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It’s Time to Grow-up: Is Vertical Farming the Future of Agri-Tech?

What can we learn about Vertical Farming’s Impact?

In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at the growing practice of vertical farming and highlight a few of the changemakers who are making their mark on the agri-tech sector. 

With key insights into growing interest from investors, innovations that are shaping the industry and walking the tightrope of regenerative growth and emissions, we’ll see how Impact Founders can drive change and offer solutions to the climate crisis.

It’s Time for Change

As global leaders held discussions on the climate crisis at COP 27, the world population quietly grew to 8 billion people, as announced on Tuesday. Despite the promise of steps towards Net-zero and deals for green energy, the climate crisis is continuing to have a devastating impact on our people and planet.  

With 10% of the people on our planet living in hunger, it’s impossible to ignore that food insecurity is fast becoming a major impact of climate change. Not to mention the escalating effects caused by supply chain issues brought on by the pandemic, Brexit, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the cost of living crisis. 

We know that yearly discussions and promises alone won’t bring real change, we need to shift our focus to regenerative growth and that’s why we at Zebra Growth support the innovative changemakers that create the most impact.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem. While we sit and stare at the news waiting for the next anxiety-inducing report on energy prices, pioneers in agri-tech are facing the threat of food insecurity head on using Vertical Farming techniques.

But with critics arguing that emissions are too high compared to traditional agriculture and rising energy costs, is vertical farming the future of agri-tech? Let’s take a look at what’s happening in the sector and some of the changemakers hoping to answer that question.

Let’s get Vertical

Vertical Farming (VF) is the agricultural process of growing crops in vertically stacked layers, maximising land space and potential crop yield. What makes the practice so fascinating (not to mention groundbreaking) is that the crops are grown indoors with no soil or sunlight. 

Techniques such as hydroponics, aeroponics and aquaponics are used to grow crops indoors using the method of Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA). CEA allows every step of the growing process to be controlled for each specific crop, from humidity, light, temperature and even CO2. 

Utilising a CEA indoors means vertical farms don’t need to rely on pesticide as the plants are grown in clean, monitored conditions, allowing farmers to grow nutrient-rich produce all while helping to restore the land typically used for agriculture. 

We’ve seen this for ourselves through our collaboration with IGS. IGS is an agri-tech innovator, revolutionising the sector with Growth Towers. Their system uses TCEA (Total Controlled Environment Agriculture) which removes all external variables to create a predictable and repeatable growing environment. This not only optimises yield but limits wastage. Their  groundbreaking work signals a much needed shift towards more regenerative practices!

Vertical farms can yield up to 10 times the yield of open-field farming of the same land area. Without the dependance on sunlight and unencumbered by harsh weather conditions, vertical farms can grow year round and still produce high-quality produce around the world. 

The practice is typically used to grow leafy greens, herbs and soft fruits, given their small size and large profit margins. Critics of vertical farming often cite this as a key reason that vertical farming can’t tackle food insecurity as vital crops such as wheat cannot be grown indoors given its size.

So vertical farming is an interesting project but it won’t yield true results?

This is simply not the case. Agri-tech innovators are already a step ahead of critics, as Amsterdam-based startup Infarm have successfully grown wheat indoors without soil or pesticides. The world’s first indoor staple crop is projected to have an annual yield of 117 tons a hectare, by comparison the average yield for the EU in 2022 was 5.6 tons a hectare. That’s one way to silence the naysayers!

Through vertical farming, Infarm was able to have 6 growth cycles in a year, compared to a single growth cycle with traditional farming methods – isn’t that incredible? 

While scaling such an operation will have its own set backs, Infarm believes that with the right innovations and improved technology, they will be able to increase their yield by 50% in the years to come. 

With hundreds of startups led by innovative changemakers working towards revolutionising the agricultural sector, it’s hard not to see the potential for vertical farming. 

Of course, a key benefit of vertical farming is allowing the land and resources used in traditional agriculture to replenish, giving us the opportunity to shift towards a regenerative form of open-field farming. At Zebra Growth, collaboration is at the heart of everything we do and the only way we can truly look to solve food insecurity is utilising technology, so we can complement traditional methods, not compete with them.

We are closely following new developments in the sector over the coming months and years and we are hopeful that innovation and tradition can drive progress. With developments across agri-tech enhancing the practice of open-field farming (such as the use of drones to detect disease in crops and limit wastage) we have no doubt that innovation and tradition will find a way to collaborate towards a better future.

But let’s imagine the potential that growing staple crops indoors gives us. Countries affected by drought, extreme climates, or where wheat has never grown in the past could become self-sufficient and thrive with direct access to staple crops. 

Our vision of a regenerative economy could be realised through these kinds of innovations in vertical farming working in tandem with open-field farming, and we want to do everything we can to make that our reality.

And the progress isn’t going unnoticed

Climate Smart Agriculture (such as vertical farming) was the number 2 in the top 10 Climate Tech Trends and Innovations for 2022. More and more investors are seeing the real world value of vertical farming. With the global market value of vertical farming expected to surpass $20.9 billion (USD) by 2029, it’s no wonder that investors are looking to VF startups to drive change. 

From cutting transport costs, mitigating supply chain issues, food waste and bringing nutrient-packed produce to urban areas, vertical farming is a vital investment for VCs looking to give their funding to sectors that promise regenerative growth with real impact and tackle climate change. 
From our own work with clients in the sector, including IGS (who raised £42 million in Series B funding) we’ve seen the excitement growing amongst investors for innovative and regenerative startups – it’s an exciting time for climate tech  changemakers!

That’s not all…

Early in 2022, London-based startup Vertical Future raised £21 million, in Europe’s largest ever Series A funding in the industry. What’s clear to us – and clearly investors – is the brand’s clear purpose and reach. We can’t ignore how exciting this is for agri-tech startups, vertical farming is starting to turn heads.

