When it comes to the environment, businesses need to be ambitious, says Stephen Bentley. Here are a few tips to help you put your greener business plans into practice.
There are many business benefits from becoming greener, from a reduction in overheads to helping you pitch (and sometimes win) ethically minded new business. But whilst it’s easy to talk about becoming greener, it’s a lot harder to actually put into practice.
Having worked hard to achieve the internationally recognised IS0 14001 standard ourselves - and inadvertently changing our environmental philosophy in the process - there’s a lot we’ve learnt. Whether you’re working towards an official accreditation or just want to reduce your carbon footprint, here are some first-hand tips on becoming a greener business.
1. Appoint a Green Ambassador
You need someone in the company to spearhead any new green initiatives. Importantly, this person has to be an advocate, who uses their innate passion and enthusiasm for all things green to drive the project forwards rather than being motivated by some kind of remuneration. That's important because becoming greener is a collective responsibility and requires buy-in from the whole company – any project that is perceived as simply being a "tick box" exercise designed to benefit one individual will be destined to fail.
The appointed Green Ambassador doesn’t necessarily have to be a director, but by the nature of the role they will need to have good organisational and communication skills to put in place the required written policies and manage the administration of the various initiatives. Likewise, while their position in the company’s hierarchy shouldn’t be the driving factor in the decision, they do need to be a charismatic leader in order to inspire change within the organisation.
Getting this appointment right is absolutely key, but the role shouldn’t be seen as a burden. Ideally, they should volunteer and see it as an opportunity to make a positive difference to both the company and the environment. Essentially, it needs to mean something to them personally.
2. Find the low hanging fruit
Resistance to change is an issue that every company and manager has to face at some point, whether it’s environmentally related or not. So when it comes to becoming greener, change management is absolutely vital.
Luckily, we’ve seen a step-change in people’s general attitudes and understanding of green issues over the past decade, with most people now habitually recycling, so the hurdles are certainly nowhere near as high as they once were. The key to implementing behavioural change in the workplace is to engage people slowly. Find the low-hanging fruit that are quick and easy to practice and doesn’t disrupt people’s routines too much. Hopefully this should get people on board slowly and create an appetite to want to do more.
3. Continuously set, review and amend targets
International standards such as the ISO14001 are founded and judged upon benchmarking and continuous improvement. It’s a philosophy that every company can benefit from – big and small. In order to do so, companies need to set metrics against what they want to achieve. For example, it could be reducing the electricity or water bill by 10 per cent or reducing excess waste by 40 per cent. Whatever it is, there should be a figure and a timeframe.
As well as motivating staff, what this does is turn an ethical argument into an economic one. It moves it beyond the token provision of recycling bins to making it an integral part of the business’ processes. Once quantifiable you’ll be amazed at how much money you’ve been wasting and you can begin to build a business case for green initiatives based on hard evidence.
In order to be able to demonstrate the consistent benefits, you will of course need to constantly monitor, review and amend outputs and targets, which again requires a certain level of administrative skills and expertise.
4. Communicate the rationale and benefits
People are always going to be more supportive when they can see the benefits and understand their role in achieving them. So it’s important that any changes are clearly communicated and explained before implementing and feedback given during or after. It’s here that having hard, quantifiable evidence can be really effective in changing behaviour through positive reinforcement.
5. Be ambitious – the “aggregation of marginal gains”
To draw on a sporting analogy if I may, Dave Brailsford – Team GB’s cycling performance director – accredits the team’s success this summer to “aggregation of marginal gains”. This involves examining almost every tiny detail and identifying areas for improvement. It’s obviously a very successful strategy and one that can be applied to every company’s CSR policy.
The ultimate goal for the business should be to have as little impact on the environment as possible. Examine all parts of the business, not just those that are obvious, as there are marginal gains to be made everywhere – from sourcing materials sustainably to how your staff travel to work.