Working at ground level

Groundwork is a national organisation of over 40 local trusts that provide practical support, training and advice to companies on environmental business issues. It is now ready to take its simple, but extremely effective, local strategies to another level, says Graham Duxbury, Groundwork's national information officer

Groundwork began operating in 1981 whilst Michael Heseltine was Environment Secretary, and its first trust was set up in St. Helen’s, Merseyside under the auspices of the Countryside Commission. It was initially charged with building partnerships with local people in order to redevelop the urban fringe.

Keeping Groundwork’s projects close to these key areas is important to the organisation, but of equal importance is the way in which Groundwork’s trusts are co-ordinated to form the integrated national network, as Graham Duxbury, Groundwork’s national information officer, explained.

“We have been very good at the local stuff, but what we’ve perhaps not been so good at is working at the national, European and international level. Increasingly, what we are trying to do is make the whole greater than the sum of the parts by implementing national strategies and national campaigns.”

Groundwork’s latest effort to achieve integration is by the formation of Groundwork Environmental Business Services (EBS), the new national arm of the organisation. Its aim is to bring together the best elements of what Groundwork does – to collect, co-ordinate and share best practice amongst its constituent trusts.

“Our new national programme, Groundwork EBS is one very obvious way in which we are changing as an organisation,” stated Duxbury. “Groundwork EBS offers all that is available nationally from our diverse range of individual trusts Ð in one package.”

These services include business clubs, associations and networking, environmental business reviews, environmental management services (EMS), information services, and training.

EBS will be centrally co-ordinated and whilst it will charge larger, national companies for its services – local service at a national standard will still be delivered by its trusts. Initial advice is free of charge but for review and audit, services will be charged for.

Local concerns

There have been internal concerns that Groundwork EBS’ work with larger businesses, which would inevitably focus on ISO14001 certification, would dilute the local message, but Duxbury rejects this.

“I can only reiterate that there’s no pressure from us for ISO14001. The idea is to support business as far as they want to go. Groundwork’s concept of an environmental business review is: ‘A survey of the environmental aspects of your business that lays the foundations for a management system, be it ISO14001, EMAS or a formal in-house system. Obviously, if someone asks us we’ve got say: ‘Yes, we think that ISO14001 is a good idea.’ Yet, hopefully, when businesses do take their first environmental management step, they realise the benefits and also see that taking the second step might save them even more money.”

EBS is just one example of how Groundwork has evolved the way it deals with business. Groundwork has shown it operates best on a basic level, with a large part of its role offering clear, simple, charitable advice. By sending out literature and information explaining how to be considerate of environmental issues, it hopes to bring businesses into the reach of the organisation.

However, there are many other paths to its door, as Duxbury explained. “Busy executives may go to a potential client or hear of a competitor, e.g. a Scandinavian company, which enjoys success in exactly the same field and has ‘green credentials’. They may read Government literature concerning green supply chains or sustainable development or the FT may run a piece about an environmental report. All these little steps lead business, slowly but surely, to us. This helps us to help businesses save money”.

“Having said all that, if you speak to Groundwork staff in the trusts they will tell you that the vast majority of their ‘customers’ tend to be environmental ‘champions’ within business. These individuals or groups tend to want to make a difference for their own personal or philosophical reasons. They come to us looking for facts that they can use to pressure, advise or inform to get businesses to change. They require relevant examples of importance to their company’s economic status or position of competitiveness.”

There are two examples that Groundwork likes to use to show the advantages of its work. One is a big pottery company, Dudson Duraline, which undertook an initial environmental business review. Dudson didn’t change its core processes a great deal, but what it did change was its practice in areas that were never considered wasteful. Changing to waterless urinals, from a system that was using 80,000 gallons a year, now saves the company over £5,000 annually.

Another Groundwork example is that of a cardboard box manufacturer in Accrington. A local Groundwork meeting introduced the company to another firm that wanted to use its waste card as a raw material for packaging. As a result, one company gets cheap packing materials, while another changes expensive waste into profit.

Duxbury explained the importance of this example-based approach. “Companies begin to get the idea of what an EMS entails and how the environment as a concept affects their whole business. It’s another small step towards greening supply chains Ð towards more discussions on sustainable development – and it’s all come from common sense stuff”.

