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Abbey Office Solutions logo

Alternative to ISO14001 for office supplies company

Our aim has always been to provide a small business-specific alternative to ISO14001. We know that most small businesses don’t have time to dedicate to developing, implementing and monitoring an elaborate environmental management system. It’s one more thing on top of an endless list of other things. Green Small Business was designed to allow small businesses to develop an environmental management system which is proportionate to their size and the scale of their environmental impacts.

Our approach really worked for Hampshire-based Abbey Office Solutions:

“We were looking for a way to make us stand out from our competitors on the environmental side of things but found that the ISO14001 route too costly and time consuming. A lot of the detail was irrelevant to our size of business. Green Small Business has given us an ideal platform to develop our EMS system that is relevant to us. It was a quick and straightforward process and Green Small Business were a great help in advising me on some of the sections. I would definitely recommend Green Small Business.”

See their case study for more details.

We have worked hard to make sure that Green Small Business does not feel like a burden, whilst making a genuine difference to the environmental impact of small businesses. To find out how it all works, see the How? section of our website.

Shed 1 Gin logo

Passionate about gin and passionate about the environment

Shed 1 Gin is an award-winning distillery on the edge of the English Lake District. They produce ‘small batch, classically distilled gin with a contemporary style’. We normally provide all of our services remotely, but we took the time to go visit this ‘green distillery’ and we may have sampled some of their fare…

The pride in their gin-making was evident. Equally evident was their honest and committed approach to managing their environmental impacts. They work hard to ensure the most sustainable packaging, source all ingredients as locally as possible (including foraging for blackberries!), are re-jigging their distillery so that all cooling water is recycled in a closed loop system, have joined the Recorked UK scheme to encourage recycling of their corks and are working towards a bottle re-filling system for local customers. They really are a green distillery. For more, see their sustainability page.

Every Green Small Business is different. Some are just starting on their journey towards becoming more green. For others, like Shed 1 Gin, Green Small Business certification is as much about recognising and celebrating their efforts as it is about identifying new ways of improving environmental performance. See their case study for more details.

Gin-maker extraordinaire Zoe was delighted with the outcome of the process: It has always been important for us to be as sustainable as we could be. It was great to get some affirmation for our efforts up to this point. What we found useful was the extra research that Green Small Business did for us and pointing us in the right direction.

Chatham House logo

World-leading policy institute gains Green Small Business certification

Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, is a world-leading policy institute, with a mission to help governments and societies build a sustainably secure, prosperous and just world.

Their work includes a focus on energy, environment and resources. Recognising that they needed to demonstrate that they operated responsibly in this area themselves, they developed an environmental management system to meet the requirements of Green Small Business certification.

Paul Curtin, Chief Operating Officer and Finance Director, explained the benefits: “Our Green Small Business EMS allows us to more clearly demonstrate as an organisation that we adequately address the environmental impact that we have, help us formalise more clearly our environmental credentials as well as demonstrate to our members / stakeholders / suppliers that we are serious about this important area.”

Boathouse Design Studio logo

Co-working space goes green to stand out from the crowd

Surely one of the most beautiful workspaces in London, the Boathouse Design studio was originally designed for building and maintaining boats. The space now offers a unique office experience for the companies who work there, with its natural light, stunning view over the Thames and its carefully restored and converted interiors.

Amaze Property, the owners of the space, sought Green Small Business certification as a means of gaining recognition for, and adding structure to, their efforts to be environmentally responsible. It provided them with “an incentive to go greener” as well as being “a good promotional tool which sets us apart from other co-working spaces”.

frustration

Is ISO 14001 good for small businesses?

Already fed up with ISO 14001 or convinced it’s not for you? Skip the article and go straight to downloading our free guide to the alternative approach! Otherwise, read on…

 

ISO 14001 is the international standard for environmental management systems. Many small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) are certified to the ISO 14001 standard. The figures suggest that this can be a brilliant business move. But that is just part of the story…

A certified environmental management system can deliver thousands of pounds worth of cost savings for SMEs. Take into account the new business sales generated and the payback period for a certified environmental management system can be less than one month (see Defra, 2011 Evidence-based study into the benefits of EMSs for SMEs). Yes, the cost of getting a certified environmental management system can be recouped within one month in some cases!

Which begs the question, why doesn’t every small business have a certified environmental management system?

The evidence suggests that, when it comes to businesses at the smaller end of the scale, standard environmental management systems aren’t fit for purpose. Specifically, they are:

  1. too complex;
  2. too time-consuming; and
  3. too expensive.

Too complex

A major report examining the use of environmental management systems in SMEs across North America found that a successful environmental management system can deliver multiple benefits. However, the report also found that experiences varied considerably. It concluded that:

“most SMEs face.. many difficulties in implementing environmental management systems… Even if they are familiar with the concept of an environmental management system, many smaller businesses lack the technical expertise and resources needed to develop and implement one.” (Commission for Environmental Cooperation (2005) Successful practices of Environmental Management Systems in Small and Medium-Size Enterprises: A North American perspective).

