Spotlight Series: Q&A with Co-Founder of Impactful, Rima Patel

We spoke to Rima about her journey from corporate consultancy to establishing impact strategy agency – Impactful.

What is your ethnic and professional background?

I’m second generation gujarati, hindu, born in London. I started my career at PwC, in a client facing audit role. Looking back, I walked blindly into that role in many ways, not thinking particularly hard about what I wanted to do. I decided I wanted to be in a more people focused role and moved internally to the Learning and Development team, designing leadership training for the firm’s staff.


I left the corporate world after 4.5yrs and moved into startups, working for Escape the City and then Remote Year in community management and operational roles, which I loved and found suited how I like to work. But, in 2018 I found myself looking for a more purposeful career and really wanting to learn how to create effective positive change, so I joined the social innovation and entrepreneurship fellowship Year Here which is where I met my co-founders and we developed the idea for Impactful.

What is Impactful and how did it come about? 

We’re an impact strategy agency. We support businesses to come up with sustainable ideas to increase their positive social and environmental impact, through a process of systemic design. 

On Year Here, me and my soon to be co-founders worked on a consulting brief to support a commercial business to think about how they could put their purpose as a business on par with their profit. 

We immediately saw the potential of supporting businesses and realised that the impact and innovation skills we’d developed on Year Here were really valuable in taking businesses on that journey in an inclusive and ambitious way. 

What are your main values and aims as an organisation?

Our approach is based on four key ideas:

Life-centered design – using systems design frameworks and processes to create ideas which are good for people, planet and the business.

Holistic impact – looking at both social and environmental impact, as the two are inextricably interconnected.

Commercial alignment – developing strategies that work with business priorities, so that they are truly sustainable and not tokenistic.Bespoke strategies – partnering with organisations to develop strategies that fit their organisation, as there is no one-size-fits-all way to have more positive impact.

What inspired you to act as a catalyst for sustainable, ethical practice?

I love solving problems and trying to make things better. When I joined Year Here, I was looking for a way to channel that energy into a specific idea or venture and Impactful became such a brilliant vehicle for that. 

I really believe that business has huge potential to be a force for good in the world and to catalyse change – it feels like the potential is so huge. Both because many of our biggest challenges have been caused by business in the first place, but also because really ambitious, effective businesses are also great problem solving machines.

Being South Asian, did you face any backlash about this career choice from family, friends or society at large? How did you overcome it? 

I think in general my family aren’t too sure what I do. They are broadly supportive thankfully, but it’s really hard to engage and share the passion and excitement for what I’m working on as often, it takes a lot of careful explanation to help them understand. 

I also still get a lot of throwaway comments about going back into accounting and probing questions about how I’m doing financially, as I suppose in many ways they don’t consider what I’m doing to be sustainable and/or stable for my future. I think those kinds of comments can chip away at my confidence, making me doubt if what I’m doing is actually the right thing or actually pretty reckless! 

Overcoming that, I generally end up being conscious and careful around money, making sure I’m able to live independently, taking part time work, so that I don’t find myself in a tight spot. 

Mostly I just try to take the time to explain what I’m doing and why. I think my mum gets it now and is pretty excited for us, even proactively remembering and asking about projects we’re working on which feels like progress! 

How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable?

I do what I can at home, recycling, composting, keeping meat down to a minimum. I don’t have a car and use public transport to get around. Though, I recognise that this is a privileged position to be in in many ways, as I can work from home and live in a big city with good infrastructure, which isn’t true for everyone. 

What I’d love to do more of and have started recently, is connect more with the local community. I’ve loved exploring my neighbourhood’s green spaces, I joined my local litter picking society and am currently doing a course in horticulture at my local council’s adult learning centre. It’s been a great way to reconnect with nature, meet people in my local community and get my hands dirty with the small actions that create change, quite literally with the horticulture course!

Do you feel there is a stigma or lack of understanding of the climate crisis amongst South Asian communities? What do you believe the blockers to be and how would you go about solving the issues?

It’s interesting because I find that South Asian communities in many ways have a natural tendency to green practices. My mum doesn’t throw anything away (to a fault! See cupboard stuff with tupperware…), we were always conscious of not wasting food and looking after our possessions, fixing and making do rather than buying new things. 

