For conversations on other topics visit the Media section.
11 Jul 2016
5 minutes with… Rachel Bradley
Rachel Bradley is B&Q’s Sustainability Manager. On 26th May 2016 Rachel was recognised at the Guardian Sustainable Business Awards, wining the Unsung Hero category. She was nominated by two of her team, shortlisted by a panel of expert judges and voted the winner by the public. The award recognises someone who has gone beyond the call of duty to drive sustainable change in their organisation. We caught up with her for 5 minutes recently to see how the news was sinking in and, to find out more about her role at B&Q…
Kingfisher (KGF): How did you feel when you heard you had won the award?
Rachel Bradley (RB): It was a real shock. I was completely blown away by the nomination in the first place, so to win was the icing on cake. To be nominated by my team, who I’ve worked with for nearly 11 years, was one of the nicest things that has ever happened to me. The messages I received from friends and colleagues from throughout my career while the voting was open were extremely touching.
KGF: You’re credited with being the “driving force” behind One Planet Home, B&Q’s sustainability strategy – what does that involve?
RB: I’ve been part of the One Planet Home (OPH) strategy from the very beginning, working on the development and its implementation since 2006. We began by partnering with BioRegional and working with our internal team to draw together everything we did in the area of sustainability. B&Q had a long heritage of sustainability but it was very fragmented. The OPH strategy pulled it all together. We signed ourselves up to some strong targets, got them signed off by our leadership team and reinvigorated the programme, realigning it against one target – creating a sustainable planet. We’ve been working on that same programme and journey ever since. It continues to deliver for us today.
KGF: Changing peoples’ mind-sets isn’t easy – how do you do what you do?
RB: We’ve tried lots of different ways, and increasingly I have the view that people are inspired by positive messaging; it’s important to recognise what people are already doing and build on that, celebrating it.
Internally we focus on what is technically possible and trying to get people to have different conversations about sustainability than they might normally have. For example, if you say to a buyer “if we took all the barriers away, how would you do X?”. So we often start at the end goal of a problem – what we ultimately want to achieve – and then work out how to get there.
I see my internal role being about helping people to be a bit more ambitious and innovative in pursuit of our sustainable goals and in helping to unlock anything that might be getting in the way of that.
KGF: What keeps you motivated?
RB: I find the big goal of living within our planetary means very motivating. It’s an inspiring and important goal. Products that make homes more sustainable have come a long way since we embarked on this journey in 2006, and we are now able to measure our innovation progress in this area having introduced stretching targets, robust data collection and rigorous measurement criteria. Likewise the challenges keep changing, which keeps things fresh. I also work with great people, which keeps things interesting and fun, which is just as important as the big goals.
KGF: Who’s is your biggest inspiration?
RB: Sue Riddleston, co-founder of BioRegional who we work with on our OPH plan. It’s a small charity that has done some extraordinary things. Sue is a real doer, someone who’s actually implementing change, not just talking about it.
KGF: What is the single biggest thing that B&Q could do, which it hasn’t yet, which would give it a significant step forward on the sustainability front?
RB: I’d really like to see us getting behind and doing more with renewable power. Our homes as a whole use more energy than any other sector. We have a massive role to play in helping people use less – for example, getting them more in touch with the energy they’re using. Making energy consumption - and how hard it is to create it - more visible could change attitudes, and get people more motivated to do something about it.
Getting more colleagues inspired about what they can do is an area I’d like us to do more in. We already do a lot at B&Q, from simple things like waste separation and switching off office lights at the end of meetings. But I think we should be celebrating it more and embedding it into our culture – be more proud of being great at it. For me that could be really exciting.
KGF: When trying to communicate with customers about sustainability, what works best?
RB: There are a few things we’ve learnt. 1, I think it’s important to recognise the boundaries between where the sustainability team’s role ends and where the communications team’s role begins, playing to those skill sets. For example, in the sustainability team we do the technical bit, then the communications team figures out how to engage the customers with it. 2, it’s got to be positive and demonstrate a real difference. 3, it’s got to be simple. Home improvement is already complex, we want the customer to come away from a purchase feeling great about the fact it is already green or more sustainable – e.g. my amazing new kitchen came from good forests; these new appliances are energy efficient; my new taps are ‘low flow’ and save water.
KGF: How do you get people inspired by often complicated sustainability topics?
RB: There’s often a lot of doom and gloom surrounding sustainability messages, as an example, for me, I found Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth extremely good at creating a feeling of urgency around the issue of climate change but it finished there and gave very limited steer on what you could do. We need to show the positives of doing something. A great example is the Map My Run app. It sends congratulatory emails when you hit a milestone, however small, and I find that these reminders of how much or often how little I have done incredibly motivating – much more so than being criticised. I think there must be something in this kind of approach that we can explore as I think it resonates well.
KGF: What 3 things could you not do without in your role?
RB: First and foremost my team – they’re knowledgeable, resilient, passionate and fun. Secondly, people choosing to go beyond what they do. All that we’ve achieved so far with OPH is through people wanting to do something better – whether that’s in my team, or our commercial and buying teams. We wouldn’t have removed polystyrene and peat from bedding plants or developed the perfect for pollinators range if the seasonal team hadn’t committed to changing the record instead of just making small changes. Finally, support from the company’s leadership is vital. It has to be aligned at the top so that those tasked with making it happen feel they have the freedom to do so.
KGF: What’s next?
RB: We’ve just launched a fantastic partnership with Butterfly Conservation. We’re encouraging customers to plant butterfly and pollinator-friendly plants in their gardens and also to help record the butterflies they see in their gardens throughout the year as part of the Garden Butterfly Survey.
It’s about getting people out gardening, getting them inspired by nature and the difference they can make whether they have a balcony, a driveway, or a big back garden. The beauty of gardening is you can very quickly see the impact you’re having. I like to think it’s a doorway into the world of caring about the planet and getting curious.
KGF: What advice would you give someone starting out in their sustainability career?
RB: If you’re doing it in a commercial organisation, it’s important to understand the long game, pick your battles, be patient and resilient to change. A sustainable business has to be commercially viable too, so sometimes there will be compromises.
For Kingfisher that long game is helping people to improve their homes. Our homes are so important to us, and individual actions can add up to so much, so what we can do in the area of sustainability is bigger than people might expect.
Sustainability is a really exciting field of work, but be prepared for quite stark changes of pace – some initiatives will fly through, while others will take more time.