Green therapy

There's a changing culture among British retailers. They've been persuaded to take environmental issues seriously and clean up their act. Peter McCrum finds out more

It's not often that business and environmental concerns coincide, but the twin mantras of waste management and resource efficiency provide an opportunity for the two usually conflicting communities to talk the same language and peruse the same agenda. This has been exploited to great effect by Envirowise with 2003's Retail Therapy programme, run in partnership with the British Retail Consortium and Action Energy.

The principle behind Retail Therapy is simple. Envirowise works with host companies which invite their key suppliers to join them in a partnership to improve business efficiency by minimising waste and maximising cost savings. Envirowise provides expert advisors and specialist trainers to conduct free on-site reviews and workshops, tackling the issues of waste, energy use, packaging, cleaner design and green procurement.

The programme has achieved some astounding successes to date. The seven major retailers who participated as host organisations: the Body Shop, Boots, Center Parcs, Halfords, Manchester United, Safeway and WH Smith; and their 87 suppliers, have identified potential savings exceeding £2m each year. This kind of incentive led most of the companies to integrate resource efficiency and waste minimisation into their wider corporate strategies, which, ultimately, is Envirowise's objective. So, by demonstrating the practical application of sound business principles, the government is encouraging British retailers to adopt environmentally responsible systems and procedures.

Positive response

Envirowise programme director Martin Gibson is very pleased with the level of response. "A lot of companies initially thought there must be a catch - that you don't get something for nothing. I suppose that is true, because it does require real effort. But hopefully there will be quite a bit in return and the response was very positive," he says.

"We are asking organisations to think about waste and resources in their everyday business. Companies used to have to work a lot of this out for themselves. These days, thanks to companies sharing insights, Envirowise can pass on a lot of information, so it becomes easier for companies to make significant savings and streamline their systems."


Gibson is delighted that he has encouraged some of the country's major retailers to reduce their environmental footprint while saving money and resources. "When I see the enthusiasm of those that have been both hosts and part of the supply chain, I am very optimistic because their enthusiasm will inevitably spread," he says. It's difficult to find someone more enthusiastic about the programme than Center Parcs' Simon Drury. After receiving ISO 14001 accreditation, Center Parcs sought to extend its environmental strategy review. It just so happened that at the same time, Envirowise was looking for high profile host organisations, so Simon Drury and Center Parcs volunteered in the hope that the scheme would formalise their approach.

Drury had been mentoring good environmental practise by visiting sites and making suggestions for procedural changes on a site-specific basis. Although effective, it was felt that Center Parcs might benefit from the advice of the professionals Envirowise could offer.

Center Parcs has an obvious vested interest in maintaining the environment, and a significant environmental impact. In particular, energy use and water use is high and incur high operating costs. And the company has a long supply chain. Center Parcs has serious purchasing power, spending over £50 million/year. It has over 500 suppliers, of which 50% are SMEs. This made Center Parcs a perfect candidate for the Envirowise treatment.

"The first year the project ran, we put 50 suppliers forward for the event and 25 of them turned up for the first half-day introductory session," says Drury. "Like a lot of businesses, most of them were quite interested but not very proactive in their approach to the environment. But by the end of the first event they were so impressed with what they had heard and found it so relevant to their business that they became totally committed to the programme. Of those 25 organisations, 19 were able to participate in the entire scheme and they were able to identify £510,000 in savings."

Drury found that the hardest thing was getting people along to the initial event, which most approached with a great deal of scepticism. "But when they discovered the course made business sense, and wasn't simply an exercise in establishing environmentally responsible procedures, they were enthusiastic about the process. The biggest resource an organisation has to commit to the process is time."

Energy efficiency

Center Parcs has also been working with the Carbon Trust on energy efficiency initiatives and Drury has been allocated a budget of £120,000 to tackle the issue. These are significant resources, which Center Parcs is confident they will reclaim through more effective procedures.

The kind of practical measures the company is adopting are both simple and effective. For example, £1 flow regulators were installed in shower lines, taking the water flow down to 6.5 litres/minute. It costs the company 65p to dispose of each cubic metre of wastewater. With 4000 guests having a four-minute shower each day, these flow regulators save Center Parcs a significant amount of money on a daily basis. It also saves water and the energy required to heat it. Hippo bags are installed in all the sites' toilets and the usual measures of turning off lights and electrical appliances have achieved some impressive results - over £40,000 at one site alone. "There are always savings to be made and new technology available. It's an ongoing battle in which all the staff are involved," Drury says.

More than tokenism

There are few organisations in the world with a higher profile than Manchester United. And the bigger the organisation, the greater the desire to be seen to be making a positive contribution to CSR and the environment. But in the case of Manchester United this goes far beyond mere tokenism. Keith McIntosh, health, safety and environment manager says: "We were looking at our supply chain and seeking to make strategic improvements when we came across an article about Envirowise and followed it up. In the course of our research, the personal recommendations from people like Simon Drury convinced us that this was something that we should be a part of."

A familiar story emerges. McIntosh selected around 25 of Manchester United's suppliers to attend the programme launch and take advantage of the support and training Envirowise has to offer. "We were very pleased with the take up," says McIntosh.

Pillans and Waddies, printers of Manchester United's match day programmes, were keen to get involved. Director Martin Gardiner says: "The forum proved a catalyst for us - it helped us to think of different ways to make our business more efficient and improve our local environment."

By the end of the programme McIntosh became aware that the benefits stretched beyond the original objectives of reducing waste and resource efficiency. "The cultural change the course encourages helps our suppliers attract business and new customers. A number of participants of the scheme saw it as an extra string to their bow, another positive element they can offer to their customers in addition to their normal services and products.

"And we are pleased to see that the new business philosophy engendered on the course is being cascaded down to our supplier's suppliers. Manchester United is proud of its role as a mentor in this respect - being a good neighbour."

Successful engagement

There is a clear movement by big business towards making a serious contribution towards improving environmental practise. There are many different reasons for this - legislation, financial incentives, corporate image or simply because of improved environmental awareness. Envirowise has encouraged this. It engages with big business from a big business perspective, and its success lies in demonstrating that good business practise can also mean good environmental practise. Retail Therapy's achievements rely on this approach and its achievements are impressive.



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