Rising Demand Puts Green Businesses in the Limelight

Last Updated Apr 23, 2008 11:18 AM EDT

Vodafone's pledge to halve its CO2 emissions by 2020 shows enlightened self-interest.

Nice as it is to be green, it also "makes business sense", as Vodafone chief executive Arun Sarin said.

InterfaceFLOR, a flooring manufacturer, made a similar, albeit more ambitious, commitment. Its "Mission Zero" programme aims to eliminate any negative environmental impact the flooring manufacturer might have by 2020 -- and has just earned the business a Queen's Award for sustainable business practice.

Its sustainable ethos mean it's more likely to encourage customers to conserve its products than rush out and buy more, which doesn't seem to make business sense. Yet the past 12 months have been one of the most successful in the company's trading history, according to InterfaceFLOR UK's operations director, Steve Martin.

It's the same story for ScotAsh, a carbon-free building material specialist and another Queen's Award recipient for sustainability. "People used to buy our product because it's good anyway. But recently, they are more aware of the green agenda and what it means for their business," says Peter Quinn, managing director.

A joint-venture between building materials giant Lafarge and Scottish Power that extracts carbon from waste ash, ScotAsh has developed with sustainability at its core. But when asked what's made them successful as 'green' companies, Quinn and Martin offered simple ideas any company could retrofit:

  • It's up to the business leader to set a vision, then galvanise and inspire people. That means sharing celebrations with the team, getting people involved, being consistent.
  • Invest in training. Service is a differentiator at InterfaceFLOR, so it has its own three-level training-programme.
  • Demonstrate cost savings. Since 1994, InterfaceFLOR has saved $372m in energy and waste reduction. It has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent and cut its waste costs by 34 per cent. These are measurable results any investor will understand.
  • Make the green agenda integral, not just a nice-to-have. Give someone responsibility for assessing your business's environmental impact. "If there's one secret to our success it's that we've really integrated it into the business," says InterfaceFLOR's Martin. If you hire a consultancy, look for accreditation by organisations such as the Carbon Trust. Create an environmental policy.
  • Enter awards. The process requires that you scrutinise the business and may expose areas for improvement. Accolades are morale-boosting for employees and make them proud of the place they work. They also set a benchmark and differentiate the company from its competitors, especially in public sector tenders.
Where next? Visit the Carbon Trust for more on energy-saving and efficiency loans. For free advice on running a cleaner fleet, contact the Energy Saving Trust.