It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it…

Sensemaking / It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it…

A boot wax manufacturer and an air traffic control company share the top prizes at the inaugural Business and Environment Best Practice Awards.  

22 Feb 2012

A boot wax manufacturer and an air traffic control company share the top prizes at the inaugural Business and Environment Best Practice Awards.

It’s not about what you do, but how you do it. Which is why a boot wax company shared the podium with air traffic control at the inaugural Business and the Environment Best Practice Awards, presented by RT Media, chartered architects Scott Brownrigg, and DECISION magazine.

Nikwax is one of those enviable businesses that managed to get quite a lot right from the outset. It was set up by Nick Brown, who’d grown up trekking in the Derbyshire Peaks with his dad, and then discovered the wets and the wilds of Scotland. You don’t get very far up there without a good pair of waterproofed boots, but Brown found that traditional sprays would soften the leather. No rambler wants to choose between dry feet and firmly gripped ankles, so he came up with his own boot wax. It gets round the softening problem by coating the fibres with an elastic polymer, which has similar properties to a boot sole: it’s flexible and resists tear, but draws the fibres back to their original position.

This was the early 80s, when the hole in the ozone layer was just beginning to hit headlines. Brown took note, replacing traditional solvents with a non-aerosol applied water-based emulsion. But what marks his business out now from other 80s start-ups is that Brown also looked at all its potential impacts: from the raw ingredients (preferring vegetable oil or wax-based water repellents to fluoro-chemical ones) to the waste stream – all of which is recycled or converted into fertiliser. He’s exploring ways to cut carbon relative to turnover, and has teamed up with the World Land Trust to offset unavoidable emissions. It’s a business with a pretty sound overall aim, too: making sturdy outdoor clothing that will last a long time so that you don’t need to buy a new pair of hiking boots every time you head for the highlands.

If you’re handing out prizes to green business, you’re likely to spot a friendly firm like Nikwax before you get to NATS, an air traffic control company which handles 2 million flights a year from 15 airports in the UK. But the thinking at NATS is no less bold. It was the first air traffic controller in the world to work out the amount of CO2 emitted by planes as they travel through the 2.5 million square miles of airspace it controls: 70,000 tonnes a year. And it was the first to set a target to reduce it – by an average 10% per flight, against a 2006 baseline, by 2020.

Cutting carbon of flights under NATS’s control by just 1% would save airlines £45 million a year 

One carbon-cutting solution NATS promotes is a better flight profile to optimise fuel consumption. It teamed up with British Airways and BAA to run a commercial trial flight from Edinburgh to Heathrow, demonstrating potential carbon savings of 10%, by cutting 0.35 tonnes of fuel.

The company estimates that cutting the carbon footprint of flights under its control by just 1% today would save the airlines £45 million a year: not a bad way to encourage change in an intensely competitive field.

“NATS don’t operate the airports, and they don’t own or fly the planes”, observes Larry Dilner, Publisher of DECISION magazine, and a judge for the Business and Environment Best Practice Awards. So why are they doing it? “NATS will tell you it’s about leadership”, explains Dilner – and this is what impressed the jury.

Other ‘world firsts’ to be recognised by the Awards included overall winner IBM: the first company ever to publish an environmental policy, some 40 years ago. By 2013, it will require all its 28,000 suppliers to do the same; some of them, representing 80% of its $37.4 billion annual spend, already do, measuring their performance and publicly disclosing the results. Pureprint also received an award, as the first printers to become carbon neutral and early adopters of waterless and alcohol-free printing.

So, good news for those having a green epiphany. You don’t have to change your day job: just do it differently. – Anna Simpson

Pureprint Group is a Forum for the Future partner.

Photo: iStockphoto / thinkstock

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