Vertical Future looks to empower their customers to grow produce sustainably and closer to the point of consumption, satisfying the significant need to reduce transport emissions and provide the freshest produce. This startup proves not only the importance of innovation in vertical farming but rather that VC’s are hungry for fresh and revolutionary solutions to food insecurity. 

Vertical Future not only grows food but 40% of their plants are produced for pharmaceutical purposes, adding yet another game changing potential for vertical farming. With the funding secured, they’ll now focus on scaling their operations across the globe.

Now that’s exciting.

In fact, in the UK there is growing demand for agri-tech startups. Just recently, a partnership was launched in Gloucestershire to promote growth and innovation in the sector. The partnership between food science and technology consultancy, Campden BRI; Hartpury University and College’s Agriculture Agri-tech Centre and Tech Box Park, the Royal Agricultural University’s Farm 491 and the University of Gloucestershire’s Countryside & Community Research Group (CCRI), aims to bring innovators and startups from around the globe to the county to share expertise and grow the already £1.5 billion valued sector. 

Gloucestershire has the highest concentration of fast growing agri-tech SMEs and a hyperfocus on agricultural education – we can’t wait to see where their innovations take us next! 

We, at Zebra Growth firmly believe that working collaboratively to support the vision of agri-tech startups is an essential step towards building a fairer, regenerative economy.  We all need to act now if we are to  protect our planet’s resources, and it’s great to see that local authorities are starting to notice this too!
And, thought leaders are starting to recognise the benefits of funding R&D in agri-tech as a means of limiting the supply chain issues that have disrupted food distribution these past few years.

Growing-up isn’t always easy

So, while vertical farming boasts a higher crop yield and has the potential to bring nutrient-rich food to urban areas, it’s not without its setbacks – what developing technology isn’t?

A recent article published in Nature Food looked at sustainability within vertical farming among other food system technologies. The Scandinavian team found that vertical farming had a ‘mixed sustainability’ as its greenhouse gas emissions were higher than that of conventional farming. 

What we found especially interesting (not to mention reassuring for our climate conscious changemakers) is that the report focuses on the energy used to run the farms and openly admits that the literature studied had a distinct lack of focus on the socio-economic sustainability of the practice – considering two of the three pillars of sustainability is people & profit, it’s a wonder why these key benefits of vertical farming aren’t considered in assessing its sustainability.

The report notes its own shortcomings, of course, and discusses vertical farming’s ability to reduce CO2 emissions through cutting down on transport as a theoretical practice, and we’ve already seen that vertical farms are being brought to urban areas. 

Vertical farming is not only limiting transport emissions but reducing food waste, all while bringing fresher, healthier food to people –  we’d say that’s pretty sustainable!

And let’s not forget about the regenerative benefits of closed-loop vertical farming. Compared to traditional agriculture, there is no chemical-filled water that has the potential to pollute the environment, and conversely the crops aren’t affected by contaminated water.

We’ve seen this first hand with our client  IGS’s TCEA, their fully automated water and nutrient dosing system ensures that the only water that leaves the farm is in the crop itself – this will do wonders in a future where water scarcity is fast becoming a genuine concern. 

The closed-loop process allows vertical farming to reach climates – and people – that would never have the ability to grow coveted crops.

A perfect example of vertical farming’s versatility is VeggiTech’s work in the United Arab Emirates.  In the Sharjah desert, the startup has cultivated 150,000 crocus sativa bulbs to grow saffron. Despite the turbulent climate, through vertical farming, VeggiTech estimates the first crop to yield around 5.5 kilograms of saffron – this may seem a paltry sum but with a market value of up to $3000 a kilogram, it’s sure to push innovation in the sector. Did we mention it was grown in the desert? It doesn’t get any drier than that.

With 90% of the UAE’s food coming from imports, having access to the spice close to home will have a massive impact on transport emissions. And this is just one spice, in one country. Imagine being able to bring vertical farms to vulnerable countries with limited access to water! Is this anything but a leap towards a regenerative, prosperous and fair future? 

Of course, we still live in the present and the cost of setting up and running a vertical farm can be pricey. 

IDTechEx’s 2020 report suggests energy to typically cost around 35-40% of the Operation Expenditure (OpEX) of a vertical farm and high energy output equals higher emissions. With energy prices reaching an all time high, for many critics the future of vertical farming is questionable – say it isn’t so!

As we’ve seen, this hasn’t slowed the appetite of investors in agri-tech, and why should it? The key to successful technologies is innovation and development, R&D from well-funded startups is pushing progress. 

Already developments in energy efficient LED lights has meant costs are being brought down. And let’s not forget that changemakers in agri-tech are constantly generating solutions to constantly improve the practice. 

Innovation is paramount to growing a successful and regenerative business. We’ve seen this firsthand with IGS. Coupled with energy efficient LED lights and their TCEA, growers can increase energy efficiency by up to 50% while reducing the overall cost – we can already see progress being made.

What’s even more promising, and often not being considered by critics, is the prospect of vertical farms being run on renewable energy. The topic has been in the minds of agri-tech visionaries as far back as 2018, when yet another vertical farm pioneer, OneFarm, found that vertical farms run on green energy have the potential to reduce CO2 emissions by 70%. 

It seems to us that the energy costs and emissions of a radical technology such as vertical farming are but a symptom of the wider failures of our reliance on finite resources that are ravaging our planet. 

Closed-loop farming is only the beginning. It’s never been more clear that we need to shift towards renewable energy if we are to protect our planet and its people. With progress made every day, vertical farming gives us the opportunity to create a real impact on food insecurity and shifting towards green energy could yield limitless results!

It’s a great time to be a Changemaker

So, is vertical farming the future of agri-tech? The practice is growing fast and visionaries are surpassing setbacks whilst silencing critics. The process may not yet be perfect, but massive strides are already being made to future proof vertical farming. 

