Giving Locally…..

Today I did a short talk at a local event called Tameside4good describing our reasons for supporting a local charity.  The event, designed to connect local charities with local businesses, was a great platform to talk about why charitable giving doesn’t have to be about chequebooks.  I entitled the talk “Feel like a secret millionaire” comparing the personal ephiphany of the millionaire who gives on the TV show with what you might also experience when helping others.

Smaller charities are finding it harder than ever to raise funds, with the recession continuing to squeeze incomes and businesses tightly controlling costs.  The big charities are spending more than ever on their marketing, dominating their share of the giving wallet, with the top 3% of named charities in the UK mopping up over 60% of the £11bn donated.  Healthcare, hospitals, animal and religous charities scoop 49% of all available cause donations, leaving the remainder to mop up the difference.

My role today was to describe why we – a large corporate – work with a small local charity and what benefits they get and we get in the deal.  Some of my key points were: -

  • We preferred to work with local charities to our office where our footprint could be felt more strongly and staff more connected with the local outcome.
  • You can’t help everyone and better to back someone local and back them big (relative to their running costs) to make a difference.
  • It’s not always about the money.  We help out with other resources, time, administration, printing, website updates and marketing.
  • Our profile as a large company adds a lot of kudos to a small charity, attracting other companies to the concept.
  • The impact of our effort is clear and the majority of funds raised (95%+) go into delivery on the ground giving much bigger impact.
  • The charity is far more accessible and they are always dropping by to let us know how things are going or to ask advice, they feel part of us.

There is a lot of upside to going local.  Nearly all large businesses have some sort of Corporate Social Responsibilty programme and the concept is trickling right down to micro-businesses who are also ‘giving something back.’  There is an immense sense of personal and business achievement when you can unconditionally help others and I remarked that “you’ll sleep easier and night and wake up with a ready-brek glow in the morning” when you know that you’ve done something amazing.

I finished today by saying that charitable giving should not be attached to ROI (return on investment) as with other money/time that you might contribute in day to day life.  It should be attached to simply doing the RIGHT thing, growing yourself by growing someone else and being “mad for it” (mad being an acronym for “Making A Difference”).  Giving doesn’t have to be about money, you might well possess multiple skills in your business that would be solid gold to a small charity.  Things like accountancy services, PR, marketing, website maintenance, vehicle servicing, signwriting – stuff that might not cost you anything but might cost a small charity lots.

So, be MAD for it yourself.  Pick a local charity, go see them and see what they do, understand their problems and how you can help, then DO SOMETHING AMAZING by helping them out.

CSR – The Business Case

Last night I spoke at an event in Manchester for the Royal Manchester Childrens Hospital “Many Hands” Campaign.  Raising money for the Childrens hospital by encouraging lots of businesses to get engaged and raise a thousand pounds, I was asked to say a few words on the benefits of having a strong CSR position as a business.

Aside from the obvious things which you can read anywhere around risk management and reputation, I thought I’d use an environmental acronym to position where I think business procurement is at.

T - Technical Solution.  Businesses don’t buy you because you’ve got a strong CSR position. It will be taken as one of a series of things in the supply arrangement.  You have to be able to satisfy their technical solution to a problem first.  Whether that be via a box of tricks or a service.

RROI.   We’ve been at the forefront of environmental best practice for over fifteen years and one thing that is as clear as day is that the numbers matter.  Unless you can make the business case work first, people won’t attach a premium to your product or service.  In some instances – such as public sector – you can derive some small premium of 2-3% because of government initiatives to accelerate the CO2 footprint of the public sector.

E - Environmental.  This is all about CO2 and the cradle to grave footprint on the environment.  You’ll get to this if you satisfy T+R.

E - Ethical.  Beyond the attributes of the product itself and into the overall approach to doing business.  Choices you make in your supply chain and your holistic approach to business.

S – Stakeholders.   How those benefits can be used in your business or your customers business to further their aspirations, meet their targets or CSR aims.

So, if you want to sell to me, you need to act like a TREE :-) 

In our own organisation, we look for suppliers and initiatives which are cost effective, cost-reducing, easy to implement and wherever possible give us some stakeholder advantage. 

