Are you being greenwashed?

Are you being greenwashed?

Construction innovator Esh Group has learned a thing or two about the reality of doing business sustainably, and it will benefit your bottom line.

Going “green” has been on the business agenda years now. There’s no shortage of companies selling their environmentally friendly story, but for what? As the temperature is turned up on climate change, mainstream political parties talk environmental concerns and consumers plump for eco-products, it seems many are simply following the tide of public opinion.

The construction industry knows about this all too well. Around half of all non-renewable resources the human race consumes are used in building. It’s at the sharp end of the impact on the natural world. So, it looks like the construction industry needs real solutions.

That’s exactly what Simon Park, energy and environmental advisor at Esh Group, thinks. He explains: “Being environmentally sound can, and should be, about a lot more than PR. In fact, it’s about a whole lot more beside responsibility.

“The construction industry is so closely connected to the environment – whether it’s through design, raw materials or energy usage. And I think what we’ve learned, and what we’re doing, at Esh Group could be useful to other businesses.”

The concept is simple. Commercial decisions drive companies, so Simon is putting the commercial case at the heart of Esh Group’s sustainability strategy. All the graphs that show tonnes of carbon saved and waste diverted from landfil are important, but it’s the bottom line that’s being use to drive all these benefits.

Simon explains: “There’s a concept called Greenwash – and it’s interesting for businesses. It’s a shorthand for the spin and PR that is sometimes used to create the impression an organisation is “green”. It describes organisations that spend more time and resources on marketing their supposed green credentials than substantive environmentally friendly practices.”

Businesses that greenwash are not only missing the point, but also the commercial benefits. A typical day on-the-job for Simon sees him out on one of Esh Group’s construction sites, helping the site manager quantify how decisions that will save money also reduce environmental impacts. Most recently he was at one of Esh Group’s civil engineering projects, which threw up a textbook challenge.

Simon explains: “Our team needed to install an attenuation tank next to a new housing development. The original design specified we’d have to dig up a stretch of road to accommodate it. But, the Site Team did some thinking and worked up a plan with a new location for the build. The amended design led to a reduction in waste, energy and man hours – all of which meant a lower carbon footprint for the build and ultimately pounds saved.”

That’s just one example. Back at Esh Group’s Bowburn headquarters a group of volunteer staff members are having their cars fitted with telemetry devices that will feedback on their
driving behaviours.

The idea is to identify those instances where staff are putting their foot down, then braking hard. It’s all bad for fuel economy, and in turn for the environment. And Esh Group’s finance director will tell you there’s another multi-million pound reason to save fuel. Waste is perhaps the biggest environmental challenge for constructors like Esh Group. The industry as a whole generates millions of tonnes of the stuff – more than any other sector. Getting rid of it in a sustainable way is one thing, but what about making it pay. Esh Group’s answer is re-using as much waste as possible.

Last year the firm put 93,910 tonnes of it to good use in other projects around the region – often on nearby sites to curtail transport. Some waste is sold to others in the market and the rest ends up at the group’s new recycling centre in Tursdale. Overall it means fewer trips to landfill and less cost.  

Simon adds: “Doing business sustainably – with a commercial benefit – requires strategy. We’ve got plenty of individual examples, but they’re all tied to big goals. Recently we launched our ten year sustainability campaign, ‘Summit 2026’, which contains some stretching medium and long term goals. This campaign will bring together our existing ISO 14001 and ISO 50001 management systems, similar to our successful ‘everyone safely home campaign’ for Health and safety”

A long term campaign is ambitious, but necessary to focus the minds of company divisions as they go about building, buying and maintaining. Getting staff, suppliers and customers reading from the same page is a key part of the mission. Esh Group knows that making sustainability an innate part of the business will pay dividends, and ultimately prevent any straying towards greenwash.

What better time to introduce these ideas than at the start of construction careers? Esh Group’s Carbon Coach scheme is a bid to capitalise on the sweet spot – when lifelong and career-long habits are formed. The group’s latest cohort of 50 apprentices is the first to embark on the tailor-made online programme designed to cement sustainability in the minds of the next generation of construction leaders.

Rita Callender, business development manager at Esh Group, said: “The Carbon Coach Course is about two key things - tackling a skills shortage in the construction industry and meeting carbon reduction targets. We’re excited to be leading the field in this way, and, once we’ve proven the model via a pilot, we want to encourage other businesses to adopt it.

“The construction industry not only faces more stringent carbon reduction targets in the coming years, but it also has a duty to lead the way in sustainable business practices. From a commercial perspective this also makes sense as saving energy means reducing costs and making our business leaner and efficient.”

Extending the strategy beyond Esh Group’s own four walls is also important. For a business so interconnected to its suppliers – whether that’s brick merchants, plumbers or timber stockists – the sustainability game is also played out off-site. Making mutually beneficially commercial and environmental gains from supplier relationships is the aim of that game.

The group’s Supplier Relationship Management Programme aims to encourage the type of innovation that doesn’t happen naturally as part of the day-to-day buying process. It means efficiency and sustainability is on the agenda – but all eyes are on the commercial benefits to be reaped from these practices.

Simon adds: “We’re driven by the knowledge that sustainability and profitability are not mutually exclusive goals. One drives the other. Sure, our customers are keen to see our sustainability credentials, and as a company we’re all about community support, but putting sustainability at the front of what we do is not an expense and it’s not just a “nice to have”. It’s business sense.”