The mark of a genuine paradigm shift is one that proves permanent, or if the impact of its revolution persists. Unlike other commercial manias that have fallen by the wayside, a fundamental change in attitude towards green issues has become increasingly integral to the way a modern business must operate successfully.
Urged by international action such as the Kyoto Protocol and Paris Climate Accord, many companies and organisations have begun to think responsibly about their role in a sustainable future. This apparent moral awakening is partly a reaction to the increased awareness and expectation that customers have of businesses to act responsibly. From the sceptical commercial perspective, it implicitly encourages and challenges them to become greener than their competitors.
One such company whose inward thinking and early action led them to innovate its routine practices was Hilton Worldwide. In 2010, it introduced its ‘corporate responsibility performance measurement platform’, LightStay. After spending several years investing in energy data collection and analysis, it obliged its management groups to use this data to make informed decisions on housekeeping, paper product use, food waste, chemical storage, and transportation to effectively manage the impact of their hotels on the environment, and the communities in which their hotels and buildings operate. In the 7 years since LightStay’s launch as a brand standard Hilton Worldwide has reduced its carbon output by 23%, leading to vast company savings and, of course, the enhancement of its commercial reputation.
Some of the concerns regarding the logistical practicalities of implementation have acted as a barrier to advancement in carbon management. Companies fear the impact on their bottom lines, as they are compelled to introduce new product development to meet modern requirements. However, the increasing cost of resources and the risk to continual supply have led some to think beyond the initial inconvenience and cost, to find sustainable alternatives, and implement measures to reduce resource use.
To this end, another leading light in the quest to reduce energy consumption has been Sainsbury’s, the UK’s longest-standing major food retail chain. It has been working with a technology firm, Dearman, to trial a liquid-nitrogen-cooled engine in one of its refrigerated delivery trucks, a world first. In the first 3 month trial, it found that the engine saved 1.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide with a relatively low-cost method, and implementation without the need for a massive overhaul in the existing infrastructure, perhaps answering the fears of those over the outlay for implementing the changes.
Of course, where there is change, there is opportunity. Other companies have dedicated their very existence to the cause of building a sustainable future, possibly seeing the long-term business advantages of being associated with green innovations.
One such example is Axion Structural Innovations, who have been working to improve transport infrastructure safety and sustainably across the United States. Their ECOTRAX railroad ties are made of 100% recycled material from consumer and industrial sources, in place of non-sustainable materials like steel and concrete, reducing the impact on the environment, helping to de-clutter the oceans, and lessen the reliance on landfills, whilst requiring no special tools or specific training to be utilised.
The challenges faced by modern businesses are evolving and often unforeseeable. Yet, over the past three decades, general acceptance of our impact on the environment has meant that this particular challenge is now being met head-on. Companies are finding ways to make the ethos of ‘going green’ a business advantage, to foster a positive reputation as a company that can operate successfully and still prosper with outwardly benevolent values; to be seen as leading by example. Naturally, it has provided a positive chance to create a competitive advantage over market rivals by aligning the identity of their business with being greener and more sustainable, and sensibly staying ahead of future legislation that will only intensify the need to act responsibly.
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