Richard Dickson, Co-Founder of Manchester start-up Play It Green, tells us about his innovative approach to driving sustainable change and why relying on tree planting alone is not enough.
Play It Green is a subscription-based sustainability and tree planting partner that provides simple and cost-effective ways for people and businesses to move towards net zero whilst making an immediate environmental and social impact.
Founded by two friends, Richard Dickson and Chris Thair, Play It Green practices the concept of ‘conscious capitalism’. Ten per cent of all revenues are given away to good causes, and margins are kept as low as possible to prioritise people and planet over profit. A portion of annual profits are also invested into green tech solutions to ensure the company makes more of an impact on climate change.
Having approached the Growth Hub when Play It Green was still just a bright idea, the founders joined the Hub’s Innov8 programme, where they gained knowledge and skills to support their commercialisation. The Hub’s Eco Innovation team was also instrumental in helping Play It Green to develop its business plan, secure £150,000 in early-stage investment and expand its network winning 42 new clients.
How did the idea for Play It Green come about?
Before we founded Play It Green, I had been working for a not-for-profit that focuses on tree planting. During my time there I had visited Manchester City FC to see what we could do with them. As a big City fan, I was looking at the fifty-odd thousand people in the stadium on matchdays and realised that the impact I could have by engaging with fans directly could be far greater than anything I’d been doing up until that point.
I knew that planting trees wasn’t enough on its own. I have a background in psychology and what I really wanted to focus on was behaviour change, and sport is a massive influencer. So I met with my friend Chris, who at the time was the head of European Rugby League and is well connected in the sports industry. I ran through my idea for ‘climate positive matchdays’, our conversations developed the concept and we got excited about a ‘world first’ proposition for sport. Everything developed from this point and the business was born.
How does your service work?
Play It Green is based on a simple three-step solution that bridges the gap between ‘intent’ and ‘action’.
First, our members help to ‘Repair’ the planet by planting lots of trees, a £5 subscription ensures 13 new trees a month are planted which more than rebalances their personal footprint and work travel. Next, they receive support to ‘Reduce’ their footprint through weekly tips and discounts on products that solve a specific sustainability issue. And finally, we ‘Regive’ by giving members the power to put 10% back into a good cause of their choice.
Every member receives their own personalised website page, we call a Forest Garden. This has lots of cool features including a net zero framework for businesses and promotional badges.
Every product and service we provide, such as businesses getting a Climate Positive Workforce, is wrapped up in our three step solution. We love this, as it allows everyone to make an immediate impact whilst accelerating their journey towards greatly reducing their carbon footprint. Something we are passionate about.
How do you ensure that the trees you plant have a genuine impact on people and planet?
I visited tree planting organisations in my previous job and there were very obvious problems. It wasn’t well monitored and the industry is not regulated properly. We tackle that by allowing people to dig into our business as much as they want.
We’re completely transparent – we publish regular tree planting reports, our purchase receipts for the trees and the google earth coordinates of the three planting sites in Madagascar. Our tree planting partner pays people in the community to monitor and protect the trees they plant, so there’s a guarantee and a social impact as well. The tree planting aspect of our business supports ten of the seventeen United Nations Sustainability Development Goals, so we are really proud.
What other solutions do you provide for businesses?
Businesses love our ‘Climate Positive Workforce’ package, as it provides a great staff perk whilst immediately greenifying their CSR and marketing capabilities. Some businesses enhance their sales proposition with us, with the message of planting a tree and supporting a good cause for the product, service or event. Others simply just subscribe to what they can afford and find the Net Zero framework and promotional badges really useful. Companies can also offset their footprint with us, so immediately become carbon neutral whilst on the road to net zero. We’ve recently launched an offer to the hospitality sector and through our partners we have additional services such as green energy brokerage, carbon literacy training and carbon footprint reporting.
Our next phase of website development will take things even further. Business members will have access to all sorts of widgets and charts that they can display on their own website, and there will be a Facebook-style community so they can communicate and share best practice with each other.
Around 80 per cent of our revenue now comes from the business side of our offering. We’re basically a one-stop shop, all built around our three steps of Repair, Reduce and Regive.
What sort of businesses do you work with?
Our business members range from SME’s to PLCs (Publicy Listed Companies) in every sector that you could think of, as being more sustainable is relevant to everyone. The majority are UK based however within six months we had members in five nations outside of the UK. Sign ups range from the Global Governing Body for American Football and big tech companies such as Ikonic through to small legal practices and accountancy firms. Behind the scenes, we are talking to some of the biggest brands in the world who appreciate our unique approach but in a nutshell we will work with anyone, as it ensures we can collectively make a bigger environmental and social impact.
How useful was the Hub’s support in getting you from the ‘bright idea’ stage to the exciting place it is now?
We started working with the Growth Hub very early in our journey. The Innovation team was a great sounding board for our ideas; our advisor Belinda believed in us and pointed us in the right direction whenever we needed new connections.
The Hub was also instrumental in helping us to raise the finance we needed. The pitch decks we developed with Belinda helped us to secure our first round of investment. We wouldn’t have got that money without the Growth Hub – I genuinely don’t think we would be here without their support.
What does the immediate future hold for Play It Green?
We have so many plans and ideas – most of our 80-page business plan hasn’t been activated yet. This industry is still young. I like to describe it as the ‘Green Rush’, like the Gold Rush in the 19th century. There are those who are only interested in profit, and others – like us – who are interested in impact. It’s the latter who will win out in the end.
It’s been the most incredible journey and I’m hugely thankful for the support we’ve received from the Growth Hub. I’ve gone from the lowest point in my life when I walked out of my previous job to being on the brink of something that could be really special.