SME and Business

New app from Virgin Money helps businesses improve their sustainability

  • Virgin Money Sustainable Business Coach provides an objective assessment of a business’ ESG impacts, with guidance on how to improve
  • Free app is available to all UK businesses, not just Virgin Money customers
  • App was developed in partnership with fintech Life Moments and not-for-profit Future-Fit Foundation
  • Launch coincides with one of the first Sustainability-Linked Loans being agreed with Smart Metering Systems

Virgin Money has launched a free new app designed to help businesses be more sustainable by measuring, tracking and offering guidance on improving their Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) credentials.

Through its partnership with Future-Fit Foundation, a non-profit organisation whose mission is to help the transition to a society that is environmentally, socially and economically fair, the Sustainable Business Coach will help UK businesses manage their sustainability goals. Virgin Money is also offering Sustainability-Linked Loans to businesses who meet the eligibility criteria generated by the outputs from the tool.

The tool identifies the high-priority goals a business should consider and provides an objective assessment of the positive and negative ESG impacts of its activities. As well as giving a score and actionable guidance, it has been designed to be updated periodically, encouraging businesses to track their progress over time. With growing requirements for companies to report on their environmental and social impact, this tool, which can be downloaded from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, is an easy first step to help any business of any size to get started, and track and demonstrate their progress.

Once completed, if eligible, businesses can apply for a Sustainability-Linked Loan, which reduces the cost of finance for companies whose core activities enable consumers and other businesses to operate in a more economically and environmentally sustainable way. Virgin Money is the first bank in Europe to offer such loans in commercial banking using an objective science-based methodology. For customers borrowing at least £250,000, with a sufficiently strong ESG assessment, the lending has no arrangement fee.

Smart Metering Systems is one of the first UK businesses to have a Sustainability-Linked Loan agreed. Installing, owning, operating and maintaining metering assets on behalf of the UK's energy companies, the finance is part of a revolving credit facility across a six-bank club. This will allow Smart Metering Systems to fully fund the installation of another 2.75million meters and invest in new carbon reduction assets, including grid-scale battery storage technology.

More details can be found below alongside examples of businesses who have already used the Sustainable Business Coach.

Graeme Sands, Interim Head of Business Banking, at Virgin Money, said: “We are committed to working with businesses to help them grow and thrive, and one area where many need support is on their ESG strategy. Businesses recognise the importance of sustainability to their long-term success but many, especially smaller firms, can face challenges getting started, setting targets and making positive progress.

“We designed the Sustainable Business Coach to help businesses with this process, giving them the information and guidance they need to operate more sustainably. It can be completed periodically, so becomes an effective benchmark to track progress over time. We have made the app available to any UK business, not just our customers, as work in the ESG space should be about collaboration and sharing best practice – we must all play our part in becoming more sustainable.”

Martin Rich, Co-Founder & Executive Director, Future-Fit Foundation, said: “Every business must play its part to create a future in which people and planet can thrive. We are pleased to be partnering with a bank which is using its balance sheet to encourage its customers to start on that journey, and providing practical, tailored guidance in the form of the Virgin Money Sustainable Business Coach.”

To help create this app, Virgin Money engaged fintech data expert company, Life Moments, a leading provider of platforms and tools to improve customer experience and generate data insight. Virgin Money and Life Moments have worked together since early 2020, initially developing and launching the bank’s Home Buying Coach app, which is designed to simplify the home purchase process and help first time buyers on to the property ladder.

Ben Leonard, Co-Founder & CEO of Life Moments, said: “This was an exciting opportunity to apply our platform technology to help businesses embed sustainability into their business models. As a Profit and Purpose firm ourselves, working with Virgin Money and Future-Fit Foundation on this exciting project ticked all the right boxes.”

This support tool comes at a pivotal time as businesses assess their ESG efforts to support net zero goals. Results from a recent United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report highlighted that global emissions need to be halved and targets met in the next decade to stop temperatures rising above critical levels.

Research* by Virgin Money also highlights that becoming more sustainable is important to the majority (85%) of UK SMEs, but less than half (43%) of SMEs are managing to implement clear ESG targets. The Virgin Money Sustainable Business Coach aims to help SMEs overcome this challenge, and the app is available to any UK business, not just customers of Virgin Money.

As part of its ESG strategy, Virgin Money has also committed that 5% of all its business loans will be to firms driving environmental and social change by September 2022, as judged by the tool.


* Survey conducted by Censuswide: SMEs – 1,006 respondents who are senior decision makers in SMEs, survey conducted in Q4 2020.

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Smart Metering Systems

With over 25 years’ experience in the energy industry, Smart Metering Systems provides a range of energy and carbon reduction solutions to organisations in the UK’s most emission-intensive sectors, including transport, energy supply, business, industrial processes and residential. It delivers a range of solutions get

Gavin Urwin, Chief Financial Officer, at Smart Metering Systems, said: “We’re committed to being a fully net zero company by 2030, which is an ambitious target, and the revised debt package will us to fund our growth plans. We also want to work with organisations who are doing their part in being more sustainable. and Virgin Money’s Sustainability-Linked Loans as is a testament of such commitment.”


Case studies of SMEs who have used the Sustainable Business Coach


Organic Sea Harvest

Organic Sea Harvest (OSH) is the first independent UK start-up salmon fish farm in 30 years and aims to become the leading organic salmon farmer in the world. The company, a customer of Virgin Money, is committed to being sustainable and believes it’s vital that it supports the local community it operates in.

Ove Thu, Chief Executive Officer of OSH, said: “We feel we have made lots of progressive steps towards being a more sustainable business. So, for us, completing the Sustainable Business Coach was an interesting and worthwhile exercise as we wanted to see if our approach was as effective as we thought it was.

“We performed incredibly strongly, which is heartening given we pride ourselves on pioneering sustainability. It has helped identify high-priority issues for our business to focus on and we can start to consider these as we move forward. It’s really valuable to have this kind of insight created from a credible third party in Future-Fit.”


Wastewise

Wastewise specialises in the collection and management of waste. Working across the public and private sector, more than 200,000 tonnes of waste pass through its facilities every year. Conscious of environmental and social responsibilities, as well as helping to reduce greenhouse gas emission, the business turns household kitchen waste into product for horticultural and agriculture sectors.

Steve Wardell, Finance Director at Wastewise, said: “Due to the importance we place on sustainability, I was expecting the business to score quite highly and was genuinely surprised when we fell short of the mark. What the Sustainable Business Coach demonstrated was that while we’re moving in the right direction, there is still a long way to go.

“I found the process to be both interesting, thought provoking and improved my understanding of what sustainability is and where to focus our efforts. Our intention is to periodically complete the tool to benchmark against previous performance, focussing on continual improvement.”


Greenzone

Greenzone is committed to improving its sustainability performance and the team recently completed the Sustainable Business Coach. It came at the right time for the business as it continues to shape the right culture within its business. The results identified some areas that could be worked on and the team will be taking that feedback on board as they continue to move forward following the restructure.

Louise Taggart, Managing Director at Greenzone, said: “We have completed the Sustainable Business Coach and while we are pleased with the results, it was very thought provoking and is very timely. I am very keen to improve our sustainability performance going forward - not only will this have a more positive impact on our people, stakeholders and environment, it will be commercially advantageous and shape the right culture.”