Sustainability Cinderella

David Addy, EcoVadis.

Sustainability Cinderella.

Have you ever noticed that sustainability and environmental performance is the ‘Cinderella of business’?

If you stop and think about it, it is the poor relation of performance management, health & safety and other key business areas, with these being devoted much more time and resources. This is quite surprising really, because even if financial incentives or regulatory requirements are ignored, there are still many – and I apologise for slipping into well worn jargon – ‘quick wins’ for saving significant sums of money to organisations.

For instance, have you looked at the waste being produced by your organisation, and asked the difficult questions of your staff: Why is there so much? Where is it going? Do we need to pay (that much) for disposal? I’m aware of businesses that have wasted thousands of pounds per year due to incorrect waste categorisation and disposal.

Management controls: do you follow a classic management cycle (‘plan, do, check, act’) or a quality management system e.g. ISO9001? Have you ever thought about building on these to integrate your business’ environmental management, or upgrading to an environmental management system (EMS) e.g. ISO14001? It’s relatively easy to do, as you already have the processes in place – indeed ISO14001 is based on ISO9001. There are also much cheaper, less rigorous EMS alternatives suitable for smaller enterprises, any of which will open the doors to approved suppliers lists – especially in the public sector, or those companies with EMS.

Training: yes, there’s no getting away from the fact that it costs money and that unfortunately what you pay for is what you get (buy ‘certified’ online only training – particularly for staff with poor functional skills – and you won’t be reaping the rewards)! However, a little time and money and it will be surprising what your business gets out of it via their staff e.g. increased knowledge, compliance with management systems, savings from reduced waste, raw material, energy and water consumption, and the resultant all-important bottom line.

Staff empowerment: those empowered by training have greater productivity, contribute more and better ideas, actually buy into your corporate strategies, and provide those free hard to quantify additional benefits of motivated staff. We all look for business efficiencies and ‘lean thinking’ staff; well this is how to get it.

How do you know when it is working? You’ll undoubtedly (?) be internally monitoring the EMS performance and your staff compliance as part of your management systems, but like me proof-reading this article, it is easy to overlook the familiar (missing significant non-compliance), and difficult to see sustainable opportunities. This is where external auditing comes in.

Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, I’d recommend that if you don’t know about Gunter Pauli and were unlucky enough not to hear his inspiring and enriching ‘Blue Economy’ business ideas at the Chamber’s Sustainability 2012 (, that you visit these links – they may change your way of doing business, make your company more sustainable and (for the pragmatists) make you more money: - the short video introduces you to the concepts of the Blue Economy: creativity, opportunity and jettisoning all the ‘green economy’ ideas that actually are damaging, and the overturning the concept that sustainability is more expensive; - access all of the published Blue Economy case studies here for sustainable business ideas that you could learn from.

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