An EPIC adventure

Steve Livingstone, environmental manager at Jackson Civil Engineering, explains the Environment Performance Improvement Club

Health and safety have always been high on the business agenda. In recent years, however, industry's impact on the environment has been under the closest scrutiny. Insurers are becoming increasingly nervous and consumers are now far more aware and discerning when it comes to a company's environmental track record. Environmental performance is even becoming a key investor decision in the City.

Environmental management now extends far beyond pollution prevention and risk management, with sustainable management and corporate social responsibility under increasing scrutiny. Companies must now be able to demonstrate not only their commitment to preventing the direct impacts of construction, but also their ability to address social issues, resource procurement and long-term economic sustainability.

Why is the environment big business?

Despite significant improvements in recent years, the cost of pollution to the UK (including health, amenity value and damage to infrastructure and clean-up costs) is estimated at £4-9bn/year. The polluter pays principle has become enshrined in environmental legislation and it looks likely that fines imposed by the courts will continue to increase. Pressure groups continue to highlight poor corporate environmental performance - add to this the growing tide of environmental legislative framework, and it is easy to see why environmental compliance is high on the agenda for UK businesses.

Awareness across the supply chain

For a company to achieve environmental responsibility there should be accountability across its supply chain. This can be complex as a supply chain network involves suppliers at all levels. A company can easily implement internal standards, policies and management systems that govern its own environmental performance and efficiency; but if the company's suppliers fall short of these standards, the buyer company may end up purchasing and using products that do not meet its own criteria. However, a buyer company can demand a certain level of environmental responsibility in the core business practices of its suppliers and vendors.

One sector currently benefiting from this approach is the UK construction industry, largely in the realm of the multi-nationals such as oil companies and mining. Never blessed with the best reputation in terms of safety and the environment, the construction industry is being given a helping hand via EPIC, a supply chain network project.

EPIC was developed by CIRIA collaboratively with the industry, and is "a series of learning networks in which construction clients and main contractors act as mentors to members of their supply chain". Participating supply chain companies include contractors, consultants, designers and architects. The aim is to raise awareness of environmental performance amongst construction SMEs, based on the skills and experiences of their regional clients and peers. Since its launch, the scheme has delivered tangible environmental and financial benefits to companies in the construction industry, and has demonstrated that a supply chain approach is a practical way of delivering environmental awareness training and improving performance.


Recognising its responsibility to its workforce as well as members of the public and the environment, JCE linked up with EPIC to introduce JacksonEPIC in May 2003. "We wanted our suppliers and subcontractors to have the same improvement culture as we have at JCE," says environmental manager Steve Livingstone. "We recognise that we need their expertise and were keen for our range of services to achieve the highest standards by getting even closer to our partners in industry."

JacksonEPIC has brought together over 100 of the company's suppliers and subcontractors to develop better ways of doing business, with an emphasis on making the workplace safer and minimising environmental damage. In the early stages, to achieve this, four interactive workshops were organised to promote a sharing of knowledge.

The first workshop covered water management, water pollution prevention and environmental aspects (risk) identification and management. Further workshops then covered waste management and minimisation; the practicalities of managing contaminated land on-site; nuisance management; wildlife and archaeology and an introduction to EMS. The workshops were followed by four site visits to see examples of good practice.

In addition to the EPIC programme, JCE is keen to provide suppliers with a range of practical working tools. Working with CIRIA, JCE will assist suppliers in the implementation of the Easy Access Environmental Management System, developed by CIRIA for BS 8555 implementation. JCE's proprietary environmental management database has been provided to attendees as an aid to this. JacksonEPIC assists its supply chain in:

  • improving the understanding of environmental issues and associated business costs and opportunities;
  • raising awareness of environmental legislation and what this means in practice;
  • encouraging implementation of environmental management;
  • the provision of practical management tools; and
  • improving business performance by incorporating environmental considerations.
Tangible business benefits

Greening a business is not just about legislative compliance (although it is certain that such practice does minimise a company's environmental liabilities from a legislative perspective). There are many positive reasons for improving environmental performance, such as stabilising the supply chain and helping to make better use of resources by reducing energy, water and material consumption and decreasing waste production.

Reducing expenditure

A popular myth surrounding greening a business is that it is expensive. On the contrary, it should not cost money and should in fact reduce expenditure, decrease risk and ultimately transfer straight through to the bottom line. A report entitled The Benefits of Greening Business suggests that British manufacturing could increase its profits by between £2-3bn/year if environmental best practice was made standard.

Corporate environmental initiatives such as EPIC are helping businesses to reap the benefits of sustainable relationships. It is an ongoing process, and the combined effect will help bring about greater environmental improvements across all sectors. "The EPIC approach is proving popular with the construction industry," says Greg Chant-Hall of CIRIA. "The flexible approach has so far assisted over 20 main contractors and construction clients to work with their supply chain to gain considerable benefits across all three strands of sustainability - environmental, social and economic."

There are significant business benefits to adopting good environmental practices including reduced risk of litigation, cost savings through streamlined efficiencies, increased market prospects and improved profile amongst clients and contractors. Successful partnerships such as JacksonEPIC help to align environmental actions and objectives; these are critical for business relationships which will prosper only if individual companies think alike across the supply chain.



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