Interviews

Katie Leggett, Sustainability Manager, innocent

As the climate crisis rises up the consumer and business agenda, innocent’s sustainability guru proves the power of first-mover advantage.

Izzy Ashton

Assistant Editor, BITE

Share


“The conversation around being a responsible business isn’t a new one for us,” explains innocent’s Sustainability Manager Katie Leggett. Her role within arguably one of the UK’s most loved, and most distinctively voiced sustainable brands gives her a unique perspective on the challenge facing brands in the midst of the climate crisis. Having worked with the company for the last five years, Leggett is one of the few dedicated individuals working on sustainability communications in the UK marketing sector.

Explaining how she landed the trailblazing role Leggett says that “ending up at innocent was almost luck rather than judgement,” a statement she recognises isn’t all that helpful to read when it comes to forging a career in this space. But it’s a job role that she has moulded and shaped in her own way; from writing her thesis on the innocent brand to interning at the company before working her way onto the sustainability team.

Leggett feels that, although responsibility runs through innocent’s ethos, “in the last two to three years there’s been an increasing trend that we wanted to communicate more on sustainability.” That started with the brand becoming B Corp certified in 2018. An achievement and commitment that felt like it needed to be shouted about.

It’s not just people wanting to buy into businesses that have purpose, but they want to work for businesses that have purpose [too].

Katie Leggett

Communicating around B Corp

However, the problem with the B Corp certification says Leggett, is to most people, “the name itself doesn’t really mean anything.” Although a huge movement in the US, B Corp seems to still have a slight brand awareness problem in the UK. But the groundswell is building as many more agencies join their clients in choosing to use business as a force for good.

The reality is, believes Leggett, that “being B Corp means such different things to each individual organisation because each organisation is going to have such a different focus.” Although ultimately about balancing purpose with profit, it’s difficult to find one buzzword that can truly describe what the B Corp movement entails. “I think in general there’s a challenge around communicating the depths of what it means to be a B Corp,” she explains.

But the B Corp certification works for a brand like innocent that, although being just over twenty years old, is still committed to being relevant and exciting in its purpose. Leggett explains, “the narrative that B Corp has around responsible business is one that works really well internally for us as a business.” Pointing to the brand’s values, she notes that one of those is “being responsible”, a statement reflected in the brand’s decision to go B Corp.

Building a sustainable company culture

Over the past five years Leggett says she has seen a slight shift in the attitudes of people who work at innocent. Although they have always historically been people who care about the purpose of the brand, and about sustainability, Leggett is seeing more staff “taking ownership of sustainability as part of their role.”

This flows from an increasing interest in what it means to be a B Corp, which is being used by innocent as a powerful framework through which to engage employees. Because of the size and scale of the B Impact Assessment, the process each company actually undergoes to become certified, every member of staff can feel involved. As Leggett explains, “it’s very easy to farm out different pieces so that everyone feels they’re doing something towards a purpose that’s more than just making a profit.”

Leggett believes that the company’s certification has become “an actionable internal engagement tool,” as people look not just to what they can do as individuals but also to how they can “help us deliver on our sustainability objectives.” Ultimately, says Leggett, “it’s not just people wanting to buy into businesses that have purpose, but they want to work for businesses that have purpose [too].”

Business is a really interesting lever to pull in terms of encouraging better environmental management.

Katie Leggett

Pairing business with sustainability

Leggett’s interest in how business can positively impact the environment stems from her choice of undergraduate degree; environmental economics and environmental management. From there she undertook a master’s in environmental technology, with a specialism in business and the environment. Even whilst studying she was focused on looking at “how do businesses actually improve the environment?” she explains.

She applied to write her thesis for innocent, working at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development in Geneva at the same time on their sustainable lifestyle team. Leggett explains the experience was eye-opening: “Business is a really interesting lever to pull in terms of encouraging better environmental management.”

Marketing sustainability

Leggett used what she’d learnt in her studies to implement innocent’s supply chain audit programme for sustainability. She believes that there is a lot to be learnt from a “few really great organisations that work on sustainability.” Although acknowledging the clichéd answer as simply a marker of how few companies are acting on sustainability issues authentically, Leggett cites both Ben & Jerry’s and Patagonia as examples of brands who have become synonymous with sustainability and activism. 

For her, what’s apparent for both of these trailblazing brands is that tone of voice matters to convey the authenticity of their brand message. Leggett explains: “it’s people talking to other people,” something that anyone who follows innocent on social media or who has read the irreverent, witty words on the side of their smoothie bottles will testify as an ethos that has always been, and will always remain, at the heart of innocent’s proposition.

