Training keeps sustainability on track

Jason Rayfield looks at how environmental training is helping companies to demonstrate their environmental commitment to stakeholders and move further towards the ultimate goal of sustainable development.

There are numerous reasons why environmental training is good for business: The increasing trend for companies to be open and accountable for their actions; the need for companies to be able to operate profitably and sustainably in a climate of intense environmental regulation. I could go on for a long time, but hopefully you get the general picture. As each new environmental Directive unfolds around us, so the need for organisations to be able to understand, minimise and ultimately communicate their environmental obligations to suppliers, customers, shareholders and regulators grows with it. So why do we need environmental training?

As a result of its work, the Council has developed a comprehensive training programme for those wanting to engage. The training is broken down into three residential courses and provides participants with a thorough grounding in the different types of engagement, the principles underlying dialogue, when dialogue is and isn’t appropriate, how to design dialogue processes as well as the skills and techniques used to manage dialogue.

Larissa comments: “Leading companies now recognise that stakeholder involvement is not only a prerequisite to maintaining their license to operate and achieving competitive advantage through increased reputation, strengthened brand loyalty, it is also the cornerstone of formulating and delivering an effective sustainability strategy.”

According to The Environment Council, stakeholder engagement means different things to different people. Information giving and consultation may be fine in some instances, however, proper dialogue – designed to generate feedback that will influence future decisions may actually be what is needed. Larissa Barrett also stresses that it is essential to get it right – especially for those sectors receiving the greatest scrutiny, namely manufacturing, extraction, energy production and waste management getting it wrong could result in a rather nasty wake up call.

Good engagement

One company that benefitted from stakeholder dialogue is leading energy services provider, TXU Europe, whose UK sustainability manager, Steve Hyde, says: “I have been working with the Environment Council for a number of years to formulate TXU’s sustainability strategy through two way managed dialogue. However, it wasn’t until I attended the Council’s training courses that I really appreciated and under stood the principles underlying good engagement as well as the breadth of opportunities it presents for companies like ours. Stakeholder dialogue is more than simply talking to stakeholders and I would certainly recommend that any company wishing to engage does have training so they are fully prepared for what lies ahead.”

The dialogue amongst businesses in Staffordshire most certainly includes environmental issues, thanks in part to the efforts of Staffordshire Learning & Skills Council, and a new approach to sustainable development training developed by member of Staffordshire Business & Environment Network, Paul Newman.

Background knowledge

Entitled Sustainable Business Practice, the course aims to assist professional development by providing the required level of background knowledge and practical insight into the subject of sustainable development so that it can be applied by all members of any organisation.

The core components of the training package are two presentations that use images rather than words to make the message more widely understandable.

Module 1: People & their environment – illustrates the human component of current environmental problems and its economic and social effects but presents an alternative vision that suggests opportunities for positive change.

Module 2: Developing sustainable practices – explores the five key areas for positive action identified in the first module:

  • Reuse & recycling – the practical first step to safe development within environmental limits;
  • Oxygen, water & food – the essential human needs that are the reason to avoid pollution;
  • Communications, mobility & accessibility – the alternative thinking required to address transport problems;
  • Energy – how to tap the power for future development;
  • Measurement & management – how to identify controllable problems and develop appropriate strategies for growth.

Paul Newman explains the concept behind the scheme, “There is a need to create and maintain jobs in Staffordshire as climate change and other related environmental problems become increasingly apparent,” he states, “there is an internationally recognised shortage of people with the knowledge and experience needed to provide companies

and other organisations with the techniques of sustainable development. This plan aims to disseminate affordable basic training in sustainable development using local resources to enable appropriate responses to the problem to be devised and implemented in Staffordshire.”

Financial advice

When negotiating the many environmental training courses on offer, you might be surprised at the types of institutions getting involved. Take Barclays Bank, for example, which offers an Environmental Management System Training Programme for small and medium-sized businesses, aiming to help them to develop an environmental management system that is both efficient and cost-effective.

The programme was developed, on behalf of Barclays, as the result of collaboration between Barclays, WSP Environmental and Groundwork EBS. Alistair Wright, senior environmental manager for Barclays told IEM: “In 2000, we looked at integrating environmental issues into the Barclays supply chain, and began to encourage SMEs to improve their environmental performance by highlighting the potential financial benefits available to them.”

According to Barclays, for many businesses, having an environmental management system in place is becoming part of the ‘licence to operate’ when it comes to dealing with large corporations and government departments. It also points out that with an environmental management system, companies are not only playing their part in protecting the environment and meeting their regulatory obligations, but also ensuring that their business is not held back in an increasingly competitive world.

Cost savings

Groundwork advises that companies without an existing Environmental Management System (EMS) participating in this programme, and implementing an EMS can expect cost savings in the region of:

Energy costs: 10-30%

Solid & liquid wastes: 10-50%

Water consumption: 20-80%

Trade effluent: 20-80%

Packaging: 10-90%

Raw materials: 1-5%

Environmental impacts

The acid test for any environmental training scheme is, of course, the companies who participate. Cumberland Construction regularly carries out shop and interior refurbishments for Blue Chip companies. The company benefitted on a number of levels from attending the Barclays course, as managing director, David Park, told IEM:

“We found the course to be very enlightening,” he commented. “Even though we had always tried to be environmentally friendly and aware of the legislation that affected us, the course still taught us how to minimise our environmental impacts as well as how to realise tangible cost benefits if we persevered in the longer term.”

The course also made such an impression on Cumberland Construction that it now passes on its new-found knowledge to clients, as well as David Park using his position as president of the National Association of Shopfitters, to spread the word to his own industry.

Looking at environmental training from a much wider perspective, the benefits of long-term cost savings, better regulatory understanding and last but not least, environmental protection, must make it an enticing investment for any company looking to decrease its environmental footprint.

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