Are businesses getting greener from their tips to their roots?

Are businesses getting greener from their tips to their roots?

We consumers can do our bit for the planet but it's equally crucial that businesses are green through and through. And the good news is that more are becoming so

By Hari Alexander
we need to push for greener businesses

Businesses such as M&S, Dutch homewares brand Brabantia and US flooring giant Interface have been working to ensure sustainability runs through their entire processes and supply chains. It can still be harder for smaller businesses to be as eco friendly as they'd like because of the costs involved - recycled materials are still often more expensive than new ones - but increasingly the will is there. So we must hope the Trump presidency won't encourage business to consign green thinking to the dustbin in its quest for profit....

When M&S launched its Plan A campaign back in 2007 its aim was to place sustainability at the heart of the company’s supply chain. Soon a raft of new energy-saving measures were introduced which encompassed the whole supply chain – from newly designed refrigerators to save power to a new fleet of vehicles to transport groceries from warehouse to store.
 
Similarly, the IHG group — the hotel conglomerate which owns Holiday Inn, Intercontinental and Crowne Plaza — launched its own campaign, IHG Green Engage, as a means of boosting its sustainability approach in an industry known for getting through a lot of energy.
IHG too looked in depth at its supply chain, trying to source goods locally and laying down strict responsible/sustainable procurement objectives for all its hotels and franchise properties to meet.
 
Many large brands are taking a comprehensive approach to overhauling their sustainability policies. This means that all the elements along the supply chain must be able to prove their green credentials. Of late several manufacturers have taken the practical need to reduce and recycle as an opportunity to explore exciting creative avenues.
M&S is committed to a greener way of doing business
Brabantia has excellent green credentials
Discarded fishing nets become...carpet tiles
 
One such eco-friendly product is Interface's NetEffect textured floor tile collection. Aimed at contract interiors, but nonetheless eminently suitable for dining rooms and hallways in the home, it launched a couple of years ago and its patterns are inspired by the moment when sea foam is washed onto the shore, no less. Crucially NetEffect textured floor tiles are made from yarn recycled from discarded fishing nets. This creative re-use gets around a growing problem of redundant fishing nets fouling the world’s oceans.
 
Speaking at a recent INDEX interior design fair in Dubai, Dr Sascha Peters of German consultancy Haute Innovation stressed that with a growing world population and diminishing natural resources, manufacturers must start using more of these ‘smart’ recycled materials, as Interface is doing. Other examples of new composite materials derived from waste or recycled products include: furniture made from ocean plastic by Anglo-Japanese firm StudioSwine; Richlite, a wood-type material made from recycled newspapers; and bio-based materials such as expanded foam made from mushroom cultures by Ecovative Design in New York. Another avenue for energy reduction comes from smart surfaces, such as energy-harvesting pavement slabs from Pavegen installed at Heathrow Airport: each time someone steps on them, energy is harvested to power LED lights within the unit.
 
Despite a wave of innovative new products and manufacturers’ commitments to improve their green credentials, client-demand for a sustainable supply chain remains far from universal, says Jonathan Young of OW Hospitality: 'At the moment we don’t find that [our sustainability policies] is a differentiating factor that clients use to pick between two potential suppliers.
 
'Sustainability will succeed only when it becomes a cost benefit. I think the situation has to change but the people who have to drive it are the clients.'
 

 

Hove interior designer Helen Hooper says price can dissuade clients from choosing to repair rather than buy new
Wine packaging made from mushroom mycelium by New York based Ecovative
Flooring giant Interface offers carpet tiles made from yarn from discarded fishing nets. The range is called Net Effects
Ocean plastic stool by London's Studio Swine
Hove-based interior designer Helen Hooper agrees. In her hotel work she often finds that the price of labour versus the price of new products means it is cheaper for clients to buy new than to repair - and that’s exactly what they do. For the skilled upholsterers Hooper likes to work with, that’s an opportunity missed. A lack of eagerness to specify sustainably-sourced furniture and fittings doesn’t, however, necessarily mean clients are shunning green practice.
 
With the introduction of Energy Performance Certificates in 2007 and a growing awareness of whole-life building costs, it maybe that clients are choosing to focus their sustainability spend earlier in the build process. When so much money can be saved and carbon footprints minimised early in the build phase by installing effective Monitoring & Evaluation systems, insulation and lighting, then clients feel their return on investment — both financially and from a carbon footprint point of view — is best gained through spending on the built fabric rather than interior fittings.
 
To help give clarity to the myriad issues around sustainability, FEMB, the European Federation of Office Furniture, took the initiative and launched a five-year programme for a new standard for sustainability. The Sustainability Standard and Certification scheme has been developed by industry specialists in the EU and the US. Colin Watson of the British Contract Furniture Association thinks the move will 'provide a major step forward in harmonising sustainability practices'. And he's urged manufacturers and specifiers alike not to be drawn into the cynicism that can sometimes arise out of suspicions of greenwashing, pointing out that 'the overwhelming majority of suppliers in the office interiors sector have taken significant and genuine steps to deal with their environmental impact and a great many of them are doing far more than is asked of them by legislation.'
 
Spanish ceramic giant Roca is committed to environmental best practice
Textile firm Panaz uses a lot of recycled yarns in its fabrics
Sanitaryware by Laufen, a company which has done a lot of save energy at its factories
The Izzy Lite from Gresham Office Furniture, based in Bolton
.
In the public sector demand is higher for green products across the breadth of product and building specification and design, says Julian Roebuck of Gresham Office Furniture. 'For large-scale public sector procurement jobs it’s absolutely necessary for us to be able to answer all questions about green accreditation.' Happily the Bolton-based manufacturer has strict company objectives that helps it answer these questions. It has policies on not using PVC edging, and it insists on FSC-certified timber suppliers, water-based glues and drawstring technology to facilitate re-upholstering. Its state-of-the-art factory, built in 1999, has a slew of green features, including a waste board-fuelled heating system.
 
Similarly, at sanitaryware manufacturer Laufen’s factory the brand reuses heat generated in the production process to dry ceramic products. And Spanish bathroom giant Roca takes environmental issues very seriously. Following on from its W&W combined basin and loo cistern which uses grey water from the basin to fill the cistern, and its waterless urinal, the company has launched the ‘Roca Loves the Planet’ scheme. The project reviews all of the company’s processes and aims to see a 25 per cent cut in CO2 emissions from its factories. 
 
Tony Attard, CEO of Panaz contract fabrics, say eco issues can’t be ignored. His firm introduced dry printing at its factory 25 years ago and it is working increasingly with recycled fibres. He says he can see attitudes are shifting even though greener products do come at a higher cost: 'Sustainability is important to us. We have plenty of products which use recycled fibres - but they do cost much more and yes, sometimes that can be a deal killer.'
 
But he’s confident industry is taking green issues seriously and sees demand growing for eco-friendly products. 'As we come out of recession more people are asking about sustainability issues,' he says. And with increased demand, so the prospect of specifying green products becoming cost-neutral becomes more likely, client and supply chain knowledge will grow and the outlook for a greener supply chain looks a lot more rosy. 
.
.