Just 15 UK businesses can call themselves a King’s Awardee for Sustainable Development. The secret, according to inaugural recipient Thomas Kneale, is to be an ‘influencer’ as much as a ‘doer’.  

Previously known as the Queen’s Awards for Enterprise, the newly re-named King’s Awards are given annually for outstanding achievement in Innovation, International Trade, Sustainable Development or Promoting Opportunity and reflect His Majesty’s personal commitment to encouraging sustainability as a key goal. 
The prestigious Sustainable Development category is highly sought-after and rarely awarded. For Thomas Kneale & Co, a leading Manchester-based supplier of contract textiles to public sector institutions and commercial accommodation providers, the King’s Award is a huge milestone in a long and ongoing sustainability journey that began in earnest in 2015. 

Thomas Kneale’s award-winning journey 

Thomas Kneale already has a multitude of sustainability successes under its belt. As well as achieving ISO 14001 Environmental Management System accreditation, the business has halved its scope 1 (direct) and scope 2 (electricity) greenhouse gas emissions since 2018, ahead of a target to halve total emissions by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. 
The heating system at its Manchester base has been upgraded with an energy-efficient combi-boiler and all lighting has been moved to LEDs – the latter supplied by Green Economy member NPS Energy. The company’s impressive progress towards net zero has been enhanced by enrolling key staff on the popular Low Carbon Skills: Journey to Net Zero training programme, delivered by our parent organisation The Growth Company. 
On the product side, Thomas Kneale has made great strides towards recycled content in products and packaging and is a Friend of the Re-use Network, helping its customers to donate products to charity for reuse at end-of-life.  
From a wider sustainability perspective, the company also uses Fairtrade cotton, is a Living Wage Foundation employer and is a proactive supporter of local volunteering, mentoring and charitable initiatives.  

“The thing about sustainability is we all need to embrace it together” 

Perhaps most impressive is Thomas Kneale’s engagement with its suppliers, customers and wider stakeholders. Flagship achievements to date include installing solar panels on the roof of its partner mill in Pakistan and gaining the EcoVadis Sustainability Index Gold Medal, placing the company in the top 5 per cent of suppliers scrutinised by the global ratings platform.  
“We have long-standing relationships with our partner mills. We don’t own them, but we respect and work very closely with them and we share guidance with them,” explains Performance Director, Brett Mendell. “We believe that the King’s Award has been given to us not just because of the activities we’ve taken in the UK ourselves, but in recognition of how we work with others and encourage them to commit to progressive policies. 
“The thing about sustainability is we all need to embrace it together. You can achieve so much on your own, but so much more when you work in partnership. We’ve kind of become ‘influencers’ as much as we have become ‘doers’. We don’t just want to crack on with what we’re doing quietly, because we feel there’s more value in sharing, helping and working with others collectively.” 

“Don’t get too bogged down in spreadsheets” 

Brett’s advice to others starting out their sustainability journey is to start small and increase ambitions as knowledge grows within the organisation: “Sustainability doesn’t need to be rocket science. We try not to get overly bogged down in spreadsheets and detailed plans. I’ve found that walking the walk is more important and you can achieve so much more through your actions rather than your intentions."  
“I would say, keep it simple. Look at the quick wins, then move onto things that take a bit more time and investment, set stretching targets and continually build on your achievements. Involve people – we encourage suggestions and have a culture of ‘no idea is a bad idea’ – and, crucially, never feel that you’ve done everything and rest on your laurels."
“There’s always more than you can do. That’s why the networking and the stakeholders are really critical. Push others and allow yourself to be pushed, talk to each other, share information. Having those values has helped us move quicker and do more, and in turn that’s important for helping others to move quicker and do more as well.” 

Thomas Kneale

Brett Mendell (left) and Richard Manville (Right) of Thomas Kneale collecting Sodexo’s SME Supplier of the Year from Patrick Forbes (Sodexo, middle)

Fellow winners 

  • Thomas Kneale is joined by 14 other organisations recognised with King’s Awards for
  • Sustainable Development in 2023:  
  • ACS Clothing Ltd in Motherwell, recognised for providing solutions to the fashion sustainability crisis 
  • Anpario plc in Worksop, recognised for championing production of safe, sustainable and healthy food 
  • Benchmark Woodworking in Hungerford, recognised for furniture that makes a positive impact for the environment and inspiring sustainable consumption 
  • Clayworks Ltd in Helston, recognised for leading the world in making natural clay plasters 
  • First Milk in Aspatria, recognised for demonstrating how dairy farmers can be part of the climate change solution 
  • Greenyard Frozen UK in Kings Lynn, recognised for aspiring to be a driving force towards healthier lifestyles and more sustainable food chains 
  • John Pulsford Associates in St Albans, recognised for creating workspaces that are better for people and planet 
  • LittlePod in Farringdon, recognised for working directly with farmers and consumers to increase awareness and the use of real vanilla 
  • Midas Pattern Company in Bedford, recognised for achieving carbon neutral manufacturing with a sustained environmental and ethical strategy 
  • Naturaw Pet Food in Wetherby, recognised for raw dog food in plastic-free, compostable packaging 
  • SunGod in Willington, recognised for making better products that are better for the planet 
  • The Green Estate CIC in Sheffield, recognised for its mission to grow engaging, adaptive and resilient urban places 
  • The James Hutton Institute in Dundee, recognised for helping to secure food and environmental security for future generations 
  • Trade & DIY Products in Wirksworth, recognised for positive impact through sustainable product design, strong ethics and good governance. 

I would say, keep it simple. Look at the quick wins, then move onto things that take a bit more time and investment, set stretching targets and continually build on your achievements. Involve people – we encourage suggestions and have a culture of ‘no idea is a bad idea’ – and, crucially, never feel that you’ve done everything and rest on your laurels.

Brett Mendell, performance director at Thomas Kneale

Applications for the 2024 King’s Awards for Enterprise are now open. For more information visit gov.uk/kings-awards-for-enterprise

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