An interiors company has become the second UK firm to officially give nature a say in its business strategy. Doing so brings a transformative energy to meetings, discovers Isabella Kaminski
In November, House of Hackney became the second company to appoint a human ‘nature guardian’, giving them a formal vote on corporate decisions that might affect long-term sustainability.
Frieda Gormley co-founded the London-based firm, which sells wallpaper, fabric, paint and furnishings. She said she had always intended to create a brand that allowed people to connect with nature, for example by using sustainable materials and exploring regenerative farming, so this was a natural next step.
“The guardian will have access to a network of experts who will advise on specialist topics, and if we choose not to take their advice, we’re actually bound to give a reason publicly as to why we haven’t,” Gormley told Positive News. “This is very much about accountability.”
House of Hackney was inspired to make the move by eco beauty firm Faith In Nature, which pioneered the concept in 2022 with the help of community interest company Lawyers for Nature.
Simeon Rose, Faith In Nature’s creative director, recalled there was a crackle in the air at the first board meeting with a nature guardian. “Having a presence there speaking for nature is huge. You know that nature is there, not necessarily judging you, but getting you to raise your game.”
The first person to take up the guardian role was Brontie Ansell, senior lecturer in law in Essex Law School and director of Lawyers for Nature. She described it as an intense experience. “It wasn’t until after that first board meeting that I woke up in the middle of the night in a massive cold sweat and [the fact that I was the first person to speak on behalf of the natural world] hit me like a bullet train.”
Ansell spent the first few months quietly listening to discussions before starting to give voice to nature’s views, and voting on particular decisions on its behalf.
The impact has not been black and white, said Rose, who described it as more of a mindset shift. “By knowing that there is ultimately going to be this lens at the end, where nature’s asked its view, you find that it starts trickling in much earlier in the decision-making process.”
He has now heard the question: ‘What would nature think’ on the company’s factory floor. “That’s the measure of success,” he said.
Having a presence speaking for nature is huge. Nature is there, not necessarily judging you, but getting you to raise your game
The move is part of a growing trend for companies to define a specific corporate purpose beyond financial profit. Firms involved in the Better Business Act campaign, for example, are trying to change UK law to ensure every company aligns its interests with those of wider society and the environment.
Rose is regularly contacted by people wanting to learn from his firm’s experiences, including other businesses, charities, councils and museums. Faith In Nature is feeding into a research project at The University of Sydney and has even published an open-source guide on its website for companies interested in taking a similar step.
Things have moved fast over the past 12 months. “A year ago, we were having to explain the mechanics of this, but already we’re in a phase where this isn’t weird any more,” said Rose. All organisations that have governance models can apply it in their own way.”
At House of Hackney, Gormley said thinking about what nature would say has already made a difference; just a few weeks ago her firm turned down the offer of a lucrative collaboration that didn’t meet its environmental standards.
For Ansell, who will represent nature for House of Hackney too, the experience has already been an “absolute privilege”. “Like anything pioneering you never really know if it’s going to fall into the long grass, but the reality is it’s absolutely got a life of its own.”
Main image: Portra/iStock
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