“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.” The words of French-German philosopher Albert Schweitzer ring truer than ever for the growing band of entrepreneurs that are building their success on creating positive social and environmental impact in the world.

Here, six business owners explain what makes them happy to get out of bed in the morning as they continue to find solutions to the world’s most challenging problems.

Virgin unite, sustainability, tom idle, Tom Cridland
Tom Cridland

Tom Cridland, founder of Tom Cridland, an ethical fashion brand that offers a 30-year guarantee to a range of products to prove its sustainability credentials.

The reason I decided to start a sustainable fashion brand – and to run it with my girlfriend of many years, Debs Marx – was actually to be happy.

Above any ambitious career plans, I knew that devoting each day to trying to produce beautifully made clothing and developing concepts that highlight the benefits of sustainable fashion would make it easy to get up in the morning.

I also love spending time with Debs and we make a great team. I thought I might be in my 40s or 50s by the time we had achieved our dream of working on entrepreneurial projects alongside one another. But the fact that we’re already in this position now, at the age of 26, shows that you should always try to put happiness – yours and those who you love – first.

It’s more important than saving up for that mortgage or getting a flashy car. You spend 80 per cent of your life working, or so I hear. So, why not try to work on something you enjoy?

Next month, we’re pursuing a lifelong dream. Our band, The Tomicks, are recording our first album at The Village, a legendary studio in Los Angeles. Many people would argue this is a distraction from growing the sustainable fashion brand – and many focus groups would rip their hair out at the deviation from focusing on marketing our products.

Like the clothing we love making, however, we are doing this because we love to.

Virgin unite, sustainability, tom idle, Tom Robinson
Tom Robinson, Adaptavate

Tom Robinson, founder of Adaptavate, a developer of bio-composite materials that can be used in construction making our homes more environmentally sound.

Knowing that the path you are treading as you build a conscious company is a completely unique and potentially game-changing path; this is what gets me up every morning.

I know that no two days are going to be the same and that the decisions I make each day can have a direct effect on the impact Adaptavate can have on the construction industry.

This constant pathway of both business and personal discovery keeps me invigorated and happy.

Virgin unite, sustainability, tom idle, Laura Thomson

Laura Thomson, founder of Phenomenal Training, a training consultancy working with organisations that want to change their people culture for sustainable results.

I just love being part of the brainstorm phase when an organisation is faced with a people-related challenge or a problem which they want addressing – like transforming a customer service culture or improving team ways of working. A chance chat can spark the best idea or, more satisfyingly, enable someone else to have a platform for their idea. It might sound a bit crazy at the time, but a few weeks or months later with the right people, passion, purpose and a plan, and that idea could be the foundation of a fresh new concept that fires up people’s imaginations – and the homegrown ideas are always the best because they gather momentum.

What really gets me out of bed in the morning is the desire to give people a really good experience at work that day and to make them smile. A workshop or training session should be a highlight of someone’s working month and it is such a privilege to take people on their journey of learning and self-discovery.

10 years in and growing, I have always had the belief that if you’re going to bother to do something you might as well make it phenomenal.

Virgin unite, sustainability, tom idle, Sean Simpson
Sean Simpson, LanzaTech

Sean Simpson, co-founder of LanzaTech, a technology business that has developed a fermentation process to turn waste gases into fuels and chemicals.

To be in my role is a privilege. I have the opportunity to spend each day in a team with the smartest people I know who wrestle with biology, chemistry, and physics to commercialise a new technology that produces climate friendly fuels and chemicals at enormous scale.

The enjoyment comes from the fact that this is not only a technical challenge but also has all the challenges associated with getting a new, improved approach accepted and adopted.

In developing any new process, the journey is never easy, straightforward or simple. There is, at times, an overwhelming sense of frustration, confusion and despair. Developing and commercialising technology that could form the basis of a whole new industry is exhausting and hard work for all involved.

But as a team we have the chance to provide the world with the tools to actually eliminate waste – and all of the environmental and societal problems that come along with that waste. I believe it was the legendary computer Scientist Alan Kay who said, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it”. And in the future we are inventing we have technology to recycle waste into planet-friendly fuels and chemicals. That puts a smile on my dial.

Virgin unite, sustainability, tom idle, Hugo Spowers
Hugo Spowers. Riversimple

Hugo Spowers, founder of Riversimple, a developer of hydrogen fuel-cell cars which has developed a new business model to make energy efficiency financially viable.

Being an engineer at heart, I jump out of bed when I have an engineering riddle to solve on something that is pushing the outside of the envelope.

I'm old-fashioned and really prefer drawings to CAD. A hot black coffee, paper and pencil on a large drawing board with Pink Floyd on vinyl is my idea of heaven. I have been lucky enough to work with experienced engineers from motorsport and aerospace, as well as the mainstream auto sector, and these conversations completely absorb me despite any of the day-to-day hassles of everyday business.

But I also get a huge buzz when the penny drops in a business context, either for me or an external partner to whom I am enthusing about open source, selling performance rather than products or multi-stakeholder governance. Just this week, for instance, I have realised that adopting a circular ‘sale of service’ business model not only makes energy efficiency profitable but also rewards quality. Normally quality only pays if the customer is prepared to pay extra. But for the manufacturer-cum-service provider, a quality product is more profitable without any such premium.

An insight like this will make any day for me.

Virgin Unite, sustainability, tom idle, Rob Webbon

Rob Webbon, founder of Grn Sportswear, a producer of ethically made sportswear apparel.

My day job was all about using my expertise for delivering sustainability projects. The light bulb moment came when I realised that while I was working on ways to make cities more sustainable, right in front of me was a great opportunity to make a difference in the sports I loved doing, and where so much could be done. I saw so many events with drifts of discarded plastic bottles, and a single-use-jersey and event tees culture; I realised this was something we could look at in a new way that would make a real difference. So, Grn Sportswear was born.


Designing has been so fun! Imagine all of those niggling things that you would change or add in your favourite clothing to ride in.   

We launched our flagship jerseys after a year of product development. They’re made from a fantastic, high-performance material that used to be old plastic bottles. And we've since expanded our range to cover all the triathlon disciplines using the same principles of sustainability and high performance. We're constantly looking for and finding new and exciting fabrics, such as our lycra which is made from recycled carpets and fishing nets.”

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