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The business case for sustainability – an exceptional Forum for the Future event



It was a hot and humid Tuesday afternoon at the Wallacespace venue in Euston as members of the Forum for the Future network gathered to discuss the business case for sustainability.

For those not familiar with Forum, early Green party leading voices, Jonathon Porritt, Sara Parkin and Paul Ekins, founded the not-for-profit organisation in 1996. Its aim is to promote sustainable development. The current CEO is Sally Uren, who was our host for the event.

The question asked of speakers and members was, “How do you make the business case for sustainability activities that create real step-change in business?” And, “How can sustainability add to your bottom line?

It’s just the right thing to do”, as a philanthropic cry, does not cut it in the corporate world. This event was about practical advice and evidence on how sustainability can boost a business’s performance.

The evidence came thick and fast.

The event was held under Chatham House rules so we can only report some of what was said, but there were two powerful keynotes from C&A’s head of sustainable business development, Philip Chamberlain, and Forum’s David Bent, who will be writing a regular column for B&GT in the coming months.

The key challenge was delivering the required step-change over incrementalism, which is not commensurate with the challenge we face.

Bent presented research conducted with the World Resource Institute that showed how to make the case for sustainability and then actually make it happen.

The five stages were: having an existing journey to build upon, the necessity of senior executive buy-in, a long-term perspective, a serious business rationale and techniques to deal with status quo bias in financial models.

What struck the author was the advantage of being a disruptive enterprise or being privately owned in taking a long-term view.

Status quo bias was eloquently explored in Thaler and Kahneman’s well-known behavioural economics studies – that we are not rational homos economicus but an irrational, pattern-seeking herd species. The theory was subsequently popularised, and adopted by government, in the book, Nudge, written in collaboration with Cass Sunstein.

Behavioural economics assumes asserts five traits in human behaviour: anchoring – using limited information to make general assumptions; availability heuristic – the shortcut that the ease of thinking of something suggests its frequency; representative heuristic – seeing patterns in randomness; herd mentality – we tend to do what our peers do; and status quo bias – put simply, the preference for the current state of affairs in thinking and financial modelling.

We see more risk in change than in maintaining the current model. Many incumbent players, in many sectors, would beg to differ.

This pushed to the fore the future scenarios that Forum is so well-known for.

By asking senior corporate leadership teams to look far into the future, you remove immediate politics and status quo bias. People are generally more comfortable discussing speculative long-term trends.

The immediate management assumption is that if we continue as we are, the long-term effect will be consistent performance (the perception). In reality, external events mean that doing the same thing tends towards a diminishing return (the reality). By investing in the future (be sustainable), causing a dip in current performance we create a growing a sustainable future.

We added a line (true sustainability) to show how this process is on going.

The future scenarios model is a tried and tested method from military schools since the times of Von Clauswitz to modern business planning – but is rarely used.

Four optional workshops were held with Matt Sexton, director of corporate social responsibility at B&Q; Tom Domen, long-term innovation manager at Ecover; Michael Pennant-Jones, group sustainable business manager at Finlays; and Martyn Seal, European sustainability director at PepsiCo.

Several questions were raised during the event, such as do we need more government action to address the urgency of the crisis we face. The quiet answer was yes. The view was raised that institutional investors are more interested in the downside risk than upside opportunity.

There was consistent evidence that sector collaboration trumps competition in moving competitor firms further faster.

One person pointed out that the smouldering platform turning into a burning platform would give the necessary impetus to make the necessary step change.

Uren highlighted lessons from the day.

Look at the whole picture, take a long-term view, set up data collection/evidence early, know your audience, use the right language, lever different and existing assets in the organisation and be clear about collaboration with competitors.

As if by happy coincidence, the Financial Times published an article on the day of the event demonstrating the real benefit of responsible or sustainable business.

One question asked of the audience was what would help make sustainability progress, to which I replied, “A less sustainability illiterate political class, media and investment community would help.” Tragically, the burning platform is more likely to convince these dogmatic people than any evidence.

This was an excellent event and made membership of Forum a worthwhile investment.

Further reading:

Ernst & Young report has sustainability at the top of corporate agendas

‘You want us to produce one of those corporate socialist reports?!’

CSR and sustainability practices found to boost public perception of firms

Reflections on a debate: has CSR reached its sell-by date?

Survey shows UK firms are getting complacent with supplier risks

The Guide to Corporate Social Responsibility 2013

Simon Leadbetter is the founder and publisher of Blue & Green Tomorrow. He has held senior roles at Northcliffe, The Daily Telegraph, Santander, Barclaycard, AXA, Prudential and Fidelity. In 2004, he founded a marketing agency that worked amongst others with The Guardian, Vodafone, E.On and Liverpool Victoria. He sold this agency in 2006 and as Chief Marketing Officer for two VC-backed start-ups launched the online platform Cleantech Intelligence (which underpinned the The Guardian’s Cleantech 100) and StrategyEye Cleantech. Most recently, he was Marketing Director of Emap, the UK’s largest B2B publisher, and the founder of Blue & Green Communications Limited.


How Going Green Can Save A Company Money



going green can save company money
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By GOLFX

What is going green?

Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.

The first step in going green

There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Making needed changes within the company

After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.

Reducing the common paper waste

paper waste

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Yury Zap

Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.

Make money by spreading the word

Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.

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5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable




sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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