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Walking the talk: How to demonstrate green credentials

green credentialsResearch over the last few years has uncovered something of paradox – people want to buy ‘green’, yet are increasingly distrustful of businesses, so are sceptical of associated marketing messages. In this article, Rob Fenn at the British Assessment Bureau shows how businesses can demonstrate how they can walk the talk with a little help from an internationally recognised framework. 

The challenge 

A 2009 Edelman study covering more than 20 countries showed that only 13% of respondents trusted advertising, whilst a mere 21% trusted what they saw on websites. In the same year, the Cone Environmental Survey found that, despite the weak economy, attitudes toward environmentally responsible products remain strong. Later in 2012, Edelman conducted their own ‘Good Purpose’ study which read well for ethical businesses - 73% said they would switch brands if a different brand of similar quality supported a good cause. 

Therein lies the challenge for businesses; people want to buy green, but choosing where to buy from is a difficult decision. For a business looking to trade ethically, efforts have been hampered in recent years by those businesses simply looking to take advantage of the growing trend with grand green-related claims that aren’t backed up – known as “greenwashing.” 

Greenwashing ranges from claims that are practically impossible to verify, to the marketing of a green product when the company itself is anything but. Marketing teams can be guilty of using fluffy language and even outright lies that undermine genuine efforts made elsewhere. It’s therefore important to have the same consistent approach across the organisation, and this can only be done by having a strong, ingrained culture. 

The solution 

To avoid the finger being pointed at your business, it’s important to establish true green credentials that go beyond token efforts, such as hotels and their predictable towel washing policies! Whilst it may seem difficult to know where to start, there is already a framework that exists to help businesses manage their environmental impact and gain formal certification to show the world their claims have been independently verified. This framework is known as the ISO 14001 environmental management standard. 

ISO 14001 is internationally recognised, and has been in existence since the mid ‘90s. Its popularity is partly down to it being a generic management standard, meaning it is applicable to organisations of all sizes, in any sector. It has become a supply chain favourite as a result, stipulated to ensure that suppliers meet legal requirements and are doing their bit when it comes to the environment – protecting the buyer’s reputation as a result. 

As a result of this, ISO 14001 has proven to be something of a business winner, helping organisations to stand out against the competition. This is particularly the case for anyone who bids for public sector contracts, where both local and central government are expected to take steps to ensure they use environmentally responsible suppliers.  This was shown in a 2012 study by Defra, where ISO 14001 was linked with business growth.

 

Achieving certification

 

The ISO 14001 standard was created with help from a huge pool of stakeholders and is deemed as international best practice to help:

 

  • Reduce waste
  • Reduce re-work
  • Reduce resulting costs
  • Motivate and engage staff
  • Meet legislation

 

Whilst any organisation can implement the standard, for true credibility, third-party certification means you are able to show clients that you walk the talk. This process begins with an initial audit to establish how far you are away from conforming to all of ISO 14001’s requirements. Once you are confident everything has been put into place, an auditor will re-visit you for the formal audit for certificate. 

This robustness has led to ISO 14001 being the highly respected standard it is now. Indeed, certification doesn’t end there; you must have an annual audit to ensure ongoing compliance. In between time, internal audits are expected, with a focus on continual improvement. With figures from the aforementioned Defra study showing the standard can help save money, whilst providing an opportunity to win business, undoubtedly the hard work pays off. Being green has never made so much business sense.

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Robert Fenn is a Director at the British Assessment Bureau, a UK based Certification Body. Robert is an experienced speaker and writer on quality management and business improvement within the business world.