Developing and implementing a standard environmental management system is a complex task for any small business.

One commentator speculated as to whether ISO (the authors of ISO 14001) stands for ‘irritate small organisations’.

Achieving a standard that was designed to meet the needs of all companies, including hugely complex multinational operations, is always going to be a daunting challenge for small businesses. Reflecting on the tendency of procurement managers to require the ISO standards, the same commentator suggested:

“By specifying ISO14001 certification to any keen SME that wants to be green, the procurement manager is crushing their spirit… Don’t demand they wade through pages of documentation and fill out forms – at least not at the start.(Large, C (2012) ISO14001: loved by procurement, hated by SMEs).

And even where a small business successfully manages to wade through the guidance, interpret all of the jargon, carry out their risk assessments, develop all of the necessary procedures and produce all of the documentation, a standard environmental management system will often feel like an ill-fitting suit for most small businesses. Particularly for those who have limited environmental impacts, a standard environmental management system will feel disproportionate in it’s size and complexity.

Too time-consuming

Disproportionate complexity leads to disproportionate time being needed both to prepare and to manage standard environmental management systems.

Bigger businesses often appoint dedicated environmental managers or pay external consultants to look after environmental management systems on their behalf. For smaller businesses without that luxury, developing and implementing a standard environmental management system can simply be a step too far. Just getting through the multiple daily challenges of running the business can be quite enough.

Too expensive

A standard certified environmental management system isn’t cheap. Even six years ago, a UK Government study found that initial costs to small businesses were more than £2,700 ($3360), followed by annual certification costs of more than £1,100 ($1370) (Defra, 2011 Evidence-based study into the benefits of EMSs for SMEs). Even those convinced about the potential payback may struggle to find the necessary finance to cover the upfront costs.

Interestingly, the study found that the costs of an environmental management system implementation do not fall proportionally in line with turnover. This means that smaller businesses have to spend a higher proportion of their turnover to get the same output. This is as clear an indication as any that standard environmental management systems are simply ill-suited to the small business sector.

So what are the alternatives?

I have been an environmental consultant for many years, advising governments, other public agencies and private businesses on topics such as energy, waste and climate change. I have helped develop environmental management systems for organisations and businesses, large and small.

The irony is that even in the small environmental consultancies I have worked in, whilst advising others on protecting the environment we have struggled to manage our own environmental impacts. The mainstream standards and approaches have simply been too onerous and expensive.

Alternatives to ISO 14001 are now available, including many offered at the local level. However, not many are genuinely fit-for-purpose in the case of businesses at the smaller end of the scale. And none that I’m aware of would be realistic options for sole traders or the self-employed. Yet there are many such businesses with a desire to be ‘green’ and to be seen to be green.

On the back of my frustrations with mainstream environmental management systems, but with a firm belief in their potential, I have now developed Green Small Business. It provides small businesses and other small organisations with a simple system which is proportionate to their environmental impacts and recognises that their finances and time are precious.

For more information, download our free guide.

 

Lamabuild logo

Green builder gets environmental recognition they deserve

With an electric car, van-sharing scheme, commitment to sustainable sourcing of materials, processes in place to minimise on-site waste and more, London-based builder Lamabuild have firm green credentials.

Going through the Green Small Business process allowed a clear structure to be developed for addressing all of the key environmental impacts of the company and for new ideas to address some of those impacts to be formed. Green Small Business certification was just reward for their environmental efforts and will further enhance their reputation amongst architects and clients who are increasingly demanding evidence of environmental credentials.

“It’s really important that we are aware, and are seen to be aware of what we are doing and want to do to ‘Green’ our business. Eco matters are at the forefront of most responsible people’s minds so it can only improve our reputation with architects and clients.”

Ginger Bakers

Baking with a conscience

Lisa Smith, the owner of Ginger Bakers, understands that being kind to the environment is not just good for her conscience but good for her business too. Lisa said: “We decided to do it because it’s a good thing for the business. Hopefully it will save on costs and we want to be doing something to contribute to helping the environment – we want to make sure we are doing as much as we can.”

Her Lake District-based business has long been committed to responsible sourcing of ingredients but was keen to take a structured approach to addressing environmental impacts across all aspects of the business. She was full of praise for how easy the Green Small Business process was and the potential for it to make a real difference to her business.

“It looks at energy use and things like that to see where we can make savings. The process is really simple and straightforward and a good starting point for businesses to make changes in how we do things. It’s been really convenient and the initial work really doesn’t take much time. Time is really precious and this didn’t take up much of our time.”

