Nobody is exempt from responsibility in our fast developing sustainable society. But if there’s one sector that has the lion’s share to contribute, it is probably the business world.
This is due not only to their huge footprint, but also the power they wield over their suppliers and customers – both upstream and downstream from their operations – as well as their work force and therefore the communities they represent. In order to assist in the important task of steering business onto an integrated green and sustainable path, consultants and certification companies have come to the fore.
Who are they, what exactly do they do and how could we in business use their services? I interviewed Greg Seymour (pictured), Director of Go-Green Global to find out more about the man and what motivates his work:
What brought you onto the green path?
Greg: “Elma, after almost 20 years working in a corporate environment in several countries around the world, I realised how unsustainable operational practices actually are. I always wanted to contribute to South Africa in a more positive way and therefore decided to further my studies in a green direction.”
Tell us a bit about your corporate background overseas. Where did you work?
Greg: “I worked in the Beverage industry in both the Far East and Middle East – exciting places like Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore, where they tend to have more respect for the environment. Later I spent time in the MENA Middle East and North Africa regions. The strange phenomenon is that in wealthy countries like the UAE so much more damage is done to the environment by those who really can afford, financially, to protect the earth.”
That is interesting. Are you saying there is more reverence for nature in the developing nations?
Greg: “Absolutely. I really do think that ‘the have nots’ have a better appreciation for sustainability as they know that if they take from nature faster than she can provide, then their lives will become affected. We can certainly learn from their actions.”
What type of ‘unsustainable operational practices’ were you referring to above? Can you give one or two examples?
Greg: “A good example is something like water treatment. Some countries will force industry to perform to a minimum standard, with some standards far higher than others. When a multinational corporation operates across a multitude of countries and standards they should apply one standard across operations. Not to conform to the lowest possible standard set by governments. The same goes with the clean air standards. The other thing is that is not acceptable is that as a result of high levels of stock in trade products expire and then are discarded.”
You mean thrown away?
Greg: “Yes. This creates a total waste of all resources from water, energy, raw materials (sugar), transport through to packaging just to be uplifted from the trade and decanted into the drain.”
Wow, so was it a gradual process of awareness or was there one specific incident that kicked in your resolve to move into sustainability?
Greg: “The biggest incident responsible for my move into green was actually when I realised what an impact Eskom would have on industry’s profits by ramping up their energy costs. It was then I realised that perhaps now industry would finally start to pay attention to this thing called sustainability, especially when it affects their bottom line.”
Yes, the increase in costs of electricity and petrol and, in time, water too is assisting in creating the awareness we need. When people pay they finally begin to feel… How does Go-Green curb wastage?
Greg: “Go-Green curbs waste in several areas. Firstly as part of Carbon Footprint reduction strategies, we always urge our clients to consider their waste streams even though it falls into the Scope 3 area, being the voluntary scope. Secondly, we have developed an international certification tool for the SA market called The Green Path, which is a framework that enables businesses of all shapes and sizes to go green and earn an authentic green credential. Waste is one of the mandatory areas where they are baselined and then have to show performance against.”
At least we’re moving towards approaching the REAL costs that were hidden for so long.
So all sustainability is really about saving resources and therefore curbing wastage?
Greg: Yes and it is ultimately promoting efficiency. First we need to understand why we need something in the first place and then exactly how much we need. Some of the industries within which we have worked are the car manufacturers and it is incredible what percentage of steel is sent back to be recycled.”
You are saying ANY business – from corporates to a small business – can now get green credentials. But is it affordable during these times of low profit margins and economic trials?
Greg: “The wonderful thing regarding “The Green Path” is that it is extremely affordable especially to SME’s as it is a user-friendly web-based system that individual businesses can follow. When they are ready to certify they simply connect with their local certified green consultant to conduct an audit. Not all who journey on “The Green Path” seek certification, as they are more interested in the journey as they know it “is the right thing to do.”
What would the benefits of certification then be?
Greg: “It provides business with a 3rd party certified document, which they can produce to verify their green credentials. We see more and more businesses requesting that their supply chains demonstrate the levels of sustainability during the tender process.”
Yes ultimately and soon all of us in green businesses – if we’re certified – would then only do business with other certified businesses? It’s like your green passport to travel into the sustainable future.
Greg: “Agreed and I really hope the day comes sooner rather than later. We do have corporates and even listed companies on The Green Path. The Green Path is aligned with ISO and GRI so that it is not duplicated for those on either of the aforementioned programmes. ISO programs seek compliance even though it does have a continuous improvement module. However we are seeking progressive organisations who understand the need to move beyond compliance. Only with verifiable improvement in the key areas of energy, water, waste IAQ/Pollution and Cultural CSI can you improve your standing on The Green Path.”
Where was it developed?
Greg: “The Green Path is an international framework known in the USA as the Eco Path, which we under license have adapted for the local market, local challenges and conditions. One of the key strengths of “The Green Path” is its ability to adapt. So if your business is located in say Upington, we can include those specific environmental challenges and targets that the local municipality in Upington is striving to achieve. We are not just concerned with what is within the 4 walls a business operates in. We need businesses to understand that they operate within a community and not in a vacuum. They have a huge role as influencer in society and they have the ability to make a significant impact – especially with regards to sustainability.”
So you’re talking about a more integrated system? What are the other roles this business in Upington can now play to influence the community within which it operates?
Greg: “Yes absolutely. This hypothetical Upington business can become a leader in their communities by understanding the local needs, problems and hardships and can include these in their sustainability plans and/or CSI plans. Checklist certifications are too predictable and thus are not tailored to the specific client, or the local environment. The Green Path assists businesses to develop what we term “Organic Sustainability Plans” specific to their operation, and their community.”
