Small changes can have big sustainability impact

9th of March 2012
Small changes can have big sustainability impact

Many companies today have highly-publicised sustainability policies and are saving energy, reducing waste and donating to charities on a grand scale. But smaller, less newsworthy changes can also make a significant difference to a company’s overall sustainability.

Sustainability is a marketing manager’s dream. When an organisation demonstrates its sustainability by making large donations to charity or achieving sizeable cuts in CO2 emissions, the press release issued by the company practically writes itself.

Of course saving energy, reducing emissions, cutting down on water and aiding the community are all key aspects of sustainability  - as well as being excellent practices in their own right. But true sustainability is not only about making huge charitable donations and setting bold emissions targets. These practices may grab the headlines, but there are many companies that are quietly going about their daily business of being sustainable on a much smaller scale.

And of course, many companies are doing both. Among these is Diversey, which has signed the WWF’s Climate Savers covenant and has publicly vowed to cut its carbon dioxide emissions by 25 per cent by 2013. However the company also has a European Sustainability Charter which incorporates many smaller changes that can together make a major difference, according to sustainability manager Ed Roberts.

“For example, all our printers are set to black and white and print on both sides of the paper,” he said. “This has dramatically cut our paper and ink consumption and saved almost 17,000 euros a year in the UK alone.

“We also have a policy that caps emissions on our car fleet, and where it makes sense our employees are each issued with a reusable coffee cup for our vending machines.”

Reminders to switch off lights are posted up in all Diversey offices, and recycling facilities have replaced desk-side waste paper baskets. “Besides having a positive effect on the environment this has saved cleaners a great deal of time plus a significant number of bin bags,” said Roberts.

Day-to-day changes

Communications manager EMEA of Tennant Agnes Knapen agrees that day-to-day changes are an important part of any company’s sustainability policy. “We at Tennant find it equally important to focus on smaller sustainable changes that attract less publicity alongside strategic changes,” she said.

Examples include lighting improvements, waste recycling, a reduction in pallet use and the introduction of re-usable packaging. “We also try to reduce the amount of marketing materials we print wherever possible, and we use green energy solutions and on-line meeting capabilities when we can.”

According to Knapen, Tennant has had a policy of 'giving back to the community' for half acentury. “We have a proven history of actively cultivating community connections through the work of the Tennant Foundation and through employee volunteer programmes,” she said. “When our communities thrive, we thrive.”

In 2010 the Tennant Foundation donated aid to more than 30 organisations including arts centres, academies, a children’s hospital foundation and a charity for the blind.

SCA Hygiene Products’ global environment and product safety director Susan Iliefski-Janols also feels that good sustainability work involves major changes - plus a series of smaller ones. “The small steps in our day-to-day work ensure that we are moving in the right direction as far as sustainability is concerned,” she said. “We use our way of working with product safety and life cycle analysis to ensure that we are constantly improving our environmental performance, little by little.”

Kimberly-Clark has also made high-profile sustainability pledges, namely to reduce water use by 25 per cent and achieve a five per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. According to category manager Lori Shaffer sustainability affects every aspect of the company’s business.

“The small things we do every day to be more sustainable are just as important as the large corporate programmes we have put in place to achieve our sustainability objectives,” she said. “Both work together to help us to become a more sustainable supplier.”

One example of a smaller change has been to introduce compressed packaging. “This allows us to fit 18 per cent more product in a case, thereby reducing the number of trucks on the road and minimising carbon emissions,” said Shaffer.

Nilfisk-Advance’s group CSR manager Ulla Riber believes small, sustainable tweaks can make a significant difference. “It is part of our environmental management system to improve processes and reduce environmental impact in our factories,” she said.

As an example, the lighting system at one of Nilfisk-Advance’s production units in China has been divided into separate sections. “This means that only the active parts of the production halls need to be lit,” she said. “We have also replaced the electrical heating system with solar heating which has reduced electricity from 110KW to 8KW. By taking these measures this production unit has successfully reduced its use of electricity by 50 per cent.”

The company also collects and recycles water wherever possible. “The water we use in the test process for high pressure washers is mainly collected rainwater, which we also reuse in both the test facility and the heating system,” she said.

“We also have several waste management systems in place. Our wood, cardboard, plastic and paper waste is recycled and when using steel, we cut this to obtain the maximum number of parts from a piece and then all scrap is recycled.”

However, it is Nilfisk-Advance’s tie-up with the United Nations Global Compact that underpins all these activities. “It is by focusing on our own internal consumption of resources - and our consumption of energy, water and detergent – that we can make sustainable changes,” said Riber.

Cleaning company OCS has put in place a series of learning initiatives to create a wider understanding among staff of environmental impact. “This includes reducing the environmental impact both at work and at home by each employee,” said sustainability director Adrian Shuker.
Two bespoke sustainability e-learning courses - one for supervisors and managers and one for other staff – are communicated through the company’s intranet system. A disk version extends the reach of the courses to site-based operations.

Day-to-day changes made by OCS include an environmental procurement pledge and a zero waste-to-landfill policy. “Some of our most successful initiatives have also included energy efficiency measures across OCS sites; decreased staff travel and reduced vehicle emissions,” said Shuker.

Kärcher has several schemes in place to reduce unnecessary emissions through staff travel. “For example, we encourage staff to come to work by bicycle or by public transport,” said environmental matters public relations manager David Wickel.

“We also offer company bicycles for short trips into town, and everyone who cycles to work has the chance to win 1,000 euros in a Kärcher lottery. And for those coming to work via public transport we pay 50 per cent of the cost.”

Kärcher staff are also discouraged from taking unnecessary flights. “If anybody has to fly, his or her department must pay a 10 euro fee to the ‘Kärcher climate cash box’ and the money is used for environmental projects,” said Wickel.

Kärcher only uses recycling-grade paper for copiers and printers, and the company has an ongoing project that involves collecting bottle corks and sending them to an organisation for the disabled. “This organisation converts them into insulating materials for the construction industry,” he said.

Like Nilfisk-Advance, Kärcher is a member of the Global Compact and has set itself targets for energy, waste and water consumption. The company also receives more than 1,000 requests a year from aid organisations, nurseries, schools, sports clubs and animal shelters and supports these with cash or products wherever possible.

“For example, we recently donated 15 pressure cleaners to Save The Children, which will be used in Thailand to clean schools soiled by the floods, enabling 50,000 children to go back to education,” said Wickel.

He adds that any true sustainability policy needs to incorporate both smaller changes and wider strategies. “Both are equally important, and we cannot do one while neglecting the other.”


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