Sustainability Series: Veo

Veo is our second subject in our new sustainability series where we will be talking to startups focused on a greener future. We asked Joe Darwen who founded the company some questions.

Tell us about Veo! How did it all start and what are your goals? 

In a nutshell, Veo is an online shopping community for people and businesses to connect, shop, and change the world. It started when I was working at the UK Government’s Department for International Trade delivering the ‘Ecommerce Export’ programme. This programme worked in partnership with over 40 of the world’s leading marketplaces (including Amazon, Ebay, Alibaba), and working with these global leading platforms it was evident that not one considered the ‘Real Bottom Line’ = profit + people + planet. I founded Veo as a vital future-facing alternative to other platforms that fall short of these ideals. A marketplace to connect sustainable brands and conscious consumers. We’re seeking to solve huge real-world problems, empower ethical and sustainable brands, and are on a mission to ‘make earth friendly mainstream’.

How are you engaging your employees in your sustainability efforts?

We have a Wellbeing & Culture Officer in the team who ensures that the vision and the mission is at the heart of what we all do individually and collectively. Whether this is from the technology to create incredible UX and features for our users, to the Marketing finding the best creative ways to engage our audience, the team understands that People & Planet are just as important as Profit. 

Joe Darwen

Do you set any goals for improvement and aim to make yourself more sustainable? 

We’re continuously looking at our internal policies, along with improving our approval mechanism for new brands and vendors who join the site to sell with us. We are also now underway with the B Corp certification that is giving a great chance to capture all the areas we want to capture in the business related to our positive impacts, and through our business and operations, “to have a material positive impact on (a) society and (b) the environment, taken as a whole.” 
The goals we set and regularly review are part of a roadmap that seeks to become an entirely carbon positive organisation, and promote a move to a ‘circular economy’ system aimed at eliminating waste and the continual regenerative use of resources. This is the value we seek to pass on to the consumer, to do the ‘hard work’ for them in respect of having everything in one place, and all products approved to be high quality, sustainable and as ‘earth friendly’ as possible.
We particularly keep in mind the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, particularly number 12: “to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.” Our mission in this regard is well underway because Veo is the No.1 rated ‘ethical online retailer’ and ‘Amazon alternative’ by Ethical Consumer. Working with independent research associations like ECRA also ensures we are accountable to our customers and our vendors to retain and improve our processes and policies. 

What tips could you give other startup businesses to promote sustainability and have sustainability at their forefront? 

By adopting the Real Bottom Line this is a great way to immediately start seeing each business activity in a new way. It would be expected that the first point ‘Profit’ is already considered, by having a product or service that is in-demand and generates revenues. Then businesses can look at their offering from the perspective of positively serving the community, it’s supply chain, and its customers (People). Then looking at the environmental impacts of its product or service delivery (Planet). This could start with small but impactful incremental changes, from joining a carbon offset scheme, to providing a ‘cycle to work’ for staff, and scaling up to larger organisational wide impacts (e.g. switching the entire group over to renewable energy suppliers). Tons of ways to be a champion for sustainability, and it’s a great way to engage your customers and suppliers (back to ‘Profit’). 

What have been your biggest challenges that have come exclusively from starting a green business? 

The main challenge was ensuring that the end product had the ability to reach a crossover audience and break through beyond being seen as another ‘eco business’. This mainstream appeal is the fun bit of the business, as it is seen across all departments (tech – marketing – finance – HR – operations). Essentially, reaching the ‘critical mass’ tipping point where general consumers are empowered to make the better choices without it being perceived as a dramatic lifestyle step change. It’s made simple and rewarding: Veo helps transform your spending power into a force for good. We’ve covered all bases.

The pandemic has obviously affected a lot of startups both in positive and negative ways, how have you guys dealt with it?

Since March 2020 we used the time for Research and Development, to create our new platform 2.0 launching soon. During this time we all saw online retail become even more vital, to the point where even UK Business Secretary Alok Sharma MP urged UK retailers to get trading online “as a vital lifeline” for the nation amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Business leaders including founder Jon Roberts and UK Retail magnate Theo Paphitis, also believe that COVID-19 in just “5 weeks accelerated the shift to online commerce by 5 years”. From this we spent our time building out our product, we applied for and won an Innovate UK grant for our technology and raised our 2nd angel investment round. We’re now preparing for re-launch and looking forward to what 2021 has in store for Veo and beyond. 

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