Environmentally friendly business - Become enviously green

In an age when the world is tweeting every shift in business behaviour, being ‘seen to be green’ has never been such a pressing issue for companies. Gareth Samuel looks at the steps businesses can take to easily improve their public image, make significant savings and, most importantly, save the world.

In 2013, it is not acceptable to be ignorant or indifferent about your business’ ecological policy. Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of how business operations damage the environment at an unsustainable rate and are consciously choosing to spend money with greener companies. In 2009, retail giants Waitrose, Boots and Marks and Spencer were caught red handed taking a thoughtless approach to the sourcing of their palm oil, the manufacture of which had almost brought about the total extinction of certain breeds of orang-utans. Needless to the say, the businesses all apologised immediately and announced brand new environmental policies – they recognised the importance of maintaining a positive public image.

Scandals like these can be enough to bring an enormously successful business crashing to its knees. The McDonalds franchise have an area of their website specifically dedicated to their environmental policy. This includes statistics and quantifiable goals that the company has – including using 80 per cent recycled materials for their packaging.

For businesses unable to match the brand power of McDonalds, it is even more crucial that they take similar steps to recognise and adapt the impact that they have on the world around them, as even the smallest loss of business due to poor public image could be disastrous.

Earlier this year, Minster Clean Essex announced that they were switching the vast majority of their company vehicles to more fuel-efficient options in order to cut their carbon footprint. This step made the news and now other branches across the country are looking into how they can make adjustments too.

In terms of office-based businesses, factors like air conditioning usage, energy consumption, paper wastage and employee travel all have a huge impact on a company’s ecological profile. Head of Business and Industry Relations for WWF UK, Dax Lovegrove says: “We work with large and small businesses to give them guidance and develop greener business models for a sustainable future. It is about doing more both at work and at home, being more aware of the energy consumption and environmental issues in the office.

“The only way for any business to survive in future is to be environmentally fit and lean. With emerging economies providing more competition than ever and resource scarcity ever increasing, it is now vital that businesses are able to not only survive, but also thrive using renewable energy – environmental innovation is the most important factor in developing a more sustainable business model.”

One of the main ways for a business to cut down the negative effect it has on the environment is to enforce a more efficient recycling policy in its offices. Recycling watchdog, Recycle-more.co.uk suggest the creation of an environmental committee who are put in place to complete a ‘waste audit’ to monitor the monthly waste of the business in question. The committee are then tasked with bringing in measures to concentrate on recycling materials that are too frequently wasted.

To many business owners and executives, setting up a process as comprehensive as this may seem like ‘unnecessary effort’ but the reality is that avoiding social responsibility is no longer acceptable for a 21st century company.

Rolf Dobelli of the Wall Street Journal writes: “Since reputation is closely related to corporate responsibility, recognise that your social, economic and political agendas all contribute to your organisation’s overall reputation. Research has also found that companies which rank high in social responsibility fare better during difficult financial periods. Thus, a positive reputation will be even more important in the years ahead.”

Many businesses are already aware of this but do not want to take the time or resources out to make tangible changes, hence the emergence of ‘Greenwashing’. This technique sees businesses immorally obtain positive publicity for appearing to take steps towards being green, but in reality the changes they make are negligible.

Publications like The Guardian and The Independent have dedicated reporters who specifically target greenwashing companies. In 2010, Fred Pearce reported in The Guardian that Chevron’s new solar panels were in fact being used to power the machinery at one of the most environmentally damaging oil fields in the world. This report had serious negative consequences for the company’s reputation. Dax adds: “The problems we are facing at the moment lies mainly with the large oil and gas companies that seem to be moving increasingly in the opposite direction (to most other companies). WWF have published reports on how the UK could be running on almost 100 per cent renewable energy by the middle of this century. But fossil fuel companies are holding this back by arguing that they are still. There are far too many subsidies going straight to fossil fuel companies.” Publicising a business’ effort to ‘go green’ is a great source of publicity, but if a firm is found to be proactively greenwashing, the effect on that company’s reputation can be even worse because of the perceived deceit.

By making it easier for employees to become more ecologically aware, a business can save money on waste disposal and help the environment. Brining in and publicising techniques like setting up specific recycling containers and offering employees incentives to walk, cycle or car share to the office, can boost a company’ public image exponentially.

Because of the development of mass-communication and social media, there is now no acceptable way of spinning ambivalence towards the ecosystem. A 21st century company has to be seen to be green, free from pretence and illusion, working towards a financially and ecologically superior future.