The practice will be essential in allowing land used by traditional farming methods to regenerate and thrive and the future of food security will come from a balanced collaboration between open-field and vertical farming. 

Socially-driven entrepreneurs are making their mark in the sector and with thought-leaders and investors ready to trust in the process, we’re thrilled by the potential that vertical farming brings to restoring balance to our world. As the sector grows, we must ensure that positive impact is at the heart of the progress.

We believe the real power of vertical farming comes from startups with a clear, driven purpose that will pave the way for progress and shift the business world’s outdated concept of profit at all costs. Those brave pioneers that understand the need to transform our broken system and build a brighter, regenerative and impactful future.  

As more changemakers rattle the business world with innovations in agri-tech, we can see real impact being made and we’re excited to be a part of it!

We have supported groundbreaking agri-tech startups to define their purpose and vision. Working collaboratively, we help to create ethical, regenerative growth that balances people, planet and profit. 

Without these visionary changemakers, we’d be stuck watching as greed and ignorance destroys our beautiful planet at the cost of its people and if that isn’t something worth growing-up for, we don’t know what is.

Let’s Recap

So, what do we know about vertical farming? The practice is making waves in the agri-tech sector and with the global market value set to surpass $20.9 billion (USD) by 2029, investors are looking to agri-tech startups for visionary solutions to food insecurity.

And with the ability to grow crops in even the harshest of climates, vertical farming has the ability to reduce transport emissions and bring the freshest, nutrient-rich produce to everyone around the globe. 

The process isn’t without its faults, with higher energy outputs and emissions, but the key to vertical farming’s success lies in visionary startups and we can already see the impact of advancements made to the closed-loop technology.

Through further research and a shift towards renewable energy, vertical farming can help restore balance to our planet and promises fair, regenerative growth that we desperately need.

But vertical farming is just one significant strand in the web of agri-tech. A driving force for change, its power comes from complementing traditional open-field techniques allowing a holistic approach to growth, with respect for our planet and its resources. 

Across the agri-tech sector we are stunned by the innovations of pioneers who, when working towards a shared vision, are building a future that benefits people, planet and profit. 

Looking for more?

Check out the Changemakers we’ve mentioned and some useful links below!

Are you driving to make change in agri-tech or needing guidance on regenerative growth?

We’d love to chat about how you can grow your business for maximum impact. We understand the need for real action and a shift towards impactful growth, that’s why Climate-tech is one of our key areas of focus.

If you’re keen to scale your own regenerative growth, why not reach out to Rae – there’s always a fresh pot of virtual coffee waiting!

Employer Branding

In this blog, we’re giving away 2 free tools for your use! Click below to get access to your free templates

The subject of recruitment has come up in a lot of my conversations lately. Across all sectors there are labour and skills shortages that are putting a strain on employers and their businesses. In particular I have been paying close attention to the marketing, branding and tech space. 

It’s an employee’s market. And if businesses are to have half a chance of recruiting and retaining the best people, then they must get off on the front foot, positioning themselves as an employer of choice. But how?

Well, we’ve actually been going through our own hiring round here at Zebra Growth as we’re growing our dazzle, and feel that we can share a good perspective about our personal experience in this blog. 

A solid employer branding strategy is essential to becoming an employer of choice. But the foundations of employer branding start from the inside, which is where many businesses are completely missing the mark. It’s not just a case of saying your business is a great place to work, you need to practise what you preach by demonstrating clear and consistent evidence of your culture if you want to attract and retain the right people.

But this isn’t just about recruitment. Because usually when it comes to last minute recruitment, you’re too late. Not having a strategy to nurture your organisational culture, and develop a first-class employee experience, often results in poor staff retention and a vicious cycle of hire-lose-hire. Treat the root cause, not the symptom.

47% of people cite company culture as their driving reason for applying for a job, so how do you make future employees recognise your business and its culture? Build an employer brand that is authentic that your current employees love!

Building a good employer brand starts with identifying how happy and engaged employees already are, building a cohesive plan to improve this across the whole employee lifecycle, before finally establishing how to clearly communicate this culture to future employees.

Top Tip: Want to identify how happy and engaged your employees are? Here at Zebra Growth, we use OfficeVibe, an online platform that offers managers an Employee experience solution to build better relationships with their people and create the conditions for great work. It’s essentially a safe place to exchange feedback and honest feelings so that your people feel engaged and happy at work, allowing us to keep our finger on the pulse of our culture.

What is an employer brand?

Similar to the way a corporate brand works (which offers a value proposition to customers, defining products or services in the marketplace), an employer brand includes the market’s perception of your business as an employer, but also describes your promise (or employee value proposition) to employees in exchange for their skills, experience and talents.

Employer branding is simply how you market your business to future potential employees and job seekers. Once you have a clearly defined and authentic culture in place, you do this by showcasing your businesses’ unique points of difference, amplifying them through communication to position yourself as a great place to work.

Done well, an employer brand will communicate that your business is a good employer and a great place to work, not only cementing your culture and motivating existing employees, but also attracting new motivated employees who are compelled to join your tribe. And when authentic employer brands really flourish, you begin to see employees sharing their positive experiences to their networks which creates amplification of the brand to other clients, customers, stakeholders, and potential future employees.

What is an employer value proposition (EVP)?

It’s hard to know where to start with employer branding, but an employer value proposition encompasses your company’s purpose, mission, values, and culture, and is a great place to start.

Think of it as a value exchange. Your company’s EVP is everything that you can offer an employee, in return for the skills, experience, talent and connections they bring to the table. Now put yourself in a skilled employee’s shoes, they bring a wealth of knowledge and an impressive track record to the table, and all you can offer them is a salary that’s slightly below market rate, and no career progression or additional perks. There’s a value imbalance that doesn’t add up.

