The role of business in supporting future generations
It’s been 20 years since Cynnal Cymru began working on the sustainable development agenda for Wales, building consensus and catalysing change with government, businesses and individuals. From convening Wales’s first National Conversation on the ‘Wales We Want’ to providing one-to-one support to public bodies and enterprise, we played a major part in the ascent of the Well-being of Future Generations Act and continue to dedicate our efforts to making sustainability part of the everyday vocabulary.
In February 2023, Cynnal Cymru was delighted to join a project funded by the SMART Innovation team at the Welsh Government and led by Office of the Future Generations Commissioner to review a Future-Proofing toolkit aimed at the private sector.
What is the Well-being of Future Generations Act and why does it matter to business?
The Act, passed in 2015, is one-of-a-kind legislation as it places a legal duty on the 44 public bodies in Wales to think about the long-term impact of their decisions, to work better with people, communities and each other, and to work to prevent persistent problems such as poverty, health inequalities and climate change from occurring, rather than just dealing with their consequences. The Act is unique to Wales, attracting interest from countries across the world as it offers a huge opportunity to make a long-lasting, positive change for current and future generations.
Although the Act does not apply to the private sector, here in Wales large organisations such as Welsh Water began to align themselves with its overall purpose of improving Wales’s well-being in the broadest sense. They saw the Act as a framework for talking about sustainability to stakeholders and wanted to show the public sector how they too can contribute to the seven Well-being Goals that the Act sets out. After all, the private sector supplies goods and services to the public sector, so it is important to demonstrate shared values. Moreover, given that the Act reflects the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), businesses in Wales, who have been working on the SDGs, understand the Act’s relevance.
Can the Act be a guide for all businesses?
Last year we got a chance to explore this much further. In partnership with the Office of the Future Generations Commissioner we held a series of interviews with large organisations with a presence in Wales, as well as business networks who said that being able to “speak” the language of the Act would be of value to the private sector. However, in the absence of a readily available, comprehensive, and peer-reviewed guide to the Act and a framework to align with, businesses turn instead to global frameworks and the SDGs, which are more familiar to the private sector. The link between the SDGs and the Act in Wales is therefore missed.
On the back of this research, we suggested a framework for businesses to help them start making sense of the Act, which we are now trialling with larger companies. As further research we also ran a workshop with board members of Hafren Dyfrydwy (a subsidiary of Severn Trent Water) to help them realise how to contribute to the Act’s Goals.
Future-proofing smaller businesses
While our research addressed the challenge that large businesses face, we felt that there was also an opportunity to engage smaller organisations with fewer staff and resources.
Over the last two decades, we have noticed that small-profit and not-for-profit businesses want to contribute to sustainability but lack time, people, knowledge and money to take action. They want to sustain their operations and provide employment opportunities without causing damage to the environment, communities and economy for years to come. But they feel overwhelmed by the information about sustainability and confused when this is often presented as a ‘nice to have’ rather than a ‘must-have’ like HR, health and safety or finance. They are in need of clear advice and want to talk to someone with an understanding of their challenges. We also often hear that businesses want a one-stop shop where they can read and enquire about sustainability and find solutions that are relevant to their size or sector. And because most business owners feel that they are on their own, being part of a community is important to them too.
This is why we were excited to join Matt Appleby, Annabel Lloyd and Jonathan Tench in a project commissioned by Business Wales in conjunction with the Office of the Future Generations Commissioner to review the existing Future-Proofing toolkit and expand it to make it more relevant and helpful to SMEs.
The toolkit aims to support businesses to play their part in Wales’s journey to the Act’s seven Well-being Goals. It is free of charge, available in the public domain and most importantly, is written from the perspective of businesses and their sustainability priorities.
We recognise, however, that to increase its relevance and effectiveness, the toolkit can be enhanced with more tools, examples and case studies to help businesses future-proof their operations. This is the next stage of our work and we are excited to use the knowledge and insights we have gained from working with our members and others to inform this.
We hope the toolkit will act as a guide to sustainable development as described in the Act, and as a hub of knowledge for businesses seeking ideas and solutions.
Can you help test this toolkit to meet business needs?
If you are an SME and you’d like to help test this toolkit, please get in contact.