“It begins with basic information transfer and ends with the company saving money. Groundwork fulfils its four key targets by helping business to save money, operate legally, access partners and protect the environment. Finally, all this is good for the environment. It’s a win, win, and win situation.”

To this end, a lot of Groundwork’s schemes look at training staff to take on the attitude that a company needs to adopt – saving money by looking more closely at how they work, improving the bottom line or implementing environmentally sensitive business practice.

Groundwork trusts and Groundwork EBS are currently putting sustainable development into practice at over 3,000 projects around the country. Despite this impressive body of work, however, there is still one major change that would make Duxbury’s work a lot easier and that’s a better understanding of the word environment.

Duxbury explained: “One thing that does scare people away sometimes is the word environment and its connotations. If tomorrow, everybody understood that the environment is not just about trees, it’s about the way your business works, the way that jobs are created and the way the Government works, I think that would make our job a lot easier. If the word ‘environment’ was sidelined and the phrase ‘sustainable development’ came to the front, that would be a big step forward. Groundwork is all about taking active steps towards sustainable development by helping business to understand exactly what the concept is.”

The greening of business parks

Integrating economy and the environment

To support businesses and the local community, Groundwork has been developing the concept of green business parks where it identifies the need for local programmes of regeneration and environmental action.

Greening business

This initiative aims to help local businesses improve their competitiveness through environmental cost savings, to encourage companies to work together in reducing their environmental impact, and to help businesses improve their premises to create a more attractive environment and a better quality of life for local people.

One example is Carrs Business Park, Lancashire. Occupants have set up a waste minimisation club so companies, as a collective, can achieve the associated savings. A plan has been drawn up for major landscaping work on the area, including new security measures and improved signage. The local trust, Groundwork Rossendale, hopes that much of the work will be done by local long-term unemployed people as a part of their training as an Environment Task Force – an option that is now being made available within Government’s New Deal strategy. Introducing green business park ‘keepers’ via the same strategy will help ensure the site is maintained, according to the trust.

More gain than pain

Groundwork sees this as an example of one of their central tenets: “Sustainable development will only take root when we make people realise there is more gain than pain.” Groundwork’s activities aim to put this into action by demonstrating that environmental responsibility also makes good business sense.

For more information on Carrs business park, Lancashire contact the local trust Groundwork Rossendale on 01706 211421.

Information services

Central environmental library

Keeping up to date with environmental issues can be difficult in a company where resources are already limited. Groundwork’s confidential information services offer a comprehensive package to meet company’s needs. Information and practical support are provided locally, backed-up by their national network of experts. Their environmental business service (Groundwork EBS) provides access to the Environmental Resource & Information Centre (ERIC) – Groundwork’s national environmental information database Ð based at the Blackburn trust’s offices. ERIC answered almost 1000 helpline enquiries last year.

Saving £2.8M

Groundwork’s Blackburn trust has also established a two-year initiative to reduce landfill waste, solvent emissions and water usage. The East Lancashire waste minimisation initiative (ELIMINATE) includes 20 companies and has already saved in excess of £2.8M.

Groundwork Blackburn can be contacted on 01254 265163

Surveying micro-businesses

Time for a Payback

“We have just received a European Regional Development Fund award for a second phase of micro-company research,” said Michael Poole, of Payback or Groundwork South West, describing its recent achievements.

“During the research for phase one, we paid the owners of micro companies to invent a solution for managing environmental issues. This produced useful insights. The ‘micros’ are more stuck for time than other business sectors and are driven by immediacy, yet have no difficulty admitting to wanting to do something to improve the world.” Phase two will take 200 companies and try out the products of phase one – a guidance project called Green Compass and a series of ten-minute guides.

“Our research showed that, if they can’t get the answer to a question inside ten minutes, these companies won’t bother asking again.”

Payback or Groundwork South West can be contacted on 01752 217733.

Anyone interested in contacting Groundwork EBS or their local Groundwork trust should contact: Groundwork National Office, 85-87 Cornwall Street, Birmingham B3 3BY, Tel: 0121 236 8565, Fax: 0121 236 7356.

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