An eco kettle should not be the centrepiece of your environmental policy

eco kettle

This will not win you a new contract

Almost every tender submission you undertake will have a section that asks about your environmental policy and practices.

It’s quite an easy section to deal with if you’re already a company that operates within the environmental arena, such as waste management or eco services, but for many organisations it’s a tough call to come up with something beyond the fact that you recycle your printer cartridges.

When this happens, there is a tendency for bidders to undermine their response with a list of things that, while good in their own right, fall way short of an adequate response to the question of best environmental practice.

Real examples I’ve witnessed include owning an eco kettle, buying recycled printer paper and having a ‘Jeans for Genes’ charity day. It’s an environmental ramble.

None of them are high point-scorers when it comes to evaluation, and the last example illustrates the frequent misunderstanding that all manner of things can loosely be consolidated under the environmental heading, because it’s ‘all that good stuff we do.’ Jeans for Genes day is admirable and worthy, but if it lives anywhere, it comes under your broader Corporate Social Responsibility practices. Personally, I don’t think it lives anywhere near a strong, well written bid.

I sympathise with those organisations that have little impact on the environment but find they are trying to construct an environmental profile worthy of the Earth Summit, mainly because they’re nervous about being seen as light with their response. Lashing an environmental story together from eco kettles and printer cartridges, however, is not the answer.

The answer is: be honest, show good intention and have a simple policy in place that matches your business profile.

In any public sector submission, you’ll be asked at least the following:

Does your organisation have a written environmental policy?

Does your organisation hold a current environmental accreditation?

And perhaps also…

Within the last three years has your organisation been prosecuted or had notice served upon it by an environmental regulator or authority?

Let’s look at them in reverse order.

The last one should be a ‘no’ for most organisations, but if your answer is ‘yes’ then you’ll need to declare it and provide details. It may not mean an automatic fail; that depends on the incident and its severity. Convicted serial fly tippers tend not to be looked on favourably for environmental waste management contracts, understandably.

The second question refers to either the ISO14001 environmental management standard or an equivalent accreditation. If your organisation has a medium to high degree of impact on the environment, then on certain contracts, this will be a high-scoring question, perhaps even a pass/fail question. Such organisations might run large vehicle fleets, operate plants that use a lot of power (manufacturers, processors, and so on), or directly sell or handle high volumes of products that can cause harm to the environment without some sustainable practices in place (IT, phones, commercial printing, cleaning products, to name a few).

If you’re one of these organisations then if you’ve not already got ISO14001, you probably should have.

But if you’re a low impact business — say a professional services company, like a design or PR agency, accountancy practice, or market researcher — then it’s unlikely that you’ll be penalised for simply saying:

No. As a software development company, our business has little impact on the environment. While we operate sensible, sustainable practices of good environmental management where we can, we do not have enough environmentally critical areas of operation where a certified system would be of additional benefit to our clients or us.

The first question is one that seems to fox most organisations. Does your organisation have a written environmental policy? Their immediate response is either to stare blankly into the middle distance, inert with fear and confusion, or to start throwing items of stationery around the office and railing against the outright stupidity and unfairness of the competitive tendering process. The next thing they do is angrily compose 300 words about their eco kettle.

Once everyone has calmed down, my advice is, yes, you should have one, however modest in its construction. It’s not a legal requirement, but it is a good thing to have.

It will demonstrate that you’re an environmentally thoughtful and active company and that no matter how tiny your carbon footprint, you recognise that you have one nonetheless, and that you’ve got it covered.

It will focus your mind on what you could actually do to make a difference.

It will score you points when tendering.

Writing an environmental policy is easy; sticking to it isn’t much harder

The good news is that an environmental policy can be as simple as an unambiguous statement of intent and promise of action that shows you have thought about the impact you have, however small, and are committed to reducing it. Your most senior employee will add his or her signature, stamping their authority that this is company policy.

There are lots of good starting points on the web for writing a short and sweet environmental policy. Many of them are pre-populated with useful content; you just need to adapt them to suit your business. I would recommend:

The Eco Outsource blog

I would also add that there should be something in your policy about reviewing and revising your policy as your business grows.

First, it’s progressive, thoughtful and impressive to make clear your intention to continue ‘coupling’ your business operation with continuous environmental improvement. They should grow together.

Second, as environmental legislation and concerns change, having an outmoded policy is going to stand out as a quaint historical document rather than a set of commitments relating to now and the future.

The key here is to set aside a little time on a regular basis to review and revise your policy. When you do, don’t forget to change the date. It’s a clear indicator that the policy hasn’t been languishing on a hard drive for five years.

Don’t just say it, do it.

Finally, a frequent comment I hear goes something like this:

“It’s all a waste of time. No-one cares, and it’s just another expensive box-ticking exercise. Stick something in and we’ll file it in the ‘things we keep but never look at’ cabinet.”

My view is that this is one of those areas of bidding where you get to be both pragmatic and progressive.

If you’ve managed to create an environmental policy that reflects your business, then yes, you’ve ‘ticked the box’. Everyone’s happy, even those who don’t really care.

But once it’s in place, here’s a thought. Why not practice it? As long as you’ve not exceeded your environmental ambitions in order to impress clients (most accountants can’t reasonably justify a biomass boiler), what you have now is a practical document that really can deliver environmental good practice – the best you can do with the business you run.

In my next post we’ll take a look at all the policies, certificates, memberships and various other paraphernalia that you may or may not wish to include in your bids. ‘Gongs, Gangs and Guidelines’ will be published shortly. Please follow my blog to receive notification of new postings.


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