When the Rubber Hits the Road

Does everything need to have a business case?  If we’re talking about the deterioritation of the planet, is there an ROI attached to it?  Here lies my last point.  Sometimes it’s just about doing the right thing.  Giving a hand of help, showing leadership, taking an early adopter position.  However, if you are turned on by the numbers, here’s a few to throw at you: -

  1. We’ve more than halved our energy consumption in less than 5 years.
  2. Water consumption is down 21%.
  3. Our length of service across the business exceeds eleven years.
  4. Our sickness ratge is 40% lower than the national average (increased productivity).
  5. We’ve recieved a colossal number of awards resulting in many hundreds of thousands of pounds of free publicity for the business, enhancing our Corporate Reputation.

Later this month, I’ll be visiting Buckingham Palace to collect a Queens Award on behalf of the company for our leadership in this area.  We’ve proved that by joining the dots up in your organisation, you can still be very business focussed when it comes to CSR, but you can still achieve the end game, do good and have a little fun along the way.

I’d encourage any business to get involved in the Many Hands campaign.  I like the idea so much because it’s not just about opening up a cheque book, it’s about how and what you do with your people to achieve the goal.  Along the way, you’ll meet lots of other businesses, some new contacts and end up doing something really brilliant for kids that need it.  Experiences need to be experential, your people need to get involved emotionally if they are to buy in to your ideas and working alongside good causes is a great way to achieve that.

I closed my talk yesterday by saying “Be MAD For It” – MAD meaning “Make A Difference”.  Being able to help others is the most wonderful way of helping yourself, your own esteem and growing as a leader. 

Green Monday

Tell me why, I don’t like Ma han day’s, tell me why I don’t like Ma han day’s”, Boomtown Rats 1979, I’m sure you remember the song. It fell to my mind tonight speaking at this event called “Green Monday”, and I certainly do like “Ma han day’s”, particularly tonight.

The topic I was covering was about how to position green products into specific markets, for example, the difference between consumers (B2C) and businesses (B2B).  The business I work for has been working towards environmental objectives for about twenty years, however it was 1993 before we developed the worlds greenest printer.  At the time, it was a monumentous effort, taking huge resources and passing very stringent tests.  We were confident that it would be a winner.

Opening tonights session, I spoke briefly about some of the key lessons I’d learned over the years about positioning or selling green products.  Let me share them with you: -

Lesson number 1.  Businesses won’t pay a premium to go green.  Consumers are more likely, providing they have the disposable income.  This was a harsh lesson as we thought everyone would share our philosophy of doing the right thing.  When it came to it, the money talked.  I call this “ECO-nomics”, that is, you have to make a sound business case with clear return on investment (ROI) or return on objectives (ROO).

Lesson number 2.  It shouldn’t inconvenience the user. If it means someone has to do something different it puts them out, then you’re likely to see objections raised or resistance to a proposed change.  Try removing people’s bins in your office for a week and see how eco-friendly their prepared to be when they have to get up from their desk to use a waste bin.

Lesson number 3.  It must be a “no-brainer”. Take all of the guessing out of it.  Same price, easier to use, sexier than the non-eco version etc.  The more you make people think, the harder it gets to convince them to change a habit.

Hard as this is to say, the world is suffering from ECO-fatigue.  Recessions are killers for green investments, the age of austerity might put back sustainable procurement and people are more concernnd with their personal worlds, than the world (massive generalisation I know, however it is a generalisation).  Now it’s about protecting your job at all costs and doing things that make you look good in front of your boss or feel happy in a miserable economic environment.

We’re living in a disposable consumer age. Consumption and one-upmanship trump eco-ness any day of the week.  Example.  Apple i-Pad.  According to Greenpeace, they only rate 4.9 out of 10 on green issues in their Guide to Greener Electronics.  Who cares?  They’ve made a sexy gadget that everyone wants, no one looked at the eco-label, far from it, buyers were more interested in being first, bragging rights and making their lives easier.

So, this is what the green market is up against.  You have to play in the same backyard as everyone else.  Don’t think people will pay more, they expect you to be green as a hygiene factor, but that still doesn’t mean they will buy your product, you’ll just be considered.  If it’s green and a monstrosity, forget it.

There is reason to be positive however.  There are a growing band of businesses and individuals that continue to lead the charge and show leadership in this area.  The businesses attending tonights Green Monday conference are all great examples of this and I’m pleased to air my views that it’s still a tough road.  Corporate CSR brochures and Corporate procurement are still disconnected, boardroom rhetoric and actions are still distanced, no-one said it would be easy, but the world won’t wait and we have to all be good Corporate citizens and get on with it.