Q: As Sustainability Manager at innocent, what is your primary focus?
A: My role at innocent is split into two parts. I oversee our work on human rights, leading a Human Rights Working Group to set our policy, ambitions and targets. The other half of my job is all about communicating sustainability, both within innocent and externally with our lovely drinkers and customers. At the moment, that involves making sure that we’ve got a great strategy of things that we want to proactively communicate, from our work to sustainable sourcing, climate change and creating a sustainable plastics future. A huge part of this is also making sure that everyone who works for innocent also knows and is, most importantly, involved with delivering against our company sustainability strategy. I really believe that one of the most important things that a sustainability team can do is get everyone who works for their business thinking about sustainability in everyday business decisions. A business is only made up of the people that work for it, so you can only build a truly sustainable business if everyone working for the business is working towards the same sustainability ambitions.
Q: What has been your proudest achievement since joining innocent?
A: One of things that I’ve been most proud of since starting at innocent is creating a Presenting for Sustainability network. As part of my role at innocent, I’m fortunate that I’ve had a lot of opportunities for training and delivering presentations to large groups. Through this, I realised that there was a missing opportunity to get sustainability professionals trained up to be excellent communicators, focusing on both subject matter and a core skill of presenting. I wanted to create something that combined both, allowing subject matter experts to give peer feedback on the content of presentations as well as presenting style itself. I started the network around 18 months ago with people I knew well, old university friends and sustainability colleagues. Since then, it’s been amazing to see how the demand to join the network has grown; each time there are new faces in the room! It’s been an excellent opportunity for me to meet new people in my industry, but the best part is that people seem to find the network a genuinely useful opportunity to discuss how best to communicate sustainability.
Q: What is the greatest challenge when engaging in sustainability communications, both internally with innocent’s employees and also externally with consumers?
A: Internally it’s making sure that everyone hears the same message and knows the right information about our sustainability work. The way we do this is making sure that every single person at innocent has a sustainability ‘role’ as part of their objectives for the year. They can be one of four: ambassadors (responsible for sharing our ambitions with others), protectors (responsible for making sure we meet our sustainability commitments), activators (delivering a specific action as part of our strategy) or agitators (looking out for a way to do things better). They then write their own objective under one of each of these titles. Having these sustainability roles has worked to embed sustainability across the business, rather than just being the role of the sustainability team. Externally, the challenge is similar, communicating quickly and simply all the great work that our teams are doing internally to be a business that’s a force for good. Last year innocent certified as a B Corp, and although we’ve always cared about sustainability, being a B Corp means we're part of something bigger. We hope that working together with the B Corp network, we can have a much bigger impact, sharing together about what it really takes to be a business and a force for good.

I’d love to think that over the next few years, companies with purpose are the ones that will attract the best talent, create the innovative new products and campaigns and will therefore be the most successful.

Katie Leggett
Q: How do you see the advertising/marketing landscape evolving over the next few years?
A: The biggest shift I see across all areas of business, not just advertising and marketing, is that people want to buy from and work for businesses with purpose. It’s no longer enough to know that the product you’re buying is sustainable; people want to know that they businesses they buy from are responsible all round. I’d love to think that over the next few years, companies with purpose are the ones that will attract the best talent, create the innovative new products and campaigns and will therefore be the most successful. From a marketing perspective, more than ever before we’re seeing that sustainability is a purchase driver and I think we’re already seeing this start to have an impact on the way brands talk to their customers. I imagine, and hope, that this trend will continue, as I think this marketing drive can also genuinely influence how businesses operate and encourage a move towards more responsible business practices.
Q: What are your ambitions for innocent over the next few years?
A: At innocent over the next few years I’d love to see us shout more about B Corp. The movement is relatively new here in Europe and I see a real opportunity for innocent to help the movement grow. The great thing about the B Impact Assessment (BIA) which you complete to become a B Corp, is that it’s available online for free, with no obligation to certify. So, all businesses, no matter what their size, can see what the requirements are, and what steps they’d need to take to become certified. It’s also continuously evolving so that even certified B Corps like innocent are required to continuously improve how we work. I genuinely believe that the movement has the potential to change how businesses work and drive the movement of businesses having purpose beyond profit. There’s also the opportunity for consumers to see the B Corp logo as a stamp that certifies responsible businesses, and I think that there’s a real opportunity to increase consumer knowledge and understanding of B Corps. In the next few years we’ll be working on improving our own score on the BIA, getting involved in working groups to increase awareness of B Corps across Europe and also encouraging more businesses to join the movement.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
A: I was once told to focus on getting really good at the things I was good at, rather than focusing on the things that I struggled with or found really difficult. It’s always been really good advice that I come back to often. You tend to enjoy the things that you’re good at, and we spend a lot of time at work, so you’ll enjoy working much more if you’re not forcing yourself to spend lots of time working on something that doesn’t come very naturally. Equally, when you’re working in a team or group, identifying your own strengths to support the group means they get the most out of your skills and experience and generally means better outcomes for your team and for the business.