I think perhaps they don’t recognise the modern language and way of talking about environmental challenges. The conversation isn’t by them or for them and so that lack of inclusion creates a lack of awareness. 

I think finding those positive stories of people in the community who are already doing great work (in many ways what you’re creating here) and championing them is one way to encourage action.

Something we also talk a lot about with businesses is making it less about telling people off for what they are/aren’t doing and more about making it easier and even more enjoyable to do the right thing. How do we make it really easy for people to change habits and create incentives where by living more sustainably is better for the individual and community, rewarding positive behaviour. I think that’s how you can create change that really sticks.

What have been your greatest successes and learnings? 

We published our Impactful Business Playbook earlier this year which I’m really proud of. It was a six month labour of love but we’re so happy with how it turned out and the feedback we’ve received has been really positive. 

That process taught us so much. In particular, it’s really hard but so, so important to make what we’re trying to do accessible and actionable. We felt strongly that the impact resources out there that we came across were super complex and a bit overwhelming, not giving people within businesses an easy way to start and to know what good looks like. So a big focus of our work is actually just education, demystifying and simplifying impact and what that looks like for a business.

What are the biggest challenges being faced in your industry when it comes to ESG? 

I think the biggest challenge is getting people to think of impact as essential/critical to success. We’re so used to traditional success metrics like revenue, growth, attention, that it’s so hard to remind ourselves that actually there are so many other equally important success metrics. 

People’s wellbeing and fulfillment and the sustainability and restoration of the natural environment are so fundamental to our survival and joy as people, but so often neglected. 

What’s exciting is that the business case is actually really clear. Investing in your impact is good for business. Just the other week I read from the CHRO of Unilever, Leena Nair (also a brilliant South Asian woman!): 

“Human capital is as important as financial capital. Our attrition rate in all the countries that we operate is half of that of the national average. And 76% of the graduates who apply to us say that they believe that Unilever is a force for good and stands for goodness in the world, and that has led to my recruitment costs in the last seven years falling by 90%. Putting human resources at the top table has real business benefits.”

Leena Nair

Has any one sector or company got it ‘right’ so far?

So many amazing businesses are making huge progress and not waiting for external pushes. Everyone from Bloom & Wild to Brewdog to the amazing ventures coming out of Year Here like Supply Change and Pivot

I do think that systemic/sector wide change is still yet to come. Momentum is building but we’ve not quite reached the tipping point, where it becomes mainstream and it makes more sense for a business to act now rather than get left behind.

What career advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment? Why is it important for them and their future? 

Everything you do has an impact. Start where you are, with what you have. You can start at home or in your workplace or in your community. You don’t need permission to take action. 

We need people in every place and every industry, in every role advocating for more sustainable, regenerative practices. 

I’d also say find your people. If you care about the environment but people in your circles don’t as much, reach out to others and offer your support or ask for help. People in this space are generally super friendly and generous with their resources if they can be. 

We are the generation that has the power to reverse the most damaging effects of climate change.

In many ways we are creating the future that we ourselves will have to live in so there is both a personal and collective incentive to do your bit.

Can you share one life story which has deeply impacted you?

What’s recently had the most profound impact on me and how I think about what I do, is my little nephew being born. His arrival has renewed and refocused my energy and commitment to designing a better world for him. He is a living symbol of the future generations, reminding me to leave the world a better place than I found it. 

I imagine the world that I want him to grow up in. It gives me a long term perspective and a lens through which to prioritise what I do today. What am I doing now that will create a safe, regenerative, just, joyful world for him and all the people coming into this world today? 

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Sometimes I find it hard to make the big concepts of sustainability practical and personal. My favourite quote that grounds me in what I can do is from Charles Eisenstein:

‘‘Don’t: “Save the planet”. Instead: “Find something you love, and take care of it.”

That to me sums up what, in my best moments, I strive to do. For myself, in my relationships and in my work. 

Thank you so much for inviting me to be a part of this wonderful community. I’d love to connect with anyone in this space and organisations looking for support with their impact, please reach out at hello@impactful.world

Find Rima on LinkedIn and Twitter, Website

Spotlight Series: Tia Kansara, Director of Replenish Earth

We feature Tia, award-winning entrepreneur, moderator, lecturer, author and founder of the first ISO quality controlled sustainable lifestyle consultancy, Replenish Earth.