That’s why establishing a well-designed Employer value proposition is so important, as it can attract and retain the best people, help with objective and goal setting, re-engage dispassionate workforces, improve company wide performance and reduce costly hiring costs.

The messaging you use to broadcast your employer brand isn’t just a list of perks and benefits you offer, that’s a job description! It goes much deeper than that and should be a collection of well considered component parts that make up the whole experience of working in your company. These should have been identified, defined, and tested with your current team in a collaborative way. Here are a few examples to consider:

  • Company Moral code and guiding principles (Do’s and Don’ts)
  • Company purpose
  • Companies Vision
  • Company values and culture
  • Company location and facilities
  • Salary and compensation
  • Flexible working policies
  • Ongoing employee recognition
  • Professional and personal development
  • Career progression
  • Team structure and communication style
  • Quality of work
  • Approach to mental wellbeing
  • Benefits and perks
  • Sustainability and environmental policies
  • Stance on social issues
  • Job security

What makes a good employer brand?

The employee market is constantly changing, and employee needs are no different. As the world moves, what employees want from their working experience does too. So it’s important for businesses to shape their policies, processes and culture to match. 

There’s no one culture fits all solution, but there are a few key trends that have developed in recent years that would be worth paying attention to:

1. Don’t focus on compensation

Of course people find salary important, but there are other more meaningful elements of a job that people value, particularly the younger Millennial and Gen-Z generations.

People are not just workhorses, they can be multi-faceted and have passions, hobbies and responsibilities to pursue outside of work, therefore flexible working can be very important.

Your Employer Value Proposition should be unique, compelling, and tuned into the deeper motivations of why a person might want to join your team, going way beyond the basic compensation. Someone will always have deeper pockets, and be willing to offer slightly more in terms of compensation, and that doesn’t leave you in a very good position.

However, it is also important to note that you need to be aware of the value of compensation at the same time, particularly in light of the current living crisis and inflation.

2. Employees have purpose

Employees are aware of the current roster of potentially catastrophic challenges that face humanity, and they expect their employers to be aware of this also.

You may not be in a position to change the world with the work you do as a company, but employees do expect you to be doing your bit, and rightly so!

Whether it’s a commitment to learning about social causes, evaluating your environmental impact, Implementing ESG, or looking closer at your governance, through commitments like becoming a BCORP. Employees want to work in a company that has an acute level of awareness about its impact on the world and want to know that what they are doing matters.

Employees also want to know that you recognise their efforts, knowing that the part they play in the company, contributes to the wider impact that it can have on the world. Having good processes in place for recognition are important to attracting and retaining good people. It’s less about money, and more about meaning.

Take ‘The Great Resignation’ as an example of people being sick of roles that don’t cater to their purpose. 

According to the World Economic Forum, ‘The Great Resignation’, a term coined in May 2021, describes the record number of people leaving their jobs since the beginning of the pandemic.

Resignations are coming in at unprecedented rates as the labour market continues to recover from the disruption caused by the Covid-19 outbreak. The UK’s Labour Force Survey revealed in November 2021 that 391,000 of the 1.02 million workers who changed jobs between July and September 2021 had quit, the largest jump in resignations the LFS had ever seen.

And the resignation doesn’t seem to be slowing down, with one in five workers globally planning to quit in 2022. 

The most upsetting aspects of the pandemic, according to Professor Dan Cable of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School, may have sparked a stage of post-traumatic growth. People have been forced to consider carefully what they truly want from life, including their careers. People are pondering their true values and purpose in life at this time of great loss and illness. Professor Cable makes the very valid point, ‘Why would anyone want to spend their days engaging in activities that are inconsistent with those principles when we have such limited time?’ 

This new outlook on life, spurred on by the pandemic, has made people seek a deeper purpose in all they do.  Therefore, it is crucial to convey your brand’s purpose clearly and authentically so that employees may decide whether they agree with it or not and, if they do, come join your business.

3. People want progression, or they’ll look for it elsewhere

People are thinking more about the future than ever before. In recruiting and retaining the best people, it’s imperative that you communicate with clarity the career progression opportunities that exist in your organisation.

Having well developed structures in place for career progression and professional development is a good way to articulate this to potential employees, so that they can make a confident and informed decision about joining your team.

It’s important to look at the whole employee lifecycle. When a person is evaluating joining your company, they need to be able to see how their career can develop into the future.

The employer branding process

So, we have chatted through the basics, but here’s a step by step guide on how to get started:

Step 1. Diagnosis

This is an incredibly important step, because if your employer brand lacks authenticity, employees will see right through it and avoid you with a barge pole.

Looking within, and seeking to understand and define your company’s unique attributes is the first step in developing an employer brand.

Being sure to involve key stakeholders and reviewing your purpose, vision, mission, values, and culture is the first step in the process. Understanding what your company objectives are, what type of business you want to build, what success looks like, how you are going to get there and what sort of team is required to achieve this is of vital importance.

My team at Zebra Growth are experts at facilitating workshops to help define these core elements of a brand’s culture.

Step 2. Audit your employer brand

You may already know how your brand is perceived by customers (If you don’t you need to speak with Zebra Growth) but you may not be as aware of how your company is viewed by your current employees or potential employees in the job-seekers market.

Engaging in conversation with your team to establish how they feel about your culture and to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the employee experience is a great starting point. Leading on from this valuable exercise you can also look externally to the market perception of your brand by conducting interviews or surveys with potential future candidates.

Step 3. Define your employer value proposition

Defining your employer value proposition is a bit of an art. How do you curate a message that clearly communicates the unique elements of your workplace and your culture?

The most efficient way to do this is through expert facilitation. For example the team at ZG knows how to select the right exercises to extract all of the unique quirks and benefits out of a culture, before consolidating them into a clear value proposition.

