Going green - can you afford not to?

16th of March 2011
Going green - can you afford not to?
Going green - can you afford not to?

We must all tread more softly on the planet and leave a smaller carbon footprint, we are constantly told. But with European economies deeply in the red can businesses really afford to go green? Hartley Milner tries to find out.

The message from those who have already grasped the nettle is simply they cannot afford not to 'go green' – especially in these challenging times. Even setting aside the environmental costs of doing nothing, the private sector is bludgeoned daily by rising prices for basics like fuel, energy and raw materials, with no end to the spiral in sight.

‘Sustainability’ is a buzzword for how we should change our ways that is fast becoming a byword for employers seeking to reduce both the impact of rising costs on their bottom line and fallout from their activities on the environment and communities they serve.

“In the short-term, businesses can reap tangible benefits such as cost savings, increased staff recruitment and better retention and preparedness for future legislation,” said Katie Webber, Mayday campaign director, Business in the Community (BITC) in the UK. “In the long-term, benefits include product, service or business innovation, providing access to new markets and enabling a business to stay competitive as demand grows for sustainable products and services.”

Answering the Mayday call

Sodexo, a global food and facilities management services provider, is a member of the Prince's Mayday Network, the UK's largest business group committed to action on climate change, which was convened by sustainability adviser BITC.

Corporate citizenship manager Thomas Jelley said: “Regardless of the economic downturn, our clients and customers rightly expect quality service that helps to address common challenges, such as environmental performance, and a business culture in which diversity and inclusion brings the best out
in everyone."

The company is well down the sustainability road, its cleaning division using kinder, more cost-effective products and equipment - including microfibre cloths, mops and particulate air filter suction cleaners that remove 99.9 per cent of airborne particles. Daytime cleaning is another element in its drive to save energy.

It has identified impacts and wastefulness in other areas too. One shrewd spot led to a packaging redesign that reduced plastic content by 9.4 per cent, paper by 10.9 per cent and wood by 17.6 per cent – an overall reduction in packaging of approximately one tonne per year from just the one product line. The introduction of concentrated cleaning chemicals has reduced packaging of these products by up to 80 per cent.

Sodexo’s socially responsible Better Tomorrow Plan sets out 14 pledges to stakeholders and communities worldwide. Among these are commitments to provide food choices with reduced sugar, salt and fat at client sites, tackle hunger and malnutrition through the company’s STOP Hunger programme and source sustainable food and equipment supplies in countries where it operates. Plus it is working to limit its carbon and  water  footprint.

On the ground, Sodexo is helping client Nokia’s employees in China make healthy lifestyle choices by providing innovative facilities, services and educational programmes. Meanwhile, companies and producers in Peru are being supported through training and technical assistance in hygiene, health and management. Once their products meet specified standards, they are certified to sell them to all Sodexo sites.

Better Tomorrow also sets target dates for meeting its commitments. “Through this 10-year sustainable development strategy, we are committing to continuous improvement through a challenging but robust and structured approach,” Jelley added.

Sodexo’s people awareness policies were formally recognised earlier this year in a worldwide index that applauds diversity and inclusion, another major plank of the company’s Better Tomorrow Plan.

Commended specifically for its Spirit of Inclusion programme, the services provider was ranked first in the UK category of DiversityInc’s Top 50 Companies for Diversity, ahead of 45 other leading businesses. The company was praised in the think tank report for work undertaken by its Diversity Council, approach to mandatory diversity and inclusion training, and the role that diversity and inclusion plays in helping to secure and retain business.

Family values at heart

International facilities services provider OCS is another BITC member driving through its programme despite the downturn. Sustainability director Adrian Shuker said: “A history of family ownership means that protecting the interests of future generations is core to our values. It just means clear communication to stakeholders of the benefits is particularly poignant.”

In fact, the company is predicting early returns on some of its investments – a heat recovery system installed at its Stevenage laundry in the UK is expected to pay for itself within two years.

Areas where OCS is expecting a payback in terms of business competitiveness are:

• Improved efficiency and reduced operational costs

• Reduced risk of regulatory fines for transgressions

• Increased staff retention

• Improved borrowing ability

• Increased business opportunities, particularly within the areas of legislative compliance, waste minimisation and hard services.

The company has introduced recycling and reuse measures to reduce landfill; micro-fibre cleaning systems to cut chemical use; enzyme cleaning products; battery-powered machinery; and ergonomically designed water-fed pole systems that use less water. Another innovation is electrically charged tap water, which, when passed through a process to turn it into ionised water, attracts and lifts dirt, allowing it to be easily wiped away. Plus it has changed working patterns to reduce energy consumption and resource use.

But the company is now looking to go further. Shuker explained: “The steady depletion of oil, coal and gas reserves drives up fuel and energy prices and places an onus on businesses to find new energy sources to power their operations. Encouraged by the UK government’s feed-in tariff scheme, we are investigating the commercial case for solar and wind-generated electricity.”

As part of its programme to engage employees on environmental issues, an awareness road show is being rolled out to OCS’s principal sites in the UK. The company is engaging its workforce in other ways, such as by becoming one of the first businesses to sign the Skills Pledge, a voluntary commitment by employers to implement basic skills training and development for all employees.

To promote diversity in the workplace, OCS has linked up with Asset Skills to increase personal development opportunities through the Women and Work programme, which resulted in it receiving Asset Skills’ Women and Work Employer Award. It is currently collaborating with employment services provider Remploy to help people who have disabilities and face complex work barriers to join its organisation. An agreement is expected soon to place people in a prescribed number of positions every year.

On the global stage, the company has supported the Wells for India charity, based in Kotra, Rajasthan, helping meet urgent needs in the region for nutritional support, unpolluted water, water harvesting, hand pumps, latrines and health education.

Small players, big impact

For sustainability goals to be achievable, all corporate players need to be onside – and that includes in most economies by far the largest employer – the small and medium-size enterprise (SME) sector. In the UK alone, SMEs comprise over 99 per cent of businesses, employing 14,605 million people.

But there is a profusion – even a confusion – of advice and information out there for employers looking to take that first step.

Business Link, the UK government’s free business advice and support service, provides a jargon-free guide to getting started, and understands the concerns that can hold SMEs back.

Business Link adviser John Grange said: “It’s not necessarily the cost – the reality in the SME sector is lack of time. There is always something else to do. We need to make them aware of the benefits of doing things differently. It may be simple things to start off with, like using low-energy light bulbs, reusing or recycling cardboard boxes instead of throwing them away or asking ‘why are we using more than one car for this journey?’

“Going down the sustainability route can actually free up people to do other things and boost staff morale and, therefore, productivity. Any initial costs can be offset by significant long-term savings. Having a greener profile can be a huge marketing aid for SMEs, showing them in a better light and attracting new business from other like-minded companies.”

Advice for small and medium-sized businesses  is available through local government agencies across the European Union.


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