Replenish Earth

Replenish Earth (RE) is focused on ecosystem restoration and has a multidisciplinary approach to creating a positive impact on earth including and not limited to education, eco-therapy (physical and virtual), eco-products, eco-futurism. The vision is to work passionately every day on projects which cultivate a deeper connection with our planet, create beautiful and exquisite experiences to ultimately inspire people to save it. An ecosystem where everyone understands their responsibilities and the governing principles of the global commons. Where living in harmony with nature is an everyday routine and where everyone is excited to wake up to a new day because of the exciting world that people create together.

Innovation

Replenish Earth runs on a kind business model whose core lies in replenishing the earth. It believes in taking preventive measures that are in the best interest of our environment. The environmental advisory firm takes pride in the eco-alignment of the services that it extends to its clients. Their innovation stems from the thought process of the Chief Executing Officer, Tia Kansara whose tryst with the environment started long ago in her childhood. Having realised the crucial role that the environment plays as the primary provider for all business needs, it became of utmost importance for her to re-integrate its role into our existing economic models. 

In today’s world where sustainability is used as a buzzword and enacted upon for the sake of formality, Replenish Earth is trying to build a foundation for a better future. It is provoking thoughtfulness in corporations and other such organisations, guiding them in the right direction, towards more aware business practices that care about giving back to their environmental sources. What makes this organization more special is that apart from its core business area of environmental consultancy, Replenish Earth aims to innovate the mindsets, lifestyles, and consumption patterns of each one of us in lieu of protecting our dear planet Earth.

Inspiration

“Replenish Earth is the philosophy of living in harmony with nature; it is a cause and a collective action to protect the global commons – the natural resources we all share.” People tend to live in their own realities which they believe are true to them. But people need to go beyond their truth to have empathy for each other. This will help us appreciate the fact that transformation is in the hands of the people and in their daily lives, where the smallest of actions have a big impact and thus help in replenishing the earth. 

“I feel Replenish Earth started in my childhood, with the litter busting we did at school, to keep Britain tidy, a campaign the government ran to encourage the clearing-up of our streets and common places that were littered. It started with my mother, born and raised in a village in India, who taught us to recycle before the word became known, using all items beyond their first use and reincarnating them into incredible forms. It started with my father switching the TV from cartoons to David Attenborough’s nature programs. A highpoint for me was when I realised, this has been a cause I’ve championed since I can remember.” These words by Tia Kansara, the CEO, highlight the initial inspiration for the company. 

Replenish Earth is based on a movement that is about giving back more than we take from planet earth. 

Replenish Earth follows ISO 14001 guidelines and champions B-Corps. The Replenish ecosystem is founded on the principles of the World Replenish Index, a marketplace that believes in including all aspects of waste into GDP to 100% compostable products to have better accountability on their environmental impact. Replenish Earth investigates the impact of waste disposal habits beyond national borders and positively reinforces behaviours and businesses that are aligned with this.

Overall impact

Replenish supports and facilitates environmental, social businesses and invests towards a green, circular economy. Net positive is naturally amongst their themes of Replenishment, as are Green Impact Investment and infrastructure that is in harmony with nature. The projects that are being handled by RE have created a huge positive impact on society, corporate, and the environment. RE has been involved in advising the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development Bio Trade initiative for 3 years exploring how the largest and most prestigious fashion houses, like Prada, Burberry, Gucci, Ermenegildo Zegna could lead the transformation of their industry and replenish the earth. 

‘Who does the sea belong to?’  -an exhibition that was created by RE in collaboration with NID, Mudita Pasari has had over a million students visiting and learning about ocean protection, and climate action. Thus, they pioneer citizen awareness on their responsibilities towards nature. The impact they are able to create is primarily due to how purpose-driven each employee at Replenish Earth is. As Mr. Bhavyajeet Singh Gehlot, mentions, “During my initial few weeks while talking with Tia, I realised how hollow the world has become towards our planet and how important a cause like Replenish Earth is. This realization fundamentally changed me as a person, and I now realise the importance of creating the Replenish Earth experience for the future.” 