It’s possible to do this yourself, with a whiteboard, post-its, and a good cross section of employees, but my advice would be to hire a wordsmith to condense your thoughts down into a powerful value prop afterwards.

Step 4. Develop your guiding policies

Once you have a clear understanding of your employer value proposition, a logical next step is to define and record how you will act as an employer. I like to think of this as your brand’s moral code, and it’s a fun exercise to do with your team.

In step 1 while exploring your employer brand, we covered ‘values’, which are simply the descriptive words or phrases that encapsulate how you act as a brand. Your guiding policies are an extension on these values and create the basis of a decision making framework for what you will and won’t do as a brand.

For example, at Zebra Growth one of our guiding policies is:

Everything we do as a business is designed to bring balance. 

Between financial stability and social impact.

Between form and function.

Between quality and speed of execution.

Between creativity and performance.

‘Bringing balance’ is one of our core values, and by building it out into a guiding policy, it provides a clear framework for all employees to build it into their decision making processes on a day to day basis so that when is comes to creating something internally or for a client they critique it to ensure that is brings balance.

Guiding policies are the rules that you live by as a brand, so make sure that they are well written and easy to understand.

Step 5. Build engagement among current employees

To help you become a trusted employer, look no further than your current team. Your employees shape your company’s culture, live your values, achieve your objectives, and manifest your company’s mission. Without their participation, your employer brand would be nothing.

When it comes to potential employees doing their due diligence on applying for a job, it is your team that they are likely to reach out to to ask about culture and the role.

Here are a few ways to get your team members more engaged with your employer brand:

  • Hone the message. Use a set of words or phrases that become a part of the company’s vernacular, as a way to describe your company’s values and what the experience of working for your company is all about. Keep it simple, clear, informative, and unique. Use this language in HR or recruiting meetings, and focus this language for your career pages, recruiting sites, social media accounts, and anywhere else your employer brand can be leveraged.
  • Regularly monitor culture. It’s not a case of writing your employer value proposition and that’s it. Your culture is forever evolving and requires constant attention, discussion and tweaking to keep fresh, authentic and relevant. Engaging monthly, quarterly or bi-annual stakeholder meetings to review culture and policies is important to maintain an employer brand that has actually been developed with employee consultation.
  • Foster Professional and Personal development. One of the best ways to develop skills in your organisation is to encourage career development. By investing in courses, training, and learning opportunities for your team you will strengthen your culture, and your customer experience. What’s more, your team will be proud to share their development in a public domain, which will foster the communication of your employer brand as one that invests in its people.
  • Shine a light on your employees.  LinkedIn or other professional networks are a great place for your employees to build meaningful relationships and to establish their own personal brand. Leveraging the experiences, expertise, and personalities of your employees by allowing them to engage in speaking events, networking, panel opportunities, or mentorship roles in relation to their particular field of interest is great for professional development but also a beacon of positivity onto your employer brand.
  • Wider reach through employee profiles. With an authentic culture that your employees believe in, it’s more likely that they will want to proactively engage in conversation about the brand. Company news, job opportunities, and updates will be much more powerful when shared from individuals in your company, than just on your company channels alone. The average network size of a company’s employees is 10x larger than its own, therefore a good step in an employer brand strategy is to help employees use LinkedIn and other social media networks to represent themselves and spread the word about your company.

Step 6. Share it with potential candidates

Job descriptions are often the first contact candidates have with your company, so they’re a perfect way to promote your employer brand. Taking all of the unique elements that make up your workplace, culture and brand, you can now craft an engaging and compelling job description that stands out in a sea of competition.

Be sure to take your time when writing a job description and avoid some of the common pitfalls such as not putting a salary range, not clearly articulating employee benefits, and not conveying your culture and brand personality through careful use of language and tone of voice. You want your job advert to speak to your ideal employee, so make sure it’s crafted in a way that speaks to members of your tribe that share the same values and characteristics.

It’s also worth noting the importance of onboarding at this stage. 

Onboarding is when a business provides new employees with training and information to help them get acclimated to their new position. This helps them to quickly understand their role, their employer’s expectations, and the company’s culture and values.

For example, here at Zebra Growth, our onboarding process involves vision and purpose meetings which ensures our new team members know exactly what our values are, but it’s also a chance for them to get their voice heard. 

Personal development meetings, regular check-ins and of course, OfficeVibe are all key parts of our onboarding process which makes sure our new team members are comfortable and eased into their new role. 

Additionally, having an onboarding process motivates workers to be dedicated to the success of the business and aids in the retention of new hires by making them feel like a part of the team.


The question really is; “Do your team believe in your brand?”

Brand strategy is commonly used to support external activity such as growing market share, building brand equity, and moving into new markets. But a lesser known benefit is that it’s an important factor in attracting, and retaining a strong and aligned team.

A good quality brand strategy helps you to articulate your core identity. In today’s job market, understanding your brand’s beliefs, building an organisation that truly reflects them, and telling your brand story effectively is crucial to attract and retain the people that will form your team.

Just like your brand fights to win over the hearts and minds of your customers, it equally has a job on its hand in winning over the dedication, passion and belief from your team, now and in the future. 

Just imagine the potential of a brand that is authentic, coordinated, and truly believed in by its team. 

By having full alignment and buy-in to your brand internally allows you to shine a light on your brand’s DNA, through your culture and content, and helps you turn your brand into a beacon.

Just like building a relationship with a consumer, to attract and retain the best employees, you need to foster a culture where everyone is bonded and driven by the same guiding principles.

Need some help?

What people want from today’s brands is authenticity; for brands to actually be what they claim to be. Purpose and values aren’t decided upon in a board meeting; they are discovered and evidenced.

