As clients get more eco-savvy, doing your bit for the environment could be well worth your while

Bulging paper-recycling bins, reminders to switch off computers and the odd notice urging staff to car-share are all fairly commonplace in the average broker’s office – and rightly so. Green issues have risen up the corporate agenda in recent years, and most people want to do their bit. But do you really know what impact your business has on the environment, and is there scope for improvement? Now could be the time to raise your game.

As clients become more savvy about environmental concerns and with regulations governing carbon emissions set to tighten, improving your firm’s environmental performance can represent a genuine investment and result in measurable cost savings.

According to Andrew Voysey, secretary to the insurance industry initiative Climatewise, which aims to respond to the risks and opportunities of climate change, the business case for implementing eco-friendly measures is clear. “Being environmentally aware is not about being altruistic. It’s about taking stock of the risks we face from climate change and being prepared for them as well as the opportunities they bring,” he says.

For starters, the UK’s first mandatory carbon trading scheme takes effect this month. The Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) Energy Efficiency Scheme will operate as a ‘cap and trade’ mechanism, providing a financial incentive to reduce energy use by putting a price on carbon emissions. While the scheme will initially affect the country’s largest energy consumers – around 5,000 organisations that together produce 25% of the UK’s total business sector emissions – Voysey says the trend generally is to price carbon emissions.

“It makes sense to plan for this trend in your longer-term business plan and account for the fact that the government is already assessing the environmental performance of companies as part of its procurement process,” he says. “It’s only a matter of time before this approach becomes more commonplace and we see big companies insisting on the green credentials of their suppliers.”

And Voysey’s appraisal is borne out by the experience of commercial brokers. Aon’s sustainability co-ordinator, Greg Lowe, says large corporations as well as public sector clients are asking more questions relating to Aon’s environmental policy in the tender process. “In the last six months, I’ve seen the number of these questions rise. Clients want to know the details of your environmental policy.”

So how do you become greener? Carbon Smart consultant Mark Whitman says the first step is to ensure staff are engaged in the process and lend their support: “It’s about the culture you have in the office, and the truth is that staff don’t always take responsibility for their work environment. We help to address this by, for example, providing visual images of how much paper waste an office produces, so that the issue is less abstract.”

According to Whitman, calculating a firm’s environmental performance is not expensive and a small firm would be looking at a fee of hundreds of pounds rather than thousands. Once you know where there is scope for improvement, it is easier to focus your efforts and follow the basic eco-friendly principles of reduce, reuse and recycle.

The question then is, how green do you want to be? Whitman emphasises that it is not a matter of spending money on swish technology, but looking at the choices you make. Carbon Smart only advises businesses to consider carbon offsetting if they have exhausted all other means of reducing their impact on the environment.

“I’d rather a business spent £2,000-£5,000 on basic reduction and mitigation strategies than in carbon offsetting schemes,” Whitman says. “The focus needs to be on your own actions.”

Companies walking the walk

For broker Independent Insurance Services, protecting the environment is an integral part of business. The Folkestone-based firm holds an ISO 14001 Environmental Management Standard, an internationally accepted standard that sets out a framework for implementing an effective environmental management system. The standard calls for environmental responsibilities to be fully integrated into business operations and demands continuous improvement to a firm’s performance.

As a result of committing to the standard, Independent Insurance’s proprietor, Ray Johnson, claims the firm has become “the first carbon-neutral insurance broker in the world”.

As well as running an eco-friendly office, the company offers premium discounts to clients with good green credentials, gives best environmental practice advice to other businesses, sponsors conservation charities and owns seven acres of Kentish woodland.

“We walk the walk,” Johnson says. “And it follows that if you take the environment seriously, then you take risk management more seriously, which makes good business sense.”

In addition to cutting the company’s 2009 gas bill by 22% and electricity bill by 21%, Johnson says Independent’s commitment to the environment has won the company new business. “We attract like-minded clients because we act on our values.”

Naturesave Insurance is also winning clients because of its environmental credentials. The company’s eco-friendly measures include offering a free environmental performance review and carbon offset grants worth £250 to SMEs with green credentials; putting 10% of household premiums into the firm’s charity, the Naturesave Trust, to fund specific UK environmental and conservation projects; and lobbying insurers to become more environmentally aware.

How to be good

Naturesave’s managing director, Matthew Criddle, says the firm’s clients can be divided into three groups: those who are serious about the environment; the ‘eco-curious’, who feel things aren’t right and that they should do more; and those who are not focused at all on the environment.

Whether or not a client is specifically attracted to the firm’s policies, Criddle says the green approach invariably means you conduct your day-to-day business with a considerate manner, which is an attractive prospect to all clients. “Green is a corollary of being ethical and treating people as you would like to be treated. This underpins everything we do. As a result, we have a renewable retention rate of 95% and a quotation take-up rate in excess of 50% across all classes of business written.”

According to Voysey, as public awareness about the environment and climate change continues to grow, the business sector will have to do more to tackle its environmental performance. “Large businesses will have difficulties with their reputation if they do not manage these issues.”

But there are opportunities too. Some brokers are, for example, developing products to guarantee carbon credits, while others are looking at brand and reputation risk with specific reference to the environment. So there is plenty of reason to take a closer look at your firm’s impact on the environment.

“There is a lot of green wash going on,” Voysey says. “But the environment is no longer a fringe issue. It’s about waking up to the material risks we face and taking these seriously.” IT

Reduce, reuse and recycle: what you can do to improve your green credentials

Be energy smart. Turn off equipment when not in use, and consider whether you really need all your lights on. “Most offices are overly lit and we often find ourselves ‘delamping’ offices,” Carbon Smart’s Mark Whitman says. Passive infrared lights will automatically turn off when not needed, while energy-efficient light bulbs last 18 times longer than standard ones and use 80% less power.

Conserve and recycle paper. Set your printers to duplex as default and ensure you have suitable, dedicated paper recycling bins beside each desk. Use recycled office paper as the norm and envelopes made from recycled paper. Reuse packaging like Jiffy bags.

Arrange for old equipment, such as computer monitors, printer cartridges and mobile phones, to be reused or recycled.

Use tele-conferencing when possible. Every commute not taken saves on money, time and fossil fuel.

Deal with claims in an eco-friendly way where possible. For example, Naturesave Insurance replaced a client’s damaged UPVC French doors with locally made, sustainably sourced oak frames.

Invest. If your boiler needs replacing, fit a modern, efficient condensing model; it could slash annual bills by a fifth. And by turning down the thermostat by 1ºC, you should save £30 a year. Use A-rated, low-energy fridges and freezers too.

Appoint an eco-champion for the office. Aon has a network of local eco-champions to look at how its offices can cut down on waste, recycle more and raise staff awareness about the issue.

Support local conservation projects. You don’t have to invest in projects based in South America to offset carbon emissions. If you do decide to invest in overseas carbon offsetting projects, then do your homework; some are more reputable than others. For more information, advice and facts, visit www.climatewise.org.uk