Recent decades have seen a rise in our understanding and awareness of environmental sustainability. Climate change is a reality and with growing populations, resources are increasingly scarce. Individual efforts to be more 'environmentally friendly' have become more creative, ranging from the strident refusal of plastic straws, to reusing the same teabag three times. However, whilst these lifestyle changes are admirable, efforts to be more environmentally friendly are rarer in professional environments. It is incredibly important for businesses to become more aware of their impact on the environment.
What does it mean to be environmentally friendly?
Being environmentally friendly means reducing your impact on the environment as much as possible. For a business, the first step in achieving this is understanding how their activities impact the environment. An organisation's impact on the environment includes any change to the environment brought about by its activities, products or services. The key things to consider include:
- Pollution emission to air, land and water
- Use of natural resources
- Energy consumption
- Climate change
- Waste and its disposal
For organisations that provide services, the use of consumables and equipment, consuming energy for heating and lighting, travelling and paper and packaging, are a few specific examples of how the business might have an impact on the environment. Manufacturing-based organisations may contribute to damaging the environment through the emissions generated in the manufacturing process, as well as the raw materials used. Another thing to consider for this type of company is the life-span of the product created, and the impact it may have when being used. For example, not only are Lego pieces extremely painful when stepped on, they are also non bio-degradable. This means they might continue to cause severe foot pain for centuries!
What steps can businesses follow to be environmentally friendly?
Water: For a business to be environmentally friendly, it must consider how it impacts water supplies, both through contamination and conservation. There are several ways businesses can improve the way they use water including:
- Fixing dripping taps
- Fitting low flow or electronic taps
- Filling the kettle only with the amount of water needed
- Using water-efficient equipment
Energy: The type of energy a business uses has a significant impact on the environment. Some energy sources are renewable and others are non-renewable. Organisations can choose their energy supplier based on environmental consideration. For example, solar, wind, hydroelectric and geothermal are renewable sources of energy. There are several other ways that a company can ensure they use energy as efficiently as possible:
- Setting thermostats appropriately
- Turning off lights in unoccupied rooms
- Using low energy light bulbs and making sure they are clean
- Keeping doors and windows closed to prevent heated or cooled air from escaping
- Insulating hot water tanks and pipes to avoid heat loss or transfer
- Using teleconferencing or working at home to reduce travel
Waste: Businesses tend to generate substantial amounts of waste. For example, waste paper and cardboard, used packaging, batteries and electrical waste. Waste disposal can be expensive so it should be managed effectively. There are many ways that companies can reduce the amount of waste they generate, for example:
- Reducing waste by buying less equipment and materials, using less equipment and materials
- Reusing materials by passing them on to other organisations if they are redundant, safe and useable
- Recycling materials such as glass, plastic and metal, composing vegetable matter and participating in energy waste schemes that burn waste to generate heat and power
Environmental Management Systems: Businesses should also have an Environmental Management System (EMS) that manages any environmental concerns by implementing policies with environmental targets. Effective planning should include both reference to the objectives outlined in the company policy, and a detailed understanding of the legal requirements. The EMS should also be subject to regular managerial review to ensure continual improvement in environmental performance.
Why should businesses be environmentally friendly?
All organisations have an ethical obligation to protect the environment and to take steps to prevent or minimise their effects. There are also specific environmental laws outlined to protect the environment. In the U.K. there is the Environment Protection Act 1990 (EPA) and the Environment Act 1995 (EA). There are many fines associated with failing to comply with environmental legislation and licensing regulations. If a business becomes affiliated with damaging the environment, the company risks compromising its reputation and relationships with shareholders. As non-renewable resources run out, prices for materials such as energy, wood and plastics will increase. Therefore, it's also important for businesses to find an alternative energy resource.
A business with a history of actively engaging in measures to reduce their impact on the environment also has advantages beyond the ethical. An evidenced interest in protecting the environment aligns organisations with admirable ethics and a clear sense of collective responsibility. This contributes to a positive brand image, which could generate more interest in the business and lead to greater financial success.
The Swedish-founded furniture store IKEA is a great example of a world-leading retailer making changes to be more environmentally friendly. Less than 15% of the waste generated in their stores goes to landfill. They also take waste wood that would have been burnt or gone to landfill and turn it into new board for wardrobes or bookshelves. This is an excellent example of a business practising environmentally friendly behaviour by considering how they can reduce, reuse and recycle waste wherever possible. As a result, IKEA is frequently cited as an exemplar of an environmentally friendly business and applauded for their attempts to promote sustainability and environmental protection. Now, IKEA is associated with environmental friendliness as well as low-cost furniture and Swedish meatballs.