Zebra Growth is a brand and ethical growth marketing strategy agency that helps impact startups and scaleups to build and communicate their brand authentically. We create robust brand and growth strategies for the companies that want to ensure that their future business decisions are coordinated, concentrated, and utterly authentic.

A big part of brand strategy is authentic culture, and employer branding plays a crucial role in this. If you would like to find out more about how brand strategy can help you to develop an employer brand then email me at

Zebra Growth and ViewsForChange collaborate to enhance impact and ethical marketing

Ethical Growth Strategists Zebra Growth and Impact Marketing Platform, ViewsForChange, are partnering up to advance a sustainable marketing agenda for impact-driven enterprises. 

Zebra Growth and ViewsForChange will work together on research projects, promote impact marketing, and motivate the brands they engage with to strike a balance between generating profitable growth and creating positive social impact.

From a brand’s perspective, it’s critical to understand that when conscientious consumers’ purchasing power increases, they are more inclined to spend with brands that have a positive social impact. And, if a brand’s values conflict with their own, they are willing to vote with their wallet.

Here’s what Rae Legallienne (Head Of Business Development @ Zebra Growth) and Nicola Telford (Founder @ ViewsForChange) had to say:

We are delighted to announce our new partnership with Views for Change. With a shared commitment to authentic ethical and environmental principles, we will strive to support and empower a new generation of change-makers. Through collaboration and co -creation we really CAN balance positive social impact with ethical growth, for the benefit of people and the planet.

Rae Legallienne

Head Of Business Development, Zebra Growth

It’s really exciting to be inspiring a new wave of marketing alongside impact-marketers like the team at Zebra Growth. We are hugely aligned in our values and approach to how marketing can create positive social impact; and I look forward to working with the team to drive forward the impact marketing agenda.

Nicola Telford

Founder, ViewsForChange

What to expect from this new partnership 

  • Contribution to the launch of Roar of the Zebra, our new LinkedIn community for underrepresented groups
  • Webinar co-creation 
  • Shared resources and valuable content 
  • Contribution to our Ethical Growth and Social Impact Report 

We’d also like to say a quick congratulations to Nicola who won the Founder of the Year award at TechSPARK UK! Well deserved and we’re honoured to get to work alongside such an inspiring mind!  

About ViewsForChange

ViewsForChange is the Impact Marketing Platform. Enabling brands to integrate, attribute and verify tangible impact in their marketing activity. A first-of-its-kind platform, running ViewsForChange campaigns engages consumers with impact from the first impression, in real-time. 

Their platform works with eCommerce, DTC and B2C marketers that understand the importance of real social impact; not only for consumer engagement, but in creating a more regenerative marketing ecosystem.

Set up is simple: brands can choose a cause they align with; integrate their sources (like Instragram Ads or Tiktok Ads) and attribute a % of their cost-per-action to the cause. This impact is then unlocked when consumers take the desired action; brands can engage their consumers with this impact using our impact widgets (and many more consumer experiences coming soon!)

About Zebra Growth

Zebra Growth is a small agency with big ideas! We want to do our bit for humanity through the power of mindful, balanced growth. We’re helping to build a new, regenerative economy. An economy that is run by ethically driven entrepreneurs who seek to balance profitable growth with creating positive societal impact.

We work with ethically driven start-ups worldwide to create and grow revolutionary brands. Only partnering with organisations that authentically place social or environmental impact at their core.

We take an experiment-led approach to building and launching a brand, allowing you to test and validate ideas, minimise wastage, accelerate growth, and maximise impact.

We adopt this approach, with the addition of ethics, transparency and social impact as a priority and are always seeking better, smarter and more efficient ways to grow.

Business Is Sick: The Need for an Economic Regenerative Transformation

COP26, global climate strikes, a damning report from the IPCC. All very clear signals that accelerating climate change and ecological breakdown pose an existential threat to life on Earth. 

But the climate emergency is just a symptom of wider system failure which presents the greatest obstacles to meaningful climate action. This is the system which centres our economy on maximising profits for a small number of shareholders and beneficiaries, at the expense of people and the natural world. Just look at P & O Ferries for example, some financial troubles, and 800 staff dismissed without proper and legal consultation. 

In this blog, we’ll be looking at the role of the ‘growth-at-all-costs’ mindset in this system, using WeWork as another example of the devastation that certain unicorn firms and huge corporations are wreaking on communities and the environment as a result of our current economic system’s influence.

We will then introduce to you Doughnut Economics, an economic model with potential to heal the broken system, the 7 Principle Practices that should be followed, and its role in pushing towards an economic regenerative transformation. 

Business Has Lost Its Balance…

We’re all aware of the climate emergency.

Between the United Nations Climate Action Summit, youth-led Global Climate Strikes and COP26, I think it’s safe to say we’re all pretty aware of the threats our wonderful little planet and all of us on it are facing when it comes to ecological breakdown and climate change.

We believe that one of the main drivers of the climate emergency, and the greatest obstacle to meaningful climate action, is the system failure that centres our economy on maximising profits at the expense of people and the natural world. This leads to short-term decision making that places environmental and social costs on the margins, creating massive systemic risk and social unrest. 

The reality is that business leaders are going to have to start questioning this system failure at every opportunity with the goal of moving toward a new economic system that requires them and the investors who own their businesses to operate with a first principle to preserve the natural and social systems upon which life and thriving markets depend. 

Any meaningful response to the climate disaster should include not only strong climate action within individual businesses, but also courageous campaigning to overturn the systemic failure of shareholder primacy. 

Ps. If you’re interested in finding out about alternatives to shareholder primacy, sign up to our newsletter and you’ll be one of the first to be notified when our next article is released where we’ll be discussing Steward-Ownership. 

The ‘growth-at-all-costs’ mindset

The startup has become one of the world’s most influential organisations, but its growth-at-all-costs mindset isn’t bringing the benefits you’d expect. 