I like that! Anything organic is cool to me.
Greg: “This fits in well with what the GRI terms materiality.”
Greg: “Materiality is a key term in the GRI (Global Reporting Initiative), which talks specifically to what is key or important to your business. If an organisation is promoting how it has reduced its emissions by conducting virtual meetings and thus air travel, but then they’re running a consumer promotion whereby overseas trips to remote destinations can be won. Clearly here the company strategy is not aligned with it sustainability efforts.”
“I like well-thought-out solutions where people show an understanding of the challenges. For example, instead of offsetting your emissions by purchasing a bunch of trees somewhere in the world or deep in Africa, sensible solutions such as the CEBA credits developed by Dr. Andrew Venter of the Wildlands Trust come to mind. The trust identifies less privileged people in rural areas, provides them with seeds and plant bags within which to grow trees and when the tree reaches 60cm in height the trust buys it from them. Therefore they are creating jobs as well as being able to provide corporates with a place to spend the CSI budgets.”
Taking tree planting to the next level, linked firmly to the future of people. This works towards integrating man and nature so that the rift begins to be healed again.
Greg: “A clever well-thought-out scheme that creates jobs. In fact they record the jobs created by job hours. We need intelligent people to find innovative new ways to really embed sustainability deep inside organisations.”
Innovation awakens the creativity in our society, which as I always say will save us. So now if I want to green my small business via “The Green Path,” what do I do?
Greg: “Awareness is the biggest key to the whole idea of going green. Without engaging the entire organisation, the best thought-out plans will fail. It is really amazing that even some of the most educated among us fail to see or simply ignore the signs of our failing environmental system. The initial step on The Green Path is enrolment. The fees are listed in a transparent manner on our website and are extremely modest. This is followed by a health check, wherein we assess possible impacts the organisation has on its environment and which risks are facing the organisation. The organisation then must identify a green go-to person who will champion the process. In small businesses this is often the business owner.”
“In larger organisations we insist that Green Teams are formed and it is critical that we get the balance right amongst the team members. A team member who is too dogmatic will steamroll the process and stifle innovation.”
“One big thing I’ve learned is the lack of environmental empathy in the world today. It is our job to get business, people and community to understand that the earth is a living thing and just like the 1000’s of species going extinct, so too it will be our turn to perish.”
How can a business in fact save money by going onto the Green Path?
Greg: “The Green Path promotes progression. So not only do we tell them to for instance save electricity, we explain how. We go into the finer details for a homeowner or a resort manager on how long to cycle a swimming pool for. We look at the volume of water in the pool, the flow rate of the pumps, the head height the water is pumped at and the particular season we are in and then determine the pool’s optimal operating time. In more technical examples, we look at heat exchange opportunities for example in a baking process. The quicker we can show clients savings the quicker they really buy into the process. Some larger companies even ring-fence their savings to use in further eco or efficiency projects.”
Are you saying one can offset the cost of going onto the programme – and possibly hiring a consultant – against the savings you will enjoy?
Greg: “Yes Elma, more often than not the cost of being on The Green Path is offset within 4- 9 months. It could even be considered zero-cost consulting.”
Wow, that’s amazing. I think there are many myths to bust and a key one is certainly how ‘expensive’ it is to be green.
Greg: “At one client, a private bank, we identified a savings of R140,000 made up primarily of A4 paper and toner ink. The solution was really simple. Duplex print on all in-house printing and use of eco-fonts reduced toner costs by 20%! I believe that it takes approximately 2 gallons of oil to manufacture a standard toner ink cartridge, so other than saving toner costs, there is also a massive saving to the environment.”
Stunning! What is that font called again? We only use 100% recycled A4 paper in our office.
Greg: “It is called Eco Font. You can download a free font called vera sans. Even defaulting your office printer to century gothic will save you close to 20 % ink or toner.”
Green Team finds the gaps
What are the roles of the Green Team?
Greg: “The Green Team would conduct a Green Gap Analysis, determine the materiality of the specific findings and develop a Sustainability Charter for the organisation. Our preferred method of forming a green team is to give each member an imaginary bucket containing some sustainability issue. Elma you for example would have the energy bucket and I may have the water or waste bucket. It would be our responsibility to report on these issues at each meeting, develop plans and implement these across the organisation.”
I like the way you spread the responsibilities according what people are passionate about. So the company implements changes over a period of time – and then at what stage do they get accredited?
Greg: “Once the organisation has accumulated sufficient points, we conduct an offsite pre-audit to ensure that they are on the right track, followed by a full audit. All the points awarded for green practices on the Green Path are weighted across three variables. 1) The cost to implement 2) The degree of difficulty to implement and 3) The impact on the environment.”
So what points score do you need to advance to the next level – accreditation?
Greg: “The first level of certification is silver, which is based on 100 points. We go to a Gold Level being 200 points and then Platinum at 300 points. The highest level is Titanium at 500 points. The higher one moves up on The Green Path so the focus changes from an initial “laundry list” of actions to more “issues based” actions. I am extremely proud to mention that we had our first Platinum client certify during August.”
Thank you Greg, I think we are sufficiently informed to understand how huge this topic really is – and how it would be wonderful to have a company like yours to hold our hand… and this is an ever expanding field too. Just when you think you have a good idea, new ideas arrive and we evolve further.
Greg: “It is truly a dynamic field of work to be involved in. There is just one fundamental problem though and that is in this field you can never leave your work at the office when you travel home after a long day. The environment is all around you wherever you look and wherever you may be.”
Yes, the work is just NEVER done – same here but this is what commitment is about. Thank you for yours!
By Elma Pollard