis has established itself as a leader in its field – but what was the inspiration behind its inception and rapid growth?

Blundell said: “In the early part of the last decade, we could see that sustainability was beginning to go ‘mainstream’ and that many global corporate clients were seeking seamlessly integrated international sustainability specialists. At that time, the market was offering global ‘generalists’ and local niche specialists, and we perceived there was a gap for sustainability specialists with a global footprint.

“Similarly, we recognised that businesses and government administrations needed to embed sustainability throughout all their operations, and to enable that, they require tools. Hence, we embarked on the Anthesis journey with the conscious intent of providing tech-enabling and empowering solutions as part of our portfolio of services.”

Green growth

Many companies in recent years have claimed to be sustainable or leading the discussion on environmentally-friendly alternatives within business circles, but a lot of it has been proven untrue. But as a consultancy focused in this industry, Anthesis have been a driver of change towards a greener future.

How have they achieved this in an ever-growing market? Blundell explains: “Anthesis has grown on a ‘buy and build’ basis. To date, that strategy has resulted in 13 acquisitions, achieving year on year organic growth of 20-30%. Six years in, Anthesis Group consists of over 500 people with legal entities in 14 countries. Turnover is £40m with our client base being 80% private sector and 20% public sector. Here in the UK, we have over 140 people who work from our offices in London, Manchester, Oxford and Bristol.”

The key differentiator that has helped the company’s expansion has been that it has become the industry leader and offers more services than others within the sector.

“The spectrum of Anthesis’ integrated services is quite unique – there is not one competitor that we can be compared to due to the breadth of our offer.  Anthesis also eschews a ‘best athlete’ approach to the delivery of professional support – we ensure that whatever advice or technical support is required, we put the best team of professionals together to deliver the outcome, wherever they are based around the world.”

This approach has led to international expansion – a key driver to exponential expansion of its services across the world.

“We are fortunate to have a number of the founding members of Anthesis who are based internationally – notably North America. With the launch of the company in late 2013, there was a basic need to have ‘boots on the ground’ in the Far East and South East Asia, as well as Europe, in order to support our clients’ extended supply chains and global operations. Through our extended network, we were able to rapidly establish an international profile through team ‘lift-outs’ and small ‘tuck-in’ acquisitions. Within 6 months of launch, Anthesis had established trading operations in the US, The Philippines, China and Germany – as well as the UK.”

Sustainability revolution

It is clear that Anthesis have grown in an industry that is going to become increasingly vital in the business and wider global community in the years ahead.

But, how have they achieved this growth in an increasingly crowded marketplace?

Blundell comments: “Recruit the most talented people you can find in the market and support them to develop their professional careers within your organisation.  We have endeavoured to retain our best talent by offering them opportunities to transition into other professional services teams, work from our overseas locations, and pursue a different career direction as a sector or key client lead etc.  With young talent having the ambition to pursue different career paths, it has never been more important to ensure that their needs can be satisfied within your organisation, as opposed to a competitor’s organisation. Finally, ensure that business culture and purpose is understood by all colleagues, and they can see how their role makes a difference in delivering the impact and change we each crave.”

It is that desire to create a more green-conscious business community that is the cornerstone of the company’s recent expansion. There have been several factors in the last few years which have led to this platform to continue its impressive growth trajectory. However, change at governmental level is still needed to move towards the UK’s net zero targets.

Blundell said: “There has been a significant shift over the last five or so years.  Whilst this year the headlines have been rightly dominated by the global pandemic, there has been a pronounced uptick in interest from the financial services sector in ESG, or environmental social governance.  The Principles of Responsible Investment are now being used by funds and investors at all levels to ensure long term resilience and security.  Whilst legislation is still lagging in many areas of sustainability performance, customer and supply chain pressures are now powerful drivers of change.”

Future trends

Riding the crest of the wave that has been the increasing popularity from business leaders to seek greener alternatives across their own companies – there are innovations and ideas that could help create a better future for all. But what can we expect to see and who are the companies to look out for?

Blundell comments: “Just in the last few months, we have seen dramatic changes in the ambition to transition to a low carbon economy. Some changes we have seen include: the UK’s reduction of the petrol and diesel car ban to 2030, Mitsubishi is no longer taking orders for coalfired power plants, New York State’s pension fund commitment to divest from fossil fuel stocks, and many more. With more Millennial and Generation Z policy and business decision makers taking over the baton in leading corporates and government at all levels, the pace of change will accelerate in the decade to come.”

And where does Blundell see his firm’s role in this future. He concludes: “We have a very open, collaborative and entrepreneurial approach to engaging with the market and each other. Anthesis is well placed to support this transition through building on the firm foundations that we have laid over the last six or so years.”