2011 conference: Sustainable business in practice

14th December 2011

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Delegates at this year's sold-out IEMA conference heard how large and small organisations are putting sustainability at the heart of their activities

Evidence of how skilled environmentalists are at the forefront of organisations’ efforts to embed sustainable business practice was on show at IEMA’s 2011 conference, “Sustainable business: environmental professionals driving change”.

The event, held on 15–16 November 2011 at Savoy Place in London and sponsored by NQA, sought to address the many challenges that organisations in all sectors are facing, from the transition to a low-carbon economy to understanding the limitations of operating within the natural capacity of the planet.

The leadership role that experienced environment professionals play in helping businesses and public sector organisations meet these challenges was a key feature of the two-day conference.

Here, the environmentalist showcases some of the highlights.

Day 1

Peter Young, strategy director at consultancy SKM Enviros, in the opening session looked at breaking the link between growth and impact, outlining three areas requiring attention: electricity supply, energy efficiency and resource management. He reminded delegates that demand for electricity will almost double over the next two decades, from 45GW in 2010 to 85GW in 2030, so we have to find ways to decarbonise electricity generation, but in a way that does not “destabilise the economy”.

Young described energy efficiency as a “ridiculously under-exploited” measure, saying the UK needs to improve efficiency by a factor of three. He said the emphasis on recycling should be replaced with a waste strategy that focuses on reuse, reduction and elimination.

Sarah Eppel, Defra’s head of sustainable products and consumers, highlighted new research revealing that more than half (54%) of the goods consumed in the UK are produced overseas. She raised the issue of water scarcity, pointing out that the manufacture of one pair of jeans requires 11,000 litres of water.

Diana Montgomery, commercial and policy director at the Chemical Industries Association, provided an industry perspective on growth and impact. She explained that the cost of regulation to industry varies hugely from country to country.

“Unilateral action by the UK and the EU on the cost of carbon makes it very difficult for chemical companies,” she said, adding that policy uncertainty in the UK is extremely damaging.

The afternoon plenary session focused on the challenges and opportunities presented by better managing resources.

Miles Watkins, director of sustainable construction at Aggregate Industries, talked about how his company is increasingly reusing materials, but said there is still a reluctance to use more environment-friendly products, for instance the lack of demand for asphalt with less embodied carbon.

In his presentation, Andrew Bloodworth, from the British Geological Survey, talked about diminishing resources.

Fran Leedham, head of global sustainability at Jaguar Land Rover, showcased her firm’s actions to embed sustainability, with its 2008 environment innovation strategy forming one of three central pillars of its business plan.

She explained that the company’s entire workforce has been through an efficiency training programme, and how using recycled aluminium takes only 5% of the energy consumed by virgin aluminium.

Delegates also heard how companies such as National Grid, Thames Water and Transport for London (TfL) are working on major infrastructure projects with limited environmental impacts.

Richard Aylard, director of external affairs and sustainability at Thames Water, spoke about the company’s £4.1 billion construction of a “super sewer” in London, while Steve Wallace, head of climate change and environment at National Grid, focused on how the firm was reusing infrastructure equipment, such as parts from old meters.

Helen Woolston, environment and climate change coordinator at TfL, explained how the organisation is making more robust use of risk assessment to improve the environmental performance of London’s transport infrastructure.

Day 2

The theme of the main plenary session on the second day was sustainability in practice. Peter White, director of global sustainability at P&G, gave a comprehensive overview of the initiatives employed by the company, whose products range from Ariel washing detergent and Pringles crisps to Pampers nappies and Gillette razors, to improve its sustainability.

These include working closely with its 75,000 first-tier suppliers and seeking to influence the behaviour of the four billion consumers of its products.

IEMA policy director Martin Baxter followed White, and exclusively revealed the results of the Institute’s latest research. The survey looks at sustainable business practice (SBP), and attracted 1,348 members’ responses.

Among the key findings were that more than half (52%) have a degree of influence over high-level decision making in their organisations.

The poll also identifies what environmentalists believe are the essential elements of SBP, with the top three being: minimising environmental impacts and living within environmental limits; creating long-term value; and compliance with law and regulations.

Definitions of SBP offered by survey respondents include “delivering long-term value to society without harm to the environment” and “balancing environmental, social and economic issues”.

Paul Turner, head of sustainable development at Lloyds Banking Group, then talked about the environmental challenges facing the finance sector, explaining how engaging staff is the key to improving performance.

He said environmentalists had to know how to appeal to “heads, hearts and wallets”, creating the right messages for each part of the business, from the finance department to the cashiers in banks.

Reducing the impacts of products and services was the next session and included presentations by Fiona Ball, head of environment at BSkyB, Julian Feasby, head of internal environment management at the Environment Agency, and Jon Freeman, who works on sustainable procurement at the Ministry of Defence.

In his presentation, Feasby reminded the audience that they should not to be afraid of making mistakes when it comes to trying to change people’s behaviour, while Ball outlined the satellite broadcaster’s 10 public sustainability targets.

Later, Henrietta Anstey, head of environment and sustainability at BAE Systems, Lucy Shea, chief executive at Futerra Sustainability Communications, and Toby Robins, sustainable development director at Wiles Greenworld, told delegates how sustainability is being embedded in their organisations.

The conference ended with a presentation by Mike Pierce, director of strategy and communications at the Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership.

He called on environment professionals to work every day to cajole, manipulate, shove and inspire their colleagues in a bid to spread the message of sustainability and to lower organisations’ environmental impacts.

In addition to the six plenary sessions, conference delegates also had their pick of 24 workshops, seminars and case studies.


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