The First Steps To A Greener Business
Businesses contribute a large percentage of the overall carbon footprint of the UK and it’s not just huge multinationals that can help change this; small and medium sized businesses with just a handful of staff can make a stand and commit themselves to reducing the impact they have on the environment.
Becoming more conscious about your company’s environmental impact not only helps the planet but in many cases you will find large cost savings to be had too. According to a study by DEFRA, British businesses could save around £23 billion a year by improving their efficiency, using less energy and water, and reducing waste.
I work from a shared London office and I must admit that I have taken it upon myself to encourage green behaviour as much as possible but I’ve still got a long way to go before I realize substantial savings.
Taking those first steps along the green road can seem daunting but once you get going, you will find yourself seeing potential savings everywhere you turn.
Conducting a Green Audit
Your initial action point is also one of your most important – you need to assess just how your business works in terms of taking inputs and turning them into outputs. Whether you are making supermarket ready meals or precision engineered car parts, there will be waste and this is what you need to identify. The same principle can be applied to service industries.
A green audit can be broken down into these 8 top-level sections in which there are many questions you could ask yourself:
Is there a person(s) in charge of implementing green initiatives and policies?
If there isn’t, the right kinds of people are those who know the business process from start to finish – if this means having one person from each department then make this the case.
When materials and equipment are bought by the company, are considerations given to the environmental impact of each purchase?
Do you buy recycled materials wherever possible?
Do you buy from local sources of are purchases transported for long distances?
Raw materials management
What raw materials are being used throughout the business process?
How much of each raw material is used?
Where is waste produced in the business process?
Where does this waste originate from?
How much waste is produced at each stage?
What are the costs of current waste disposal?
How much recyclable material is disposed of as general waste?
What is the breakdown of energy usage in the company (e.g. machinery, heat, lighting, office equipment)?
What percentage of energy is used during times of redundancy? (e.g. how often are the lights left on when nobody is in the room?)
How much water is used in the company and where does it get consumed?
How much waste water is produced and where does it go?
How many miles are journeyed for business purposes by foot, bicycle, car, train or aeroplane? Include all personal travel to and from work and any distribution channels.
Staff training and awareness
How are the company’s environmental initiatives communicated to staff and how are they trained to follow any green procedures?
Setting Goals & Planning Action
Once you have gone through the green audit process and have answered the questions above (and any others that you have been able to come up with) then you need to start making a plan of action.
Based on the current performance levels that you have calculated in the audit, you can come up with what you think are some realistic goals or targets for you and your company to meet.
Starting small is often best as you try and gently introduce new behaviours to your staff or new methods to your production process. Maybe focus on a goal which you know is easily achievable before scaling up to more ambitious targets.
There are 2 approaches here that I learnt way back while I was at school but they have stuck with me ever since as I find them easy to understand and actionable. I wouldn’t say these approaches are mutually exclusive but many companies will find one works better for them than the other.
Kaizen – the Japanese word for “improvement” or “change for the better” is used to describe a process of continuous improvement. It can be applied to many situations but within a business setting it involves all employees at all levels.
Kaizen encourages people to act daily to make small incremental improvements in efficiency and productivity. One of its main focal points is the elimination of waste so you can see how relevant it is to becoming a greener company.
Kaizen can be implemented by individuals or in small groups and usually occurs locally within a business. The person or people in charge of the environmental policy of the company are then charged with supervising the progress of different sections or individuals.
Pareto analysis – many people will understand the 80/20 principle whereby 80% of the benefit can be achieved by conducting 20% of the work and this is known as the Pareto principle.
This approach will suit companies for which one or two processes contribute the majority of their environmental impact. Making efficiency improvements within a handful of areas can allow greater focus to be given to driving the biggest returns.
When conducting your company’s green audit, you should have identified what waste occurs and at which points it takes place. This should allow you to decide whether the Pareto principle can be applied – where opportunities for improvement exist in isolate pockets then Pareto analysis is the way to go.
Both of the approaches above will require some form of action plan to be drawn up but for those using the Kaizen approach this will be more flexible and ever-changing.
An typical action plan might be broken down a bit like this:
- What is the activity or process?
- What is the current environmental impact?
- What are the proposed changes?
- Who will be responsible for implementing the changes?
- What timescale is being proposed for completion of the changes?
Here is an example that I have come up with that is relevant in many businesses:
- The activity is that of sending out white paper reports or other printed media to customers and/or other stakeholders.
- The current environmental impact is that 100 tonnes of paper are used and sent out via mail each year.
The proposed change is to give people the option to view the information online instead of in print. A small postcard could be sent out informing people that a report, newsletter or magazine is available.
The postcard contains a web address direct to the report but people are also given the option to request a printed version should they want it by returning the postcard via freepost with a box ticked indicating their request.
- The author of the media will manage the process and will be responsible for liaising with the printers for the postcards and the website manager for the web version.
- The changes will be implemented at the very next date of publication. Planning should begin one week prior.
If you were able to measure the initial environmental impact of a process then you should also be able to calculate the difference made after the changes have occurred. Knowing how much paper, water or energy you have saved is one thing but telling your staff, customers and stakeholders too is very important.
Try to communicate your results in an engaging way rather than just plain numbers. The news that you’ve saved enough paper to prevent 100 trees from being cut down is a lot more tangible for staff than saying you have saved 25 tonnes from going to landfill (which is hard to visualise).
If you can, produce eye-catching infographics (here is a fantastic example) and put them up around the office. Make them available online, use them as part of your marketing mix or send out a press release making others aware of your achievement.
Take pride in what you have achieved and make sure that your staff feel the same pride; a workforce who are thinking green might suddenly come up with 5 more ways of reducing the company’s environmental impact which might end up saving you a tidy penny too.
Remember: in many cases, what is good for the environment is also good for the bottom line.
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