EARLY last summer Julian Walker-Palin was standing at a crossroads.
A successful and enjoyable career had led him to be Asda’s head of corporate sustainability for seven years, and a promotion was in the offing.
He had built the largest and most successful UK supplier engagement programme focused on resource efficiency, and had mapped Asda’s entire food business and UK portfolio against future risk from climate change.
By June 2014 he was the longest serving sustainability lead in Walmart’s history - and the most influential - and a global role was being offered, which would mean moving to America.
The other route - to become an independent consultant - was far less certain, but was one he had long wanted to take.
With support from his family, and a network of contacts, he chose the latter - and Etante was born.
The Harrogate-based enterprise, of which he is managing director, helps companies leverage sustainability and communications to increase profitability, become more resilient and comply with legislation.
In the short time the business has been up and running, it has already attracted clients including Nando’s, Tesco, Heineken in the UK and Reckitt Benckiser in North America.
“My passion is to help people lead better lives and sustainability is at the heart of this - it’s becoming more urgent. So I definitely had no desire to leave the area of sustainability,” he said.
“My network was so overwhelmingly supportive of me and gave me the confidence to go it alone. My family believed in me and together we created Etante - my son came up with the name.”
The final clincher for Mr Walker-Palin was when he was approached by Nando’s. “Through that one client I was able to take the risk.”
Running a small business suddenly presented him with new challenges. He said: “It’s a steep learning curve initially - with things like tax, finances, bank accounts, registration and VAT.
“But it’s a huge amount of fun working for yourself. It took me a month to get over that I didn’t need to keep checking into a boss.
“You live and die on your work ethic - I don’t get many free weekends but the business is doing great.
“Six months in and I don’t know what I’ll be working on after the summer, but I’m sure it will be exciting. It’s a different mindset but if you embrace it it’s fun and profitable.
“I would definitely recommend it to others but in my area it’s a crowded space and you need a USP.”
In Mr Walker-Palin’s case, his USP is that he has led a sustainability team.
By having been there and done it, he has sat where his clients now sit.
Etante’s work includes strategy development, building supply chain collaboration, sustainable sourcing, internal governance procedures and communications.
Mr Walker-Palin is also a special advisor to WRAP, the organisation that helps to reduce waste, develop sustainable products and use resources efficiently. He is responsible for industry engagement in its Courtauld 2025 project, which is planned to start early 2016 and aims to tackle the worldwide problem of food waste, which in the UK alone costs some £19bn.