Season 3: Building business resilience

Tim Smit Executive Vice-Chair and Co-founder, Eden Project

How to create a resilient and sustainable business ecosystem

I don’t like to talk about sustainability. That might sound at odds with a masterclass series on this very subject. But I’m sure you already know about things like insulation, lightbulbs, electric cars, and being as sustainable as we can as individuals. But I am excited by talking about the future sustainability of businesses. And that should be all about creating a business ecosystem that does good and positively impacts communities, society, and the environment. We did it at the Eden Project, and your business can do it too. 

Working together for a common purpose 

Optimism and hope are the two best fuels to build a future. In 1995, we began our journey of creating what was to become the Eden Project. Those two things drove us forward, keeping us going through the five-year process before finally opening our doors in 2000. 

Of course, Eden has grown to welcome 22 million visitors since then, exploring our incredible Mediterranean and Rainforest biomes with their high-end architecture and thousands of global plant varieties.

At the heart of it all, we’re very much about education, and our purpose-built Core building is a centre dedicated to learning how life and the environment are impossible to separate.

Tim Smit

But importantly, Eden is a social enterprise. Right from the start, we wanted to create a movement that helps build relationships between people and nature and demonstrates the power of working together for the common good. So how did we do it? 

Regenerating the wealth 

One of our most significant strategic decisions was to build a circular economy and create a connection between this living ecosystem and a sustainable business ecosystem. It has been achievable by focusing on partnering with local businesses—who make up around 80 per cent of all Eden’s 1,800 suppliers. 

Initially, many of them—our ice cream suppliers, for instance—were too small to supply us individually, meaning money would have to leave the region. So, to nurture our ecosystem, we formed cooperatives and gave each local supplier a three-year contract. This provided the guarantee needed to secure the necessary grants or funding to successfully expand and supply their products to meet demand. And it’s worked. Over £2 billion of collective wealth has gone back into the broader Cornish economy. 

Getting back to basics 

This collaboration, community, and common purpose are fundamental to how Eden’s local business ecosystem operates. Our success is their success, and vice versa. While we did this at scale, it’s achievable for your business too, by going back to basics.  

That means using what you have and what’s around you. The secret to a good business ecosystem is that everybody with you knows you’re going to work with them, so they’ll make their processes and quality suitable for you. And implementing small changes along the way, like paying suppliers on time to ease their cash flow and maybe even keep them afloat, can make a big difference.  

For a resilient, successful, and sustainable business, providing ownership with that sense of belonging, purpose, and trust, you all help each other grow, thrive—and survive. Using that optimism and hope, you can future proof your business while making a positive, lasting impact on societal and environmental issues right now.