The Challenges to Environmental Management
There are many challenges to environmental management in business, some external but more often coming from within. Here are my thoughts on overcoming some of these challenges.
Make it your USP and gain competitive advantage
Customers and clients expect their suppliers to do an element of environmental management, from carbon footprint calculations to ISO 14001-certified Environmental Management Systems. So take the initiative: use it as your USP to differentiate yourself from your competitors; show customers you reflect their values, and use this to win business.
Overcome your short-termism
Most organisations (private & public) tend to focus on the short-term – budgets, pay-back periods, share price, terms of office, KPIs etc. To truly understand the risks & opportunities for your business, thinking a bit longer term makes sense.
A sustainable business should engage with everyone it works with to look at, and reward, longer-term results. Why exclude energy efficiency projects that have a pay-back period of 2 years? Why aren’t the impacts of a project or a building over its lifetime considered (which makes things cheap to produce but expensive to run)?
People become involved with environmental issues for different reasons: a graduate may be motivated by a higher purpose; investors would be attracted to an innovative business with growth potential; though many people aren’t that interested & need extra motivation.
It is therefore important to tailor the way you communicate with each group, depending on their interests. Try to understand what motivates them; use their sort of language & modes of communication. Finance professionals like figures & payback information, but a detailed spreadsheet would turn most people off.
Engaging with staff across the organisation can provide ideas that you’ve not even thought of. Training, workshops and a network of champions really gets people involved.
It’s all well & good creating an environment committee, but if the Board is not involved or does not drive the agenda, then opportunities will be missed. Instead of a bolt-on, put the environment into core business functions. Allocate responsibilities, incentivise, monitor & report – but at all times, ensure that it is fully part of the business’s strategic direction.
Consider internal & external issues
Don’t just think about how you affect the environment, don’t forget that the environment will have an impact on you too. Instead of just reducing your own impacts, consider how external issues will affect your business (e.g. flooding affecting your deliveries, resource scarcity increasing your material costs).
Don’t be too risk averse
Try to challenge when you hear “we’ve always done it like that”. Technologies and business practices have changed over the years, so surely we need to think about these too. Many successful organisations have taken risks with new technologies or thought about how they can ‘disrupt’ their business or sector. These risks don’t have to extreme – simply minor changes can have a good cumulative effect.
Improve management skills
Leadership is vital. Trying to drive an agenda from the middle or even bottom of the company is like an uphill battle. Management has the opportunity to make change happen – approve action plans, manage staff appropriately, drive communications programmes. When organisations roll out their training programmes, they often forget senior & top management (who think they’re too busy to do it) who are key to making changes.
Use the tools
An ISO 14001 Environmental Management System is a management tool, not a final outcome. Putting ISO 14001 into your organisation will help identify & manage your impacts, reduce costs, engage with staff & customers. As with other business practices, use this tool to drive forward the agenda.
Learn from others & share your knowledge
You don’t have to do this alone. There are plenty of conferences, exhibitions & networking groups that can help share ideas and good practice. Sometimes just engaging with an external consultant can help bring in ideas and challenge your current working practices. And don’t forget that sharing your own experiences is a great way to raise the profile of both your business and yourself.
I hope these thoughts are useful for you. Please do give me a call or email if you’d like to discuss things further, so that your business can overcome these challenges and really see the commercial benefit of environmental management.