There are many reasons why the bandwagon is so stuffed with those seeking to appear sustainable, but does it really matter what their motivation is so long as they are changing their ways in some respect?
Appearing cuddly and caring for their customers is far from the only reason businesses are ramping up their environmental credentials in today’s market.
Cutting costs is a popular reason many businesses are adjusting their environmental standards and encouraging staff behaviour change. Impressive financial savings can be made by making even simple changes such as ensuring staff turn off their computers at the end of the day.
If a thousand PCs are left on continuously without using any power-save function, they will use up to £70,000 of electricity annually. That is just one stunning stat of many that makes it clear how crucial environmental behaviour change can be for a businesses’ bottom line.
There has been leadership exhibited from a growing number of chief executives in response to the mounting evidence of climate change. For example, the devastation of Hurricane Katrina was an epiphany of sorts for the head of Wal-Mart. Chief executive Lee Scott admitted he was previously skeptical of the company’s environmental critics and saw ‘going green’ to be simply a PR move.
But after the hurricane, not only did the company help thousands of victims get back on their feet again, but they also rolled out a comprehensive environmental policy. The catastrophe inspired Scott to investigate the science behind climate change and he’s emerged a believer, determined to lighten the mammoth retailer’s footprint.
Very few companies will follow the brave lead of the garden centre chain Wyevale who decided to stop selling climate damaging patio heaters just at a time when sales will rocket to keep die-hard smokers from freezing. They knew they’d take a financial hit but they made the change anyway.
Some changes businesses are not necessarily making by choice – the government is increasing tighter environmental legislation. One example is the Carbon Reduction Commitment, a new scheme issued by Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) which will apply mandatory emissions trading to cut carbon emissions from large commercial and public sector organisations by 1.1 MtC/year by 2020.
Recruiting employees may not seem a likely reason to become more environmentally friendly but businesses are increasing discovering that potential hires want to work for an employer that appreciates their impact on the planet. If they want to get some of the best and brightest on their team, these days a company has to have sustainable credentials.
PricewaterhouseCoopers hired Global Action Plan’s Carbon Gym for their graduate recruitment events to help strengthen their environmental message to potential job candidates.
And finally an issue that is close to many businesses’ hearts – PR. The groundswell of interest in the media and public about climate change has made it simply bad business to ignore. From the Stern report to the IPCC findings, the headlines on environmental issues are a consistent, and heated, topic.
So it’s clear there are many reasons businesses are ‘going green’, but does it matter why they are doing it?
On 3 December, practical environmental charity Global Action Plan will launch in-depth research at an event at the House of Commons, with the backing of Peter Ainsworth MP, shadow secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs and maverick MP Alan Simpson. The research, called ‘The Inefficient Truth’, will reveal environmental awareness amongst the UK IT community and what steps are being taken to reduce IT's impact on the environment. The findings have been compiled after a Green IT Survey, which was conducted by Computerworld UK, and backed by Logicalis.
At Global Action Plan, we appreciate businesses taking their first cautious dips into the green pool, but there are dangers associated with some of their schemes.
One concern is that businesses have already shown they will cherry-pick which of their products to highlight in their marketing campaigns. For example Virgin has been encouraging people to travel in a low-carbon way by taking its trains - but not mentioning their planes. Major supermarkets have been addressing plastic bags rather than tackling their carbon-intense food production line.
Through this 'pick and choose' marketing, companies can present a green veneer without actually addressing major issues in the fight against climate change.
Selectiveness is also a concern if companies will only address the cost-cutting low hanging fruit rather than the fundamental changes required. Token gestures may create some instant results but ongoing, comprehensive plans need to be put in place.
When companies promote their own green initiatives there is also a danger that the public can get confused by the message. Recently the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has faced an increase in complaints about green marketing being misleading.This week the ASA found that Boeing breached the association’s environmental claim standards in an ad that stated their new 747-8 Intercontinental plane produces less 75 grams CO2 per passenger km. However, the C02 per passenger km figure was dependent on how many passengers were on board a flight.
It’s hot on the agenda now, but what if the headlines and the surrounding hype start to dissipate? A great concern is that green initiatives will stop if the issue drops down the media agenda or if companies don’t feel that they can get competitive advantage from green marketing
There are myriad reasons that businesses are getting in on the green game but it is crucial that they create environmental policies that involve employee behaviour change, examine their facilities, supply chain, ICT and various other carbon emitting factors.
If done for the wrong reasons schemes could damage a business’ reputation and wash any quickly won green results away.
Amy Sims is communications manager at practical environmental charity Global Action Plan