Business benefit

Replenish Earth has advised more than 120 businesses and 90 governments on their strategies to transition away from fossil fuels, designing business models and products with a net positive impact on the environment. The company also organises Courses, Speaker Series, Art Installations & Exhibitions, Urban Development Projects, Research Retreats, and its own Replenish Festival about Event Management and Design in VR. 

Tia, the CEO says, “Our business model is an end-to-end replenishing the earth, as a forethought, not an afterthought”. This differentiates the brand and helps create a competitive advantage which opens up an entirely new market of organisations who are looking to adopt preventative sustainability. This ensures the longevity of Replenish Earth. 

Replenish Earth has worked with high-profile clients like Coca-Cola, Bloomberg, and the European Commission. CEO Tia recalls an experience at the Replenish Earth Smart Cities at CEPT University, where they were recognised for their contribution by the Prime Minister of Bhutan and invited to sit with Parliament. Replenish Earth has repeatedly been featured among lists of successful eco-businesses.

Social and Environmental benefit

Replenish Earth has looked into strategies to transition away from fossil fuels, designing business models and products with a positive impact on the environment for many companies. The overall impact has been very large. The company believes that “a solution that is touted without a consistent product and a reliable maintenance plan is one that will always be short-lived”. This is not just a country-specific issue. They believe that this is a global matter. 

It is important that companies think about switching to renewables so that they make changes in the infrastructure to make it viable for all users. An issue such as climate action requires a lot of conversation. A lot of people aren’t aware of the peril we are in and even if they do, do not see its urgency. Therefore, one of the biggest achievements of Replenish comes from the conversations they’ve initiated. They’ve spread awareness around these issues in very unique ways, online and offline. Talks such as “a day in the life of a piece of crap” have initiated conversations on exploring the psychology of waste and what it tells us about ourselves, and where we think it’s ok to hide our waste. 

A few other initiatives such as Space-Waste which is focused on urban cities, policies, and physical spaces. They came up with initiatives like Plastic Resource and Designer Products wherein people tried to change the output from waste resources through simple and practical methods individually or in communities. 

Replenish Earth is working and will continue to work passionately until each individual and each business is encouraged to emerge beyond shortsightedness and be fully responsible for their actions on the planet, and not hide behind increasingly tall landfills and other externalities that we are taught will look good as GDP.

Find out more here: https://aim2flourish.com/innovations/towards-a-better-future-with-replenish-earth 

Spotlight Series: Q&A with ESG Research Analyst, Visvesh Sridharan

We caught up with Visvesh, Chemical Engineer turned Environmental Social Governance (ESG) Research Analyst, working in impact investing with Sustainalytics

What is your ethnic, academic and professional background?

I am an engineer turned sustainability professional currently working as an ESG (Sustainable Investing) analyst for Sustainalytics in Frankfurt. I grew up in Chennai, a large metropolitan city in south India and completed my undergraduate degree in chemical engineering before moving to the US to do my masters in environmental sustainability.

What inspired you to act as a catalyst for sustainable practice? Is there a particular story you can share?

It has been a combination of different experiences and moments. I have always enjoyed spending time outdoors in nature and this was probably my starting point towards getting into sustainability. Growing up in India, I was able to witness first-hand the environmental costs and repercussions of human development. My degree in chemical engineering also helped me realise the amount of pollution that comes with industrial growth. Eventually, it was about finding an avenue to make an impact and for me that was sustainable finance.

Can you tell me about your career so far and work with Sustainalytics? What inspired you to take this role on despite studying Engineering?

My role with Sustainalytics is to analyse and rate publicly listed companies based on their sustainability performance. It involves engaging with companies to understand how they consider environmental and social metrics and integrate it into their business models. The other part involves helping the investment management community make better long-term investment decisions by providing them with relevant non-financial data that can have financial impacts on the companies that they invest in. 

I got inspired by the fact that my research and analysis can have an impact on how money is being used by investors.

The idea behind sustainable investing of how you can use money as a force for good attracted me to this field. By convincing investors that climate change and other non-financial factors can affect their returns, you are indirectly influencing corporations to act responsibly and ethically.

