Jilly Forster, founder of Sunday Times Best Green Company 2009 winner Forster, believes that communications agencies who advise clients on ‘green’ initiatives have to run their own best practice - or it all means zilch.
Do it yourself
At Forster, ethics are central to our business. They have been since we started in 1996. We make our living by providing communications consultancy to clients from public, private and non-profit sectors, helping them deliver positive social and environmental change.
Here’s the rub – there are a lot of other communications agencies working with clients on green initiatives, helping them to create and set strategy, then communicate it clearly and effectively. But what does this really mean if they don’t pursue environmental best practice, in their own organisations? There, I’m laying down a feisty challenge.
Find your logic
Running a business with principles isn’t easy. Trying to be a good and progressive small business, particularly when growing, is all about balancing impacts - number of staff, space, flexible working. Where do you begin? how do you go on?
Although it shouldn’t be about taking the safe option, we have to face up to the fact that we are a business, not a charity. If we want to make change, we have to be a profitable, viable business.
But, if the gut feel is right, why waste time trying to make a water-tight business case for a principled approach? Just get on with it. We began with an entrepreneurial spirit. That’s how it’s stayed. OK, we’ve found it necessary to get some discipline and planning in place, but this facilitates our ability to respond to opportunities. Now, we’re well on the way towards ‘institutionalising’ our way of doing things.
All told, through the motivational impact on staff, the shared commitment to achieve our stakeholder impact objectives simply makes life easier. Goody-two-shoes? No. Good business? Yes. It’s because of the challenges a small business faces that we review our stakeholder impacts. With principles, there is a certain logic to discover. Our experience over many years has told us that it isn’t about making normal things seem ‘green’ or good. It’s about making ‘green’ or good things seem normal.
Start with non-negotiables
Reduction is paramount. Cutting back on the basics - energy, water, paper – not only saves money but is risibly easy to do. Recycling should also be on the essentials list, going beyond paper and card. Everything from printer cartridges to old PC's and furniture can be re-used or recycled somewhere and it's not hard to find sources. And choose like-minded suppliers. It's easy to find the path suppliers take to get resources to you. If they don't want to share, they probably have something to hide.
But there are tough questions to face. Offsetting is a last resort for truly unavoidable emissions. After much deliberation at Forster, we decided to adopt the precautionary principle of offsetting – at least until there was a demonstrably better option.
Drive best practice
We do a lot of business pitches, jump through a lot of hoops, and are judged on several criteria – often by people who do not know as much as we do about the wider social and environmental issues in which we’re involved.
Clients say they sometimes have difficulty deciding between communications agencies. Hard to hear when you’ve dedicated a lot of time and effort to an arduous pitch process. I always reply that choosing people to work with is never easy. But when it comes to the complex challenges around environmental initiatives, there is a difference between those who blow their own trumpet and those who walk their talk. After all, if you can challenge your own business with tough targets and meet them, it speaks volumes about what you can do for your clients.
Ultimately, the challenge for small organisations and communications consultancies is to go beyond compliance and drive best practice – even when there’s limited resource available, beyond the daily running of business, getting all employees involved, and trying to make connections with communities. Why stay in defensive compliance, when you can get on the offensive? Making employee engagement part of your environmental initiatives, helps to integrate policies and practice across your organisation.
At Forster, we now have 50 staff and we extend our ethical perspective to every area of our business. By having an eye on stakeholder impacts at the core of everyday decisions – this is less of an add-on and more ‘just the way we do things’. We try to be the difference we’re making. Judge us on both.
Make green mean normal
1. Responsibility begins at home. Understand the various aspects of your environmental impact, measure them, set targets for constant improvement and strive to meet them.
2. Staff come first. Listen to their ideas and encourage involvement in new initiatives. Build a principled future on the people you work with every day.
3. Your suppliers are part of your business. Review who supplies your business. Understand where your materials and outside resources come from.
4. Your ‘customers’ are watching. Make sure you include some ‘customers’ in your impact measurement. Remember that people are more informed and expect more.
5. Non-negotiables are essential. Find your values and commitments. Dig down to your organisation’s DNA
6. Communication is the process. Speak to all your stakeholders. Publish the results, highlight areas for improvement and celebrate successes
7. Get people involved – from staff to suppliers and customers – people find it easier to get engaged in something they already know about and have been involved in.
8. Be realistic. Set targets that stretch you, but that are possible to achieve. There’s nothing to get people inspired like a touch of success!
9. Make it personal. What’s unique about your business? How can you bring your skills, experience and people into play?
10. Investment for life. Begin as you mean to continue – there is no end, only improvement. Commit to perpetual change.