For a business to survive and successfully thrive, it must grow. However, the problem with some start-ups is that they believe they require rapid growth, forever.  

Growth is of course essential, especially considering that only around 5% of start-ups expand quickly enough and scale sufficiently to be viable. But should it be the main goal of a startup’s founders?

The end goal of quick growth for start-ups, particularly Unicorn Start-ups, is usually to raise as much cash from investors and to achieve that huge valuation. But to achieve that goal, they risk using all available resources, both planetary and human. 

‘Unicorn start-ups’, according to Beauhurst, are private companies with a valuation of at least $1 billion (now around £760 million). Aileen Lee, Founder of Cowboy Ventures invented the term in her 2013 article ‘Welcome to the Unicorn Club: Learning from Billion-Dollar Startups.’ In our next blog piece, we’ll take a deeper dive into the startup scene, notably the zebra movement, which is an alternative to the unicorn; so sign up here to get alerted when it’s published.

Due to the difficulty of privately-held enterprises reaching this billion-dollar valuation, these businesses were dubbed unicorns, however unicorn companies are no longer so uncommon. Over 1,000 companies are considered to be on the unicorn list globally – over 1000 companies attempting to grow fast and achieve a one-billion-dollar valuation. 

Imagine the speed at which our resources are being used to achieve this.

Although, it’s also not just unicorn startups that are wreaking havoc. It’s also these massive corporations which turn to us as individuals to make changes when they are the ones causing the greatest harm. They’ve already surpassed their billion-dollar valuation and are extremely valuable, yet they still want to expand and create more money for the few, regardless of how they get there.

This growth-at-all-costs mindset is evident in some examples such as the WeWork and P&O scandal. Uber’s treatment of staff, Facebook weaponising hate speech, Twitter trolls and AirBnB’s negative impact on communities are among some of the other examples we can look to for evidence.

But let’s take a deeper look at the WeWork scandal first to get a clearer idea of how the startup world in particular can cause business to be sick…

With big shot investors like Goldman Sachs Group and JP Morgan Chase & Co, WeWork was valued at 4.6 billion dollars in 2014. And although it was losing six million dollars a month, it was growing faster than ever before, with plans for sixty locations in more than a dozen cities. By 2016, there was growing doubt about the company’s ability to maintain its value, yet SoftBank, a Japanese multinational holding firm invested a further $4.4 billion into the company. 

But all that glitters isn’t actually gold. It was revealed during filings for an IPO that Neumann had been charging the company for personal expenses such as credit card debt secured by WeWork stock, raising further doubts about the company’s true value and corporate governance.

Neumann’s ultimate goal was to become the biggest office-space provider in the world. And there was the problem. Neumann wanted to be the world’s biggest office-space provider, stopping at nothing to achieve that. 

This is evidence of a startup entrepreneur putting profit maximisation first and doing everything he can to make his firm look appealing to investors so that he would be able to reach that goal of becoming the world’s biggest office space provider. Growth at all costs actually cost these entrepreneurs their whole firm. WeWork downplayed losses and overhyped its business plan, an all too common story in the unicorn world. 

And it’s not just real life, we are consuming the poison of growth at all costs on our screens. Billions, Succession starring Brian Cox, WeCrashed starring Jared Lato which actually tells the story of Adam Neumann and WeWork, and The Dropout with Amanda Seyfried. 

But, we can’t put all the blame on unicorn startups and forget about those bigger corporations out there… 

A larger scale example of ‘profits at all costs culture’

The P & O Ferries affair is a perfect illustration of this ‘profits at all costs’ attitude in these larger businesses to maximise shareholder profits and its genuine detrimental implications.

Having £100 million in losses year on year, P & O stated ‘our survival is dependent on making swift and significant changes now’. They subsequently fired 800 employees without warning, telling them that this was their last day on the job and that they would be replaced with new crew hired by a third party. 

It now seems apparent they have broken the law. When making substantial layoffs, an employer must a) give 45 days notice to the necessary authorities and b) consult the employees, usually through unions. P & O acknowledge that they did neither.

In a shockingly frank statement to MPs in March, chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite said: ‘There’s absolutely no doubt we were required to consult with the unions. We chose not to do that.’

Hebbelwaith indicated he was ‘saving the business’ because it ‘otherwise had no future’. But at what cost? 

As a business decision, his unrelenting quest of profit has driven him to break the law. `We now have a future. We don’t have to shut down the company,’ he said. Hebbelwaithe may believe he still has a business, but profit took precedence over people’s livelihoods, and look at the damage that was done. He no longer has his business. 

Although some unicorn businesses are leaving a trail of devastation in their wake, we’re starting to see with these large scale examples that it’s really not just the businesses, it’s actually the system that they’re operating within that is pushing these companies to fall off the ethics wagon. The reality is that we need an economic regenerative transformation that will allow financial stability and social and environmental impact to be on the same level of importance. 

You’re probably starting to think ‘why do such toxic cultures exist in the first place? Why have we accepted systems that prioritise profit over all else for so long? Why have we accepted a system where rapid expansion is seen as the key to success?’ Especially when looking at the examples of P & O and WeWork, we know that the growth-at-all-costs mindset leads to the eventual downfall of your business. So, how can we shift our economy to allow for anything other than shareholder primacy? 

And you know, you’re right. These are burning questions that we too are asking ourselves and that need to be addressed to dig deep into a possible economic regeneration. 

Introducing Doughnut Economics – A model to heal the system 

So, how do we ensure that corporations, and the investors who own them, operate with a first principle to preserve the natural and social systems upon which life and thriving markets depend?

Drum roll please…

Introducing the Doughnut Economy. According to the Doughnut Economics Action Lab (DEAL), ‘the Doughnut Economy presents a vision of what it will take for humanity to thrive in the 21st century, and Doughnut Economics delves into the mindset and ways of thinking that will lead us there’. 

