IT’s fashionable these days for big companies to talk about how “green” they are. Small firms do it less. Indeed some are only now waking up to the demands from clients, the public and the government.
The Institute of Directors estimates that small and medium-sized businesses can slash energy bills by 20%, and save more than £1 billion a year, by taking a range of fairly mundane steps. Below are five examples from real businesses.
The law firm
The office coffee machine is a source of refreshment, gathering point for gossip and, in the case of one London law firm, an extraordinary fount of rubbish.
Shelley Rowley of Speechly Bircham worked out that the firm went through 317,500 paper and plastic cups in a year, which is equivalent to 738 for each of its 430 workers.
“I couldn’t believe how many disposable cups we were getting through,” she said. “I took my findings to the finance director and said I’d like to remove disposable cups and ask people to use their own mugs.”
Staff have been extremely responsive and the bring-your-mug-to-work scheme cut the group’s annual £14,355 bill for cups.
The climbing centre
Staff at the Castle Climbing Centre in Stoke Newington, north London, do not just scale walls — they also do dumpsterdiving.
Sorting through rubbish to pick out recyclable items was one of several initiatives that workers suggested when Audrey Seguy, the managing director, asked how they could be better corporate citizens — and save some money.
“We found we were recycling tons of milk cartons and plastic bottles,” said Seguy. “Now we get our milk delivered in glass bottles and we have stopped selling bottled water in our café. Instead we sell reuseable bottles and provide water fountains. We have also provided recycling bins, with clear labels about what you put in them.”
These changes have helped the Castle, which has 40 full-time staff, cut its rubbish disposal bill by nearly £1,000 a year.
Workers at Heath Avery Architects have had to stock up on jumpers. Sarah Daly, managing director of the firm in Cheltenham, estimates that she has halved energy bills in the past 18 months with several simple measures, such as turning down the heating.
In the summer, she opens the windows rather than using the air-conditioning. The number of printers has been cut from six to two, and computers and lights are shut off at the end of every day.
The results have been dramatic. “We have made significant financial savings by reducing our energy use, but the benefits in terms of productivity are much greater,” said Daly. “Natural ventilation and daylight are much healthier than artificial light and air-conditioning, which is bad for the skin and can give you headaches.”
She added: “If people are walking round in their shirts in the winter, the office temperature is too high.”
The office supply fIrm
Every few days a lorryload of paper, pens and printers was delivered to Commercial Group, an office-supplies company, in Cheltenham. The products were unwrapped and the bubble wrap and foam packing they came in went straight into the skip.
Jason Hawkins, one of the firm’s employees, said: “We were unpacking stuff and throwing away the mountains of bubble wrap, shrinkwrap and boxes that it came in — then we were wrapping it back up in new packaging and shipping it out. It seemed a huge waste.
“So we asked the management if we could look into a way of reusing the packaging and we have been recycling most of it ever since.”
These days 98% of the packaging used by the company comes from incoming materials. The initiative is part of a broader green drive, which has allowed the company to reduce landfill rubbish from 100 skips a year to eight.