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Greener Future for UK Businesses

The Olympics’ focus on legacy and sustainability can inspire UK business to plan long term for a greener future.

The euphoria surrounding the Olympics may fade over the coming months, but the Games have certainly left their mark on the UK.  Whether that’s more people taking part in sport remains to be seen; but the Games clearly showed that a global event can be green, sustainable and a great success.

Sustainability and legacy have always been central to the London Games: as early as 2008, the Mayor of London announced that sustainability was one of his five legacy commitments. This commitment translated into a global event where 75p in every £1 spent was focused on legacy, there would be a 50% reduction in carbon emissions at the Olympic Park and all visitors (whenever possible) would cycle, walk or use public transport to the venues. During the Olympic Park’s construction, fit-out and the Games themselves, much has been made about the need to ensure a sustainable environment once the Olympics had finished.

The Games were a great example of what can be achieved when Government and business work together to develop and implement a comprehensive green strategy. Yet, a closer analysis shows that the strategy relied on many well-established practices such as recycling, renewable energy and managing environmental issues – the real difference was the size and scale of the project.

As such, the Games showed what could be achieved when business and Government work together to achieve a long-term plan.  It’s clear that Games could become a blue-print for UK business to develop plans to implement a greener, more sustainable future. However, with the current economic climate, it’s not surprising that many companies are reluctant to commit to this kind of wide-ranging environmental policy, not least because of its financial and resourcing implications.

Like many plans, a sustainable, environmental plan can be introduced gradually and refined over time. This gradual approach has proven very successful for many organisations, such as Marks and Spencer, which launched Plan A (www.plana.marksandspencer.com) in January 2007.  Originally, it covered 100 commitments (from waste recycling and climate change to ethical sourcing, trading and healthy eating for customers) to be achieved in five years. This has now been updated to include 180 commitments to be achieved 2015.

Whilst most of the UK’s businesses may not need such a comprehensive plan, many have already embraced green initiatives:  recycling paper, ink and toner cartridges, glass, tins, newspapers, plastics and bottles are now common-place in offices and business centres.

These kinds of initiatives are easily incorporated into a wider environmental plan; with targets to encourage greater levels of recycling and adding facilities to broaden recycling, as well as looking to renew or reuse other materials.  This leads into other areas, such as reducing water, heat, light and power usage and reviewing business travel to cut carbon emissions. Depending on the business, this could mean using more fuel efficient vehicles for deliveries or looking how your staff could use public transport rather than cars to travel to and from work.  Whilst some involve considerable changes, other such as switching to more environmentally friendly cleaning products and using ethically sourced or FairTrade tea and coffee can be implemented more easily and quickly.

There are undoubtedly costs associated with becoming a greener, sustainable business and many companies including serviced office provider, BEOffices now recognise these long-term strategies have significant business and financial benefits. BE Offices has developed its sustainability plans over the past 2 years and now recycles 82% of UK centres’ waste (the UK average is 52%).

In addition to giving all clients a series of environmental promises as part of its Service Guarantee, BEOffices has created an in-house project team to monitor the business’ overall environmental performance.  The company’s The Green Group is tasked with making every process greener, more energy efficient and environmentally friendly.  Monitoring the green and energy KPIs for BE’s head office and each of its 26 business centres, The Group reports monthly on their individual recycling performance and their waste and energy consumption.

With the increase in fuel duty, landfill taxes, congestion charging for major cities and the costs associated with electronic waste recycling such as the WEEE initiative, it’s clear that businesses which don’t have stainable, environmental plans will be subject to many more legislative and financial penalties. The Olympics has given UK business a perfect opportunity to embrace a sustainable, greener future, its adoption could be the Games’ greatest legacy.