We’d like to note here that although we’re a huge fan of doughnut economics, there are limits to it, just like all frameworks. Business is sick and the doughnut economy is one of the best fundamental solutions. Of course there are other models that are useful but this is the one that is gaining the most popularity. Essentially, it’s a nice way of explaining an economy that helps people to thrive rather than extract.

The doughnut is made up of two concentric rings: 

1. A social foundation that ensures no one is left falling short on life’s essentials. The social foundations 12 dimensions are developed from the social concerns set out in the Sustainable Development Goals.

2. The second ring serves as an ecological ceiling ensuring that humanity does not collectively exceed the planetary boundaries that protect Earth’s life-sustaining systems. The ecological ceiling has 9 dimensions, which are identified by Earth-System Scientists as 9 planetary boundaries. 


The doughnut-shaped area between these two sets of boundaries is both ecologically safe and socially just: a space where humanity can thrive. 

As a result, the goal is to meet the demands of all people while remaining within the limits of the living planet. But, if that’s the goal, you’re all probably thinking we’re a long way from achieving it. 

And you’re not wrong. 

All of the red in the doughnut represents the extent to which individuals are lacking in basic necessities of existence. According to DEAL, we must remove all red from the diagram, and we have to do so from both sides at the same time. 

We know all this talk can be a bit disheartening, but according to Nasa, the ozone layer is finally closing up because we humans are doing something about it. This makes us think ‘wow what we’re doing is actually working’. What better motivation! 

Essentially, we should all look at this doughnut and think to ourselves, ‘This is my company badge; we’re in business to help achieve these objectives; that’s why we’re here – we’re here to protect and preserve our natural and social systems’.

To address the degradation of the living environment and inequities in human communities, we need to develop businesses that are both regenerative and distributive by design.

But wait. What makes it possible for an organisation to become regenerative and distributive so that it helps bring humanity into the Doughnut?

We should be concentrating on the design of a business’ organisation rather than the design of their products and services. According to Marjorie Kelly, a renowned theorist in next-generation enterprise design, an organisation’s mission, networks, governance, ownership, and finance are the five main design qualities that influence what it can accomplish and be in the world.

DEAL has developed the 7 Doughnut Principles of Practice that businesses should follow to ensure they’re truly bringing the world’s economies into a secure and just space for humanity, and to maintain the integrity of any business concepts when they’re put into practise –

  1. Embrace the 21st century Goal – Meet the needs of all people within the planet’s resources. Aim to align the mission, networks, governance, ownership, and finance of your organisation with this aim.
  2. See the big picture – Recognize the possible roles of the household, the commons, the market, and the state in reforming economies, as well as their many synergies. Ensure that money complements rather than dominates the work.
  3. Nurture human nature – Diversity, participation, collaboration, and reciprocity should all be encouraged. Strengthen community networks, collaborate with a high level of trust and be concerned about the team’s well-being.
  4. Think in systems – Experiment, learn, adapt, evolve and aim for continuous improvement. Be alert to dynamic effects, feedback loops and tipping points. 
  5. Be distributive – Work in an open design spirit, and share the value you generate with everyone who helped you make it. Recognize power and work to disperse it across stakeholders to improve equity.
  6. Be regenerative – Aim to work with and within the cycles of the living world. Be a sharer, regenerator, steward. Reduce travel, minimise flights, be climate and energy smart. 
  7. Aim to thrive rather than to grow – Don’t let growth become a goal itself. Know when to let the work spread out via others rather than scale up in size. 

The reality is that businesses need to be built with this economy in mind. Again, we’re not saying that doughnut economics is the answer to everything, but it’s a good place to start. Genuine, purpose-driven businesses that are allowed to balance environmental and social needs with their financial stability are what we need. And that’s what Zebra Growth is all about. 

The examples of WeWork and P&O show how they were falling short on providing income and work, health, and social equity. For both of these companies, the growth-at-all-costs mindset took over. But again, the problem lies with the influence from our current economic system to maximise profit above all else.

Our whole mission here at Zebra Growth is to help genuinely purpose driven brands scale their impact, and so shifting towards a doughnut economy is vital to allow these mission driven scale-ups to thrive in an economy that isn’t built to push them to create as much profit as possible at whatever cost. We need to have this doughnut system as the underpinning economy/philosophy moving forward – ensuring that corporations, and the investors who own them, actually operate with a first principle to preserve the natural and social systems upon which life and thriving markets depend.

Look, we really do understand the need for a paradigm shift and that’s why we’re here; to be that helping hand in communicating your purpose.


Okay, so let’s go over everything we just covered. We know that accelerating climate change and ecological breakdown pose an existential threat to life on Earth, and we know that this climate emergency is just a symptom of wider system failure which presents the greatest impediment to meaningful climate action. 

In this blog, we looked at the critical role not only the startup plays in this system, but also larger corporations, and the pain and suffering the growth-at-all-costs mindset is causing. We then gave practical examples of the destruction these companies are causing to communities and to the environment. 

Doughnut Economics (one of our faves) was proposed as a potential solution to heal the broken economic system with the following 7 principles of practice to be followed according to DEAL to ensure businesses are truly bringing the world’s economies into a secure and just space for humanity:

  1. Embrace the 21st century Goal 
  2. See the big picture 
  3. Nurture human nature 
  4. Think in systems 
  5. Be distributive 
  6. Be regenerative 
  7. Aim to thrive rather than to grow 

So what are you waiting for? 

If you’re an entrepreneur or marketer, and something in your gut is telling you that the current system and the destruction it’s causing isn’t right, then join our mailing list and be the first to receive exclusive event invites, new blog posts like these, and a bunch of free resources you can start using with your team straight away.