Episode 26 | 08.07.2024

From Altruism to Profit: The Business Case for Sustainability

We chat with Sammi Gower, co-founder and partner at Pollen&Co, about transforming sustainability from an altruistic endeavor to a profitable business strategy. Discover how aligning sustainability initiatives with core business values drives both environmental impact and financial success. Learn practical insights on transparency, stakeholder engagement, and the triple bottom line approach.

Listen to the full podcast episode on YouTube, Spotify, and Apple Podcasts.

Sustainability is no longer optional – it’s a necessity for businesses aiming to build resilience and future-proof their operations. In a recent episode of the Responsible Edge Podcast, host Charlie Martin had an insightful conversation with Sammi Gower, co-founder and partner at Pollen&Co. They discussed the importance of aligning sustainability with business profitability and how this alignment can drive long-term success. This article delves into the key themes and insights from their discussion, providing a comprehensive look at the modern landscape of sustainable business practices.


Sammi’s Unconventional Path to Sustainability

Sammi Gower’s journey to becoming a sustainability leader was anything but conventional. Initially pursuing biomedical sciences with aspirations of becoming a doctor, she discovered her true calling in the corporate world. “I always thought I was going to be a doctor,” Sammi shared. “But I wasn’t very good at making concrete decisions, so I decided to do a bit of a halfway house.”

After exploring various roles, including a stint in marketing in New York and a position in private equity, Sammi found her passion for sustainability. This journey eventually led her to co-found Pollen&Co, where she now helps businesses integrate sustainability into their core strategies.


Pollen&Co’s Tailored Approach

At Pollen&Co, the focus is on creating tangible value from sustainability through a three-step process: Discovery, Value Creation, and Communication.

1.Discovery: This initial phase involves analysing emerging trends and stakeholder priorities to contextualise the starting point for each client. “We analyse emerging trends, stakeholder priorities, and where you are on your journey so far,” Sammi explained. “This contextualises your starting point.”

2.Value Creation: In this phase, Pollen&Co identifies sustainability opportunities that benefit the business, society, and the environment. This involves co-creating strategies, targets, and KPIs rooted in material issues. “Together, we identify sustainability opportunities that will benefit your business, society, and the environment,” Sammi said.

3.Communication: The final step focuses on engaging key stakeholders with compelling narratives and sustainability reports tailored to specific audiences. “We bring your key stakeholders along through compelling narratives and engagement campaigns,” Sammi noted. “We specialise in creating sustainability reports rooted in strategy and tailored to your target audiences.”


Profit and Sustainability

One of the significant themes of the podcast episode was the necessity of aligning sustainability initiatives with business profitability. Sammi emphasised that for sustainability efforts to be genuinely impactful, they must be integrated into the core business strategy. This alignment ensures that sustainability is not just an altruistic endeavour but a profitable one as well.

“It’s all good and well being sustainable, but you’ve got to be profitable,” Sammi stressed. “The business case of sustainability means it’s an essential part of the overall strategy, not just an add-on.”

This approach transforms sustainability from a cost centre into a value driver, making it an integral part of the business model. Sammi provided examples of companies like Tony’s Chocolonely and Mastercard, which have successfully embedded sustainability into their business models, creating a competitive advantage and fostering long-term growth.


Tony’s Chocolonely: A Sweet Example

Tony’s Chocolonely is a prime example of how aligning sustainability with core business values can drive success. The company ensures that its farmers are paid a fair wage and trained in the best practices for growing cocoa beans. This not only secures a consistent supply of high-quality cocoa for Tony’s but also builds strong relationships with suppliers, resulting in better products and higher customer satisfaction.

“Tony’s really tend to their supply chain,” Sammi highlighted.

“They make sure their farmers are paid a fair wage and train them in the best ways to grow their cocoa beans. From that, Tony’s gets great supply relationships and a consistent supply of high-quality cocoa beans, which means their chocolate is nice and people buy it.”


Mastercard: Banking on Social Value

Mastercard provides another compelling example. The company has long focused on social value initiatives, such as helping unbanked individuals gain access to banking services. This effort not only improves the lives of those individuals but also expands Mastercard’s customer base.

“Mastercard has been getting the unbanked banked for a long time,” Sammi explained. “This initiative is a huge way of bringing people out of poverty and into the world we all live in now. It also means more people have a credit card or debit card, which is Mastercard’s whole business.”

These examples illustrate that when sustainability initiatives are linked to business value, they are more likely to receive support and investment.


Sustainable Integration

Sammi highlighted the importance of being pragmatic and diplomatic when implementing sustainability initiatives. Businesses, especially those with traditional models, need to be “streetwise” in integrating sustainability without compromising profitability. This often involves retrofitting sustainability into existing operations or applying it from the start in new ventures.

“You’ve got to be sympathetic to that,” Sammi advised. “You’ve got to be streetwise, a diplomat when it comes to sustainability.”


The Role of Transparency in Building Trust

Transparency is crucial in sustainability efforts. Sammi argued that businesses should openly communicate both their successes and challenges, as this builds trust and demonstrates genuine commitment. Citing examples like Oatly, which addresses criticisms head-on, she illustrated how transparency can enhance a company’s reputation and stakeholder trust.

“Oatly has a whole page dedicated to all the bad things people have said about them,” Sammi pointed out.

“They address criticisms head-on, and it has made their case more compelling. People trust them more when things have gone wrong because they are transparent about it.”


Advice for Aspiring Sustainability Leaders

Reflecting on her journey, Sammi advised young professionals to pursue what they are passionate about rather than what they think they should do. She emphasised the importance of finding joy in one’s work and being adaptable to changing circumstances.

“Do the thing that you want to do, not the thing that you think you should do,” Sammi advised. “If you bring passion and enthusiasm to something, you’ll be better at it and do well in it.”

For business leaders, she recommended considering the triple bottom line—profit, people, and planet—in every decision. This approach drives both sustainability and commercial success, ensuring that businesses can thrive in the long term.



Sammi Gower’s insights offer a roadmap for businesses to integrate sustainability into their core strategies effectively. By prioritising transparency, aligning sustainability with business value, and embracing a holistic approach, companies can not only contribute to a better world but also ensure their long-term success. The future of business is sustainable, and leaders like Sammi Gower are at the forefront of this critical transformation.

“Sustainability is not just about being altruistic,” Sammi concluded. “It’s about making it a core part of your business strategy to drive value and ensure long-term success.”

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© 2024. The Responsible Edge Podcast

© 2024. The Responsible Edge Podcast