PCR’s July/August Big Interview with QBS’ Dave Stevinson on sustainability

Dave Stevinson, owner and CEO of QBS Software places sustainability and corporate social responsibility high on his business agenda. Here Michelle Winny, PCR’s editor talks to Stevinson about both his personal and professional views on sustainability and how the channel’s need to play it’s role to become carbon neutral.

What are your personal views towards sustainability?
I am proactively learning more all the time about sustainability, and it is increasingly becoming a critical part of our family life. I try very much to follow the “Less is More” mantra from Jason Hickel. However, it is not always possible with a large family, historic bad habits and tight deadlines. We all moved some time ago to a predominantly plant-based diet, with planned reductions to our air travel too. As a family we are privileged to be able to make decisions where sustainability can play the lead. We now consider the carbon cost as well as the fiscal cost as a prime dimension in our decision-making.

How do you integrate this into running your business?
From the very conception of the business, sustainability and purpose were added to the QBS strategic agenda – I believe that these two issues are important differentiators and predict that they will eventually become a sine qua non for market participation. We have put ESG at the core of our business and hardcoded it into our purpose, vision and even the ‘articles of association’. We continually ask ourselves two critical questions: “What will be our material positive impact on society and environment?” and “How do we implement this policy through the group?” To aid on execution, we have two staff dedicated entirely to ESG, with a sustainability officer and also an iNED on the group board.

Why is sustainability and CSR so important to you?
I have long held the impression that an ESG rating will eventually become as important as the credit rating; In the previous question I talked about the sine qua non aspect of sustainability. I also care passionately about people and have geared QBS around the mantra of “Where great people work together”. Thus, with this vision – coupled with my personal beliefs – it is totally apparent that CSR and sustainability are of such importance to me.

What negative impact does the channel have on the environment and how can the industry look to reduce its carbon footprint?
The channel has a very realistic opportunity to lead from the front, and carbon footprint reduction is such an obvious way forward. I am pleased to say that rather than paying ‘lip service’ to the climate emergency, QBS has been one of the pioneers in moving to externally-verified net zero carbon as a core part of our sustainability narrative, and I am pleased to confirm that QBS will be net zero carbon by July 2021. This is the result of four years’ hard work, so our team are cognisant of the challenges faced and are happy to share our learnings with any company in the channel to help them steadily reduce their own operations and also those of their partner, vendor and employee ecosystem.

What sustainability initiatives is QBS currently involved in?
Though there are many – and throughout the interview I will constantly refer to these initiatives – one I want to highlight is how closely we are working with PlanetMark to meet 9 of the United Nation Sustainability Goals, but what I am most pleased about is delivering on the QBS Climate Change Narrative which supports people, planet and profit through software delivery. Our stated purpose is “to create sustainable long-term stakeholder value”, and these 6 words clearly articulate that sustainability is key to QBS’ current and future existence. Sustainability focuses on meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. The concept of sustainability is composed of three pillars: economic, environmental, and social – also known informally as profits, planet, and people.

How does QBS look to encourage its partners to adopt a more sustainable working ethic?
Most importantly we are trying to bring the entire industry with us on this journey. We have invested in dedicated staff, specific budgets and carbon literacy training for our employees, customers and publishers. We also believe that this decision actually demonstrates significant benefits to our business: cost and efficiency savings through reduced energy usage, compliance to anticipated future legislation, improved stakeholder management, and compliance with the most rigorous tender and pre-tender qualification questions. Above all, it increases transparency for our stakeholders and demonstrates our core values of responsibility and good governance. On World Earth Day, this April 2021, in my capacity as QBS Group CEO I formally signed our official ‘Pledge to Net Zero’ in conjunction with IEMA/SocEnv/EIC/WSP/AECOM. This was to publicly make our commitment visible and inspire others to follow our lead. Even this interview is here to encourage others in the channel to adopt a more sustainable working ethic.

What plans for the future does QBS has in regards to driving sustainability forward?
Despite our modest size and perceived low environmental impact, we are not aware of anyone else in our industry that is taking action with the clarity of vision and speed of execution that we are. We are investigating the feasibility of becoming a certified B Corp and then aiming to achieve over 100 points (25% more than the baseline assessment). This is a very complex and lengthy process for an international company like ours, but it ties in with the company values and also those of my own. We undertake clear and concise actions, demonstrating environmental integrity with clear documentation and commitments.

We will correct, prevent and repay. Thus, eradicating our entire company’s historical carbon footprint by 2025.

The route to the decarbonisation of QBS is a long and winding one, blending carbon avoidance and removal.

What message can you offer channel partners to adopt a more sustainable working ethic?
Become a B Corp. In the meantime, be authentic and avoid ‘greenwashing’ (a term that describes an exaggeration of sustainability claims). Voluntarily comply and publicly disclose your carbon footprint and progress on your energy use and carbon emissions reduction in compliance with SECR in your annual accounts. Regulation is coming and companies will have to start disclosing sustainability metrics, similarly to financial reporting. The taxonomy is expected to be used as a tool to cut down on ‘greenwashing’. Meet as many of the UN SDG that you can, and finally, please read Less is More by Jason Hickel.

In your opinion where is the greatest shortfall or areas that need addressing most in regards to sustainability within the channel?
This is my opinion only. The greatest shortfall is that most channel organisations do not even know their current carbon footprint, do not even have a CFMP (Carbon Footprint Management Plan), do not know how carbon neutrality will be achieved or have not successfully implemented decarbonisation strategies. It would be nice to see that most channel companies can be net zero carbon in the next few years. I realise that carbon neutralisation will be necessary based on many channel businesses – please only partner with the most reputable and accredited certification bodies to include only offsets which retire after 12 months and meet the VCS (Voluntary Carbon Standard) and GS (Gold Standard – stored in an independent and credible registry).

What are your thoughts on B Corp certification?
Certified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. B Corps are accelerating a global culture shift to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy.

Society’s most challenging problems cannot be solved by government and non-profits alone. By harnessing the power of business, B Corps use profits and growth as a means to a greater end: positive impact for their employees, communities, and the environment. The B Corp community works toward reduced inequality, lower levels of poverty, a healthier environment, stronger communities, and the creation of more high-quality jobs with dignity and purpose.

B Corps form a community of leaders and drive a global movement of people using business as a force for good. The values and aspirations of the B Corp community are embedded in the B Corp Declaration of Interdependence.

Certifying as a B Corporation goes beyond a product or service certification. It is the only certification that measures a company’s entire social and environmental performance. From supply chain and input materials to charitable giving and employee benefits, B Corp Certification proves a business is meeting the highest standards of verified performance.

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