Building sustainability into the DNA of the organisation

For the past two years, Green Lion founding director Andy Parsley has been the chairman / facilitator of the Retail Bulletin: Responsible Retailing Summit – a conference which brings together leading UK retailers to share best practice in creating sustainable businesses.

But an interest in green issues is not a newfound passion for Andy. As a teenager he was an active member of what is now the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, and spent several years working as a volunteer clearing reed beds and swamp carr to create the Ranworth Broad nature reserve. And it was this interest in the environment which ultimately lead him to study for a degree in biological sciences.

More than two decades later, and an appreciation of the environmental impact of business now informs Green Lion’s day-to-day operation. And, critically, it is the realisation that although the grand plans of big businesses are to be encouraged, it is the individual actions of each and every employee which will either undermine or enhance these initiatives. Consequently, given the opportunity, we strive to harness our skills in employee engagement to help clients embed sustainable behaviours into the working practices of their people, and to make sound environmental practice part of everyone’s job - from boardroom to shop floor.

And we try to do our bit for the environment too. Green Lion’s offices are part of a smallholding which has been in existence for over 450 years. As a result, we are fortunate in being able to integrate many of our commercial activities with the running of the smallholding. For example, waste paper from the office is shredded and composted – some of it enduring the indignity of being used as chicken litter as an intermediate process! Meanwhile the logs which are cut as part of the ongoing management of the smallholding’s woodland are used to heat our buildings during the winter, thereby reducing our overall carbon footprint.

But with the combination of office use and commuting contributing to around 50% of UK carbon emissions, we are also trying to do the things which we believe every business should be addressing. Every light bulb in our office is low energy. Our “air conditioning system” operates by shutting the blinds and opening the window. And our heating policy is to put on a fleece before putting more fuel on the fire (it’s funny how when you’ve made the effort to cut and split your own logs you think twice before burning them!)

We also think twice about the need for face-to-face meetings. It’s amazing how much can be done by teleconferencing – and it’s also amazing how much you can get done on the train if you do need to travel. Last year around 85% of Green Lion business travel miles in the UK were by train, and with a train producing around one-quarter of the carbon emissions per passenger compared with a car that represents a significant reduction.

We’re not perfect – and we could do more (the possibilities of a wind turbine are being explored, and we have recently discovered a disused well which we are considering tapping into to reduce our usage of potable water for non-drinking purposes). But the important thing is that we are aware of the issues and we are taking what we believe to be appropriate action. And if we can help our clients engage their employees in taking action too, then we’ll feel that we are really beginning to make a difference.