This top-down approach to implementing sustainability coupled with the fact that you are influencing those who have large capital to manage got me hooked to this industry. 

What have been your biggest successes and learnings to date?

I strongly believe that the only constant is change and one should learn to embrace it. Life is unpredictable and to never take anything or anyone for granted. Kindness and empathy can go a long way in understanding and convincing people. My biggest success for now is being able to work in a field that I enjoy and being able to help those who are looking to get into this space. 

Being South Asian, did you face any backlash from family, friends or society at large for choosing to work in sustainability? Has it been challenging?

Sustainability was a new and upcoming field and there were concerns from family members as to what kind of career I could have in this space. I also had friends jokingly tease me about my intentions to save the planet. But I am thankful to my parents for giving me the freedom to do what I liked and believing in my vision.

It was challenging to find jobs in sustainable finance as I had no prior experience in finance apart from some academic coursework. Although my graduate degree was focused in Sustainability and Impact investing, preference was still given to those with a finance background. However, nowadays I see that trend changing with consideration given to those who have knowledge or expertise in sustainability as well.

How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable?

I think living in Europe makes it a lot easier to be more sustainable. Recycling is followed quite diligently. Public transportation is pretty good and locally I travel by cycle to work. Some of the long-distance trains here are powered by renewable electricity. Most of the grocery items in Germany are sustainably sourced and have certification labels that meet minimum environmental and quality standards. From a personal standpoint, I like living a lifestyle that is minimalistic and free from too many material possessions. I have also been trying to invest my savings in sustainable funds and companies. 

Do you feel there is a stigma or lack of understanding of the climate crisis among South Asian communities? What do you believe the blockers to be and how would you go about solving the issues?

I think people in South Asian communities are well aware of the climate crisis, partly because of the several extreme weather events that have affected daily life in those regions. Some of the South Asian countries are still growing at a rapid pace and the key focus should be about sustainable development and adopting a long-term approach. Aligning growth, based on the sustainable development goals and implementing policies aimed at climate change adaptation should be the norm.

I still believe that tackling some of the fundamental issues facing humanity such as poverty, water scarcity and women empowerment will significantly help in solving the climate crisis.

Being carbon conscious on a practical day-to-day basis can be quite costly (e.g. vegan/organic food supplies, general supplies/toiletries, electric cars etc). How can people easily and cost effectively make a difference? Do you think being sustainable is accessible to everyone?

I think there are different ways to be carbon conscious depending on a person’s lifestyle and way of life. Some of the cost-effective ways to be sustainable include minimizing food waste, recycling and composting based on local disposal guidelines, and purchasing products that are designed to last long.

If your local city has a good public transport network, try to use them as much as possible to commute. Changing one’s diet to reduce carbon footprint can be hard and it’s a personal choice. However, one can take efforts to buy free range meat or farm meat instead of factory grown processed meat.

There is this misconception that practicing a sustainable lifestyle is expensive, but it’s the simple things like minimizing water consumption, walking or biking to nearby places and reducing impulsive buying that also largely makeup sustainable living.

What advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment? 

Future generations will be facing the implications of climate change in ways the older generations never had.

However, history has shown us that when humanity is slowly pushed to the brink, it comes up with some of the most innovative and uplifting solutions to not just survive but thrive.

Climate change and sustainability is the biggest challenge of the 21st century and I am hopeful of our ability to tackle this issue. I encourage the younger generations to be aware of the big picture and try to understand how every little action contributes to something large. To try to cultivate long-term thinking and not for short-term gains. 

Can you share one life story which has deeply impacted you?

It is a small incident during my mom’s college years. She was preparing for an important exam during which her father had a life-threatening road accident and an emergency operation was required. As she was in medical school, the surgeon performing the operation requested her to participate in the operation procedure and was scheduled to take place a day before the exam. The surgery was successful, and my mother also ended up clearing the exam. I was just amazed and inspired at the level of composure, mental strength and determination to get through that phase.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I generally like to meet new people and listen to their stories and experiences. My communication channels are always open, and I will be glad to help those who are trying to understand ESG and sustainable finance.

Connect with Visvesh on LinkedIn