Lisa added: “It’s given us a prompt to look into these things like heat systems further. The report also highlights the good things businesses are already doing – there is no criticism and it is a very supportive document for the business.”

bough to beauty bespoke logo

Wooden badge maker gets Green Small Business certified

Bough to Beauty Bespoke make beautiful bespoke oak badges. At a time when the impacts of plastics waste are gaining a higher profile than ever, this is a business which is definitely ‘of it’s time’.

Environmental sustainability is at the core of the business and their badges help a huge number of clients to reduce their environmental impacts. The process of gaining Green Small Business certification has enabled them to identify additional ways not only of managing any negative environmental impacts, but also taking opportunities to further their positive impacts.

Vix Lawson, founder of Bough to Beauty Bespoke, sees Green Small Business certification as a means of lending even greater credibility to their environmental credentials:

“We are very excited to be independently certified as a Green Small Business! The process was brilliant. We went through each point in a logical way, spending as much time as we needed to in order to grasp how my business operates now and how some aspects could be improved in future. It will give us even more credibility as an ethical business, so that we can back up that we operate in a way that has as few negative impacts on people and planet as possible”

outerspace logo

Landscape architecture practice gets Green Small Business certification

Outerspace aim to create stunning and meaningful landscape architecture and have had a long-standing focus on sustainability, both within their own practice and in the design of schemes for clients. In all of their schemes they seek to balance the needs of people and biodiversity.

Through preparing a Green Small Business environmental management system, the firm have been able to refine their approach to managing their environmental impacts. Their newly certified Green Small Business policy and action plan identify incremental improvements in key areas such as energy use, company administration and the specification of materials for clients.

Practice Manager Melanie Winter was excited by the benefits: “Thank you so much for the policy and environmental action plan. They are great and show an understanding of our business and the realities of running a small business. The process was very good. In the space of a 40 minute phone call we went through all key aspects of the business. It will work as a great way of keeping us in check with our own environmental plans and a way of letting clients know about our plans and aims.”

globe

The Global Goals for Small Business Sustainability

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of 17 Global Goals, spearheaded by the United Nations to transform the world around a common agenda for sustainable development.

The goals provide a framework for formulating responses to the worlds most pressing challenges – from climate action to gender equality, life below water to decent work and economic growth.

A recent Corporate Citizenship study found that 81% of millennials believe that the private sector has a very important role to play in achieving the Global Goals, to which businesses of all sizes can contribute. In spite of this, the majority of companies surveyed are not yet taking action to address them.

A great opportunity for small business sustainability

Companies should consider where their business activities impact the planet, people and the economy and select the goals they can most easily affect, developing responses compatible with the goals and in-keeping with their broader business purpose.

Accessible

Sustainability can easily become overly complicated and overly scientific. But in terms of making a tangible difference, it doesn’t have to be. Everybody can relate to the sentiment behind goals such as clean water and quality education, for example.

Contextualised

Thinking about sustainability in the context of global goals highlights where the contribution made by your small business fits into the future of humankind.

Engaging

The goals seek to engage everybody, including your customers, competitors and suppliers around sustainability, providing a platform of shared ambition.

Visible

Bright and colourful, sharing your commitment to the global goals can be used to highlight your small business responsibility.

Using the global goals

Lets say that you are a local independent coffee store. You identify “Goal 2: Zero hunger”, and as you employ a team of five, “Goal 8: Decent work and economic growth” as goals applicable to your small business. Delving deeper into the goals, you find targets and indicators that allow you to direct your efforts towards more specific ends.

For example, within goal 2, target 2.4 states: “By 2030, ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems, that strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding and other disasters and that progressively improve land and soil quality.”

As a responsible retailer of coffee and tea, you may choose to spearhead this goal by questioning the sustainability credentials of your suppliers, opt to source organic or fair-trade products or liaise with a coffee producer to improve the agricultural input quality and therefore quality of your product. An associated indicator may be to aim to obtain a portion of your product from an organic source by 2020.

For goal 8, target 8.6 states: “By 2020, substantially reduce the proportion of youth not in employment, education or training.”

As an employer, you may decide to work with a local college to offer a work experience placement or create an apprenticeship opportunity. An associated indicator may be to aim to provide new employment opportunities for two young people over the next five years.

Unlocking the business case for sustainability

The goals are a clear business opportunity, and underline that the competitiveness and health of a company, as well as the health (environmental and social) of the communities it affects or can be affected by are mutually dependent. As consumers seek out sustainability and the need for companies to engage with environmental and social matters grows, the companies that will thrive are those that seek to unlock sustainability by engaging with ambition, such as that proposed by the Global Sustainable Development Goals.

 

This is a guest post, by Oliver Bradley from Smart Sustainability Co. Smart Sustainability Co. offers a suite of advisory and management services, empowering their clients to take a strategic approach to sustainability. By fusing creativity and research to drive innovation, Smart Sustainability Co. develop strategies and solutions to improve environmental, social and business performance.