Growing greener

Whether your company is small, medium or large, it can do its bit for the environment. And, as Sarah Davidson reports, despite the economic gloom, this year's Sunday Times Green List received more entries than ever

The Sunday Times Green List is an annual competition to find companies striving to improve their environmental performance. The awards are a partnership between the newspaper, Munro Global and Bureau Veritas, and now in their second year, examine both company environmental policies and practices and, uniquely, the employee engagement with them.

Encouragingly, despite the economic downturn and the pressure on corporate sustainability initiatives and environmental programmes as organisations economise, 2009 saw more entries than the previous year. Taking account of the results from both the company and employee surveys, the green score has increased from 57.6% for the company ranked 50th in 2008, to 66.7% for the company in the same position in 2009. As a result of this increase in standards, the awards have been expanded this year, with 60 entrants qualifying to be included in the 2009 Green List, rather than the 50 published last year.

The Green List of 60 companies is made up of five separate competitions that group companies by size and environmental impact. The winners of the five competitions in 2009 were:

  • Willmott Dixon Group – the construction firm won the competition for big and mid-sized organisations with a high environmental impact, which featured 14 companies. The firm ranked third in the Green List overall
  • Marriott Hotels International – won the competition for big and mid-sized organisations with a medium environmental impact, which featured ten companies (17th overall)
  • The National Magazine Company – won the competition for big and mid-sized companies with a low environmental impact, which featured 11 companies (second overall)
  • Milliken Contract – the carpet manufacturer won the competition for small companies with high or medium environmental impacts, which featured 18 companies (sixth overall)
  • Forster – the overall winner and the best small company with low environmental impact, a category which featured seven companies
  • Warren Evans – the London-based bed maker, and 40th overall, had the greenest workforce, achieved the highest employee score.

It is evident that across all competition groups, organisations are ensuring that green policies and practices remain a part of their activities and services even in the midst of a recession. This may be driven by a desire to cut costs – many of the leading innovations brought to light by this year’s survey have a cost benefit. Examples range from allowing 11,000 BT staff to work from home and equipping 64,000 to work flexibly, to filling tyres at Computer Cab with nitrogen rather than compressed air, which keeps them inflated longer – saving fuel – and extends their life.

Other drivers for commitment to environment programmes include the competition to win work, client requirements, or the expectations and commitment of an organisation’s employees. It is this level of employee engagement in green initiatives that is captured through the employee survey, which accounts for 30% of an organisation’s final ranking.

The Green List is not the only environmental contest open to companies, but it is the only one that includes a measure of workforce engagement with a business’s green initiatives. This year, just under 21,000 employees completed the 52-point employee survey, which explores how committed staff are to green ideals and whether corporate pledges on the environment are values shared by management and backed up by practical action by the workforce. Overall, the positive response to the employee survey rose from 69.8% to 73.4%, an increase in 3.6 percentage points year on year. This reflects a rise in scores for 51 of the 52 statements that employees were asked to score on a seven-point scale from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree”.

We are of course comparing different cohorts of organisations in the 2009 and the 2008 Green Lists. But despite this, the overall increase in employee scores across the ‘greenest’ entrants does suggest an increased engagement in environmental programmes, and an increased desire by managers and employees to improve the environmental credentials of the organisations they work for.

For example, in 2009, we see more employees agreeing with statements such as “My organisation’s environmental commitments are at the heart of how the organisation operates” and more disagreeing with “How I do my job has no bearing on the environment” and “Environmental initiatives are a waste of money”. On this more practical note, we see more staff disagreeing with “My organisation produces too much waste” and more agreeing with “My department is audited for its environmental performance”.

Increased commitment to environmental training and initiative leadership is also evident, with more employees in 2009 than in 2008 agreeing with “I have received adequate environmental training” and “My boss leads by example on environmental issues”.

These trends cut across small (50-249 employees), medium (250-4,999) and large (5,000+) entrants to the awards, who are all well represented in the 2008 and 2009 green lists. The Top 10 in 2009 features two big companies, two small, and six mid-sized firms, showing the balance within the list. Across all 60 winners in 2009, there are 11 big companies, 24 mid-sized organisations and 25 small enterprises. The range of environmental impacts is also wide, with 16 high-impact companies, 26 medium – and 18 low-impact firms, again showing the ability of companies of all sizes and environmental impacts to succeed.

The Sunday Times Best Green Companies Awards were launched last year to reflect the business world’s changing mood. The Green List has grown from 50 to 60, and the aim is to publish a Top 100 Green List within two years. It builds on the success of the Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For, launched nine years ago. Then there was a similar hesitation at the idea of asking staff what they thought of their employer, and publishing the results in a newspaper. Today it is Britain’s biggest national survey of employee satisfaction.

Ten years ago climate change was not a mainstream issue and convincing firms and their stakeholders of the business case for good environmental management and the benefits of embedding environmental protection within projects was a struggle. The mood has changed. It is now expected that environmental considerations are part of the decision-making process, by staff and management alike, for organisations of all types and sizes. The Best Green Companies Awards recognise and celebrate this change, and applaud the success of those organisations that have modernised their culture and practices to embed the environment in what they do.

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