Can we be more responsible?


I'm an executive director of a mid-sized corporate and we've recently been discussing the 'saving the planet' bandwagon and merits of us adopting a carbon neutral position. Could you explain what benefits we could anticipate?

Simon, London

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John Blackwell's Answer:

First, let's debunk the "saving the planet" myth! Environmental responsibility is nothing to do with saving the planet – that'll be here for the next trillion years. Environmental responsibility is all about doing what the human race is good at – that's selfishly saving our own hides!! Don't believe me? Just leave your garden untouched for a year and see if you can still find your house!

Now, turning to your business - the gains for becoming socially responsible are three-fold – financial, talent, and brand.

Financially, firms can't afford to ignore their social responsibility. The way business operates today – with copious irresponsible vandalism of our shared resources simply can't be justified. Let me offer a couple of examples:

  1. As temperatures steadfastly increase, last summer we encountered countless city-centre offices where it proved impossible to reduce ambient working climate to acceptable levels.
  2. Power use in offices represents 40-45% of the total CO2 footprint. Fuelled by our insatiable IT demands, this drives huge demand for air-conditioning – which creates a massively costly vicious cycle for any firm.

Real talent is an increasing rare commodity. All firms are 'victims' of a spiralling social trend where staff, in ever-increasing numbers, are choosing to work in locations and at times that best suit their lifestyle.

As the 'YourSpace/YouTube' generation enter the workplace, they fully expect and indeed demand a work culture that respects output and does not bind them to line-of-sight management conventions.

Today, adopting a socially responsible business position where all resources – human and environmental – are used diligently is seen as the paramount factor for choosing an employer.

Brand, is irrevocably linked with a responsible corporate social outlook. Customers – be it consumer or corporate – continually assess a firm's performance based on the ethics of its management. In days gone by, this would have meant treating its employees fairly. Today, it's demonstrating you're not trashing environmental resources for commercial gain.

Against this backdrop, it's crucial to avoid 'greenwash' – sneeringly claiming environmental responsibility but electing to sweep certain aspects of your business under the carpet. A prime example could be the public proclamation of recycling schemes but 'ignoring' the impact of your staff's commute patterns.

Our research has identified simple steps whereby any organisation can reduce their environmental footprint by 32%. This is based on a CapEx/ OpEx financial plan for social responsibility – considering all gains on an enduring basis. What firm wouldn't welcome reducing their OpEx by a third?

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About our Expert

John Blackwell
John Blackwell

John Blackwell is a sought after global thought-leader on effective business operation. His is author of over 30 management books and a visiting fellow at three leading universities.