Independent accreditation schemes can help nudge companies to maximise their carbon cuts, while also guarding against 'greenwashing', says Arjowiggins Graphic's Shannan Hodgson.
Imagine you’re the one running ‘Mission Sustainable’ at a multinational firm. Like the majority of your competitors, you’ve published your plans to cut carbon and waste, and you think you’re on track. More and more, you’re hearing stories of other companies smashing their environmental targets, riding out the recession, and even boosting their shares. You’re ambitious. You’d like to be the one hitting the headlines, but where to begin?
According to new research that we at paper manufacturer Arjowiggins Graphic carried out to identify the issues facing paper purchasers at corporates, 37% of high-profile companies in the UK think that the biggest environmental challenge they face in the next two to three years is understanding what to do next on sustainability. This is where environmental accreditation schemes can help. Get someone else, a trusted expert, to work out how well you’re doing and map out your best next steps. Then, when customers and stakeholders come to you with difficult questions, you can be sure you’ve got the right information to hand, demonstrating your commitment to the future of your business.
One such scheme is WWF’s Climate Savers. Since its creation in 1999, member companies – including Coca-Cola, Volvo, Sony and Nike – have cut their CO2 emissions by over 100 million tonnes. The programme pushes members to maximise carbon cuts while increasing shareholder value – through strategies based on the long-term interests of the business and the resources on which it depends. It also prompts each company to set more ambitious targets than the management might have thought achievable.
So, when the pharmaceutical company Johnson and Johnson decided to invest a total of $40 million in carbon reduction projects, Climate Savers pushed for these to have a 15% internal rate of return. Each project also had to demonstrate that its carbon cuts would reflect the level of investment, with a benchmark of $1,000 to a metric tonne.
The wider aim, according to Bruce Haase, Head of Climate and Business Engagement at WWF, is to “effect change throughout the entire sector by pushing sector leaders to take on ever more ambitious CO2 reduction targets, [and demonstrate that] low carbon solutions exist even within sectors that are generally considered difficult”.
Back to the paper industry. There’s certainly potential for it to be sustainable, with robust accreditations to help consumers make informed decisions. Paper is, after all, a renewable and recyclable material. But production can result in high emissions, and put critical resources (such as water) under strain – even when using recycled pulp.
So what more can we paper manufacturers do? This was the question that prompted Arjowiggins Graphic to seek advice. Working with Climate Savers, we came up with a new commitment: to reduce our absolute greenhouse gas emissions by 23%, from a 2007 baseline, by 2014, with a sub-target of 10% reduction for each tonne of paper produced. The plans include increasing the proportion of recycled paper we produce and a commitment to source the same volume of UK office waste paper we take to produce the amount of recycled pulp at our Greenfield Mill for our UK recycled paper market. Already 15-25% of the waste paper used in the entire production process at the Greenfield mill is sourced from the UK. It was a natural next step to guarantee customers that, for all the recycled content of Arjowiggins Graphic papers sold in the UK, we would source the waste paper equivalent volume from the UK. This limits the impact of Arjowiggins Graphic papers on landfill, something that is especially high on the sustainability agenda in the UK. Independent technical experts at energy consultancy Ecofys will monitor the progress on a yearly basis to ensure that we comply with our targets.
It’s this transparency that really inspires trust in accreditation schemes: there’s no chance of greenwash if an independent expert has put their stamp on it. Moreover, the companies signed up may well find some of this trust rubs off on them: a clear win for any business. But what’s arguably more important to you, as your company’s sustainability pioneer, is confidence in a way forward that’s both practical and impressive.
Shannan Hodgson is Corporate Affairs Manager at Arjowiggins Graphic.
Arjowiggins Graphic is a Forum for the Future partner.
Photo: Digital Vision/thinkstock