Businesses have strong financial incentives to assess their environmental impact on the communities in which they operate. Carbon taxes, increased waste disposal charges and higher energy costs all enter the equation. The hidden costs go deeper – but so do the potential savings. This is why my company, DAS, is attempting to achieve the ISO accreditation for environmental excellence within two years.

Every time you undertake a fundamental appraisal of business practices, something new comes to light. With the quality standard

ISO 9001, the way a company deals with its customers and suppliers comes under scrutiny, as well as internal procedures. Codifying methods of work goes hand-in-hand with creating efficiencies. With the new environmental award ISO 14001, the cost-benefit factors may not immediately be so clear, but we are already seeing benefits.

Our eventual aim, that of a green policy and achieving better ways to minimise the environmental footprint of the company, will require a greater effort than switching to recycled stationery. We may be optimistic in setting this short two-year accreditation target, but we believe it is possible and necessary.

There are potential liability issues. It may be a good risk management tool. It also has a direct bearing on our ability to recruit and maintain staff in a competitive environment. We will be looking at energy efficiency, our ability to expand and, indeed, our whole company culture. As with ISO 9001, we will seek to persuade our trading partners to adopt the same approach. In the future, many business partners could refuse to associate with those not sharing their environmental ethos, while failure to tackle issues such as journey to work problems could dramatically increase staff turnover.

The manufacturing industry has the largest part to play in cleaning up the environment, naturally. However, financial services companies have an opportunity to act now. The benefits can be as surprising as they are rewarding. We are already involved in tackling transportation issues with the city council, and other employers, for our head office location of Bristol. This is a key issue at a time when another 4,000 jobs are being created on our doorstep and congestion sometimes reaches crisis levels. Car sharing and cycling may alleviate difficulties.

Why? Because you have to
Why bother and why now? Any management team will inevitably ask these two questions. The most compelling answers are that: a) you must; and b) it will be expensive not to. Any business that intends to remain at the top in the medium to long-term has to address such issues without delay. The business efficiency disciplines are not unique to green matters.

Energy saving and recycling are obvious target areas. Saving water, electricity, gas and vehicle fuel get top priority, and it is obviously better not to use resources in the first place than to have to recycle them later.

For service companies, the Climate Change Levy will have the biggest effect on vehicle fuel tax. Our car policy already restricts engine capacity to two litres, and we will be looking at greener fuels such as biodiesel and liquid petroleum gas (LPG), where preferential taxation encourages a switch of fuel types. Biodiesel contains half the pollutants of a conventional diesel, with no need to modify the engine. As a vegetable oil product, its greater use promises fewer oil rigs, less need for sea transport, and reduced environmental perils from spillages.

In terms of budget, some investments, such as introducing energy-saving technology and procedures, will have an easily quantifiable financial payback. Others, such as providing more facilities for cyclists, will be less easily measured. Nevertheless, there are signs that we could see fitter, healthier staff arriving at work more punctually (cycling being the only form of urban transport where the average speed is actually increasing) and taking less time off sick. The British Heart Foundation believes that the health benefits of regular cycling outweigh the risk of an accident by around 20 to one.

Some of the other questions we have had to ask include whether going greener might compromise any health and safety (H&S) issues, and whether the ISO 14001 is a risk management tool. Probably both apply more to manufacturing industries but, in as far as the ISO stipulates that environmental emergency plans must be in place and because environmental procedures reinforce rather than contradict H&S procedures, we are happy on both counts.

Changing the culture
One of the main tenets of ISO 14001 is to involve staff at all levels and to change the culture within the company, so that people think of the environmental consequences of their actions. It's the small day-to-day things that can really add up: how you commute to work, whether you need to print things off the computer, whether you're sorting your waste and making sure it goes in the right bins, if you walk up the stairs to a meeting or use the lift, or whether you switch off the lights.

In time, we intend to look at our own purchasing and supply lines – companies with proven good environmental records may be given preference. We will also be happy to share our experiences with both our business partners and our local neighbouring businesses, with which we already discuss local transport and security issues.

  • Paul Asplin is the managing director of DAS Legal Expenses Insurance.

    Five stages to ISO 14001
    Stage 1 is getting management commitment, doing a full environmental audit and initiating a culture change within the company, including the drafting of an environmental policy.

    Stage 2 is a full review of the legal, customer and market requirements relevant to the business.

    Stage 3 covers confirmation and management of all environmental aspects of the business, including the supply chain.

    Stage 4 is launching an effective environmental management system, with full written procedures plus training and awareness programmes.

    Stage 5 is checking, auditing and reviewing progress.

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