Low Carbon Economy

There’s lot of challenges to making your business lower carbon, particularly in the depths of a global credit crisis and recession recovery.  You’re battling for Time, Attention and Trust, keeping your head above water and winning business.  People are distracted with the here and now, their own problems in their personal bubble.  Speaking to a roomful of businesses interested in the idea of a Greater Manchester Low Carbon economy this morning, I outlined some of the challenges with getting things going (see this link for some of the slides I used).

Civic leaders have had every report possible done.  The opportunity is clear.  The risks are clear.  The next steps for business are not.  Greater Manchester has lots of commissions and passionate people, however, I feel it is lacking “The Big Idea”.  i.e., What one thing could we mobilise a whole city region behind, in order to improve the lives of the people within it?  Whether that means cleaner air, better business, infrastructure or living environment.  The newly established Greater Manchester Chamber Carbon Reduction Groups aims to tackle that.

I gave a couple of examples today of great things that I’d seen.  One was about a City in France that has a huge balloon floating about the City Hall, connected to the power grid.  It glows red when high demands are being made on the grid, allowing everyone in the City Region to instantly visualise and take action.  That alone forced behaviour change, started people thinking about the things they could/should do.  It’s not always about telling people what to do, but motivating them to do something.

I also spoke about a clever little piece of software called Powerman from a company called Ergo Computing (details here) which actively monitors energy consumption of IT on a network.  A simple yet highly effective way to reduce carbon and costs.  Straight to the bottom line and ticking everyone’s boxes.

For business, you have to balance the economics of carbon reduction with the economics of running your business. I gave the example of having a large external salesforce, who are very motivated by cars.  We choose to offer a benchmark car with an industry leading CO2, yet still good enough to attract the right talent.  We then offer further financial incentives for them to go even lower on their CO2.  Around 25% of drivers choose this route, so it’s a way of still balancing our need for talent, with the need to be as efficient as we can be with our carbon.  If we offered a fleet of electric cars, we wouldn’t get the right people, that’s hard to swallow sometimes, but a fact of life, so you need to accomodate it and save additional carbon in other ways.

It’s not all easy though.  Going green can be an inconvenience to people because it requires changes in our behaviour, particularly when it comes to re-cycling.  When you’ve been running a sustainable business as long as we have, you have to search for the continuing wins, like squeezing a sponge.  That’s when it begins to hurt a little more as it becomes much more focussed on the individual doing different things rather than the organisation.  Levels of kickback increase when you reach this points, however, you get over the humps in time.

Behind the landscape of all of this, you also still have the disconnect between green dollars (procurement) and green ideals (CSR).  If it were a game of Top Trumps, the economic buyer always trumps the sustainability department.  It would be great to see organisations resolving this and having a more holistic view to their overall footprint, some businesses achieve this brilliantly, others not atall.  These are the simple steps that business could take to get on board.

Whatever happens, you have to do something as a business.  Public sector procurement and large companies expect you to be able to demonstrate your credentials when tendering as a supplier, we want to deal with suppliers with the same ideals.  If you don’t get on the (electric) bus it will leave without you!  Notwithstanding the fact that in Manchester that there is a £4bn economy to go at, see that made you sit up!

I could write a lot on this issue, I’m passionate about it.  However, taking my own medicine and wanting to keep my blogposts short(ish) so that they get read, I’m going to now hand back to you to go and do something amazing in your own business.  Start small.  Make it Easy.  Make a difference.

The Carbon Impact of Marketing

Bit of a rant tonight. I’ve received two mail shots in the past weeks from businesses wanting to do business with my business. Both will fail. Why? Because they sent ridiculous pieces of marketing to me which completely rub against my values of ensuring minimal waste. Item 1). was a balloon in a box. A fully blown up balloon, sent in a huge box by a marketing company that clearly thought it was original and quirky (sorry, been done before).
When opened the balloon simply floated out and I then had a very large box to re-cycle. Item 2) was a cheap calculator, in a blister pack sent by a petrol company to motivate us to use their fuel. I don’t think so. I took one look at the item and promptly donated it to my Head of CSR who was equally as flabbergasted as me at the CSR own goal the company in question had kicked (she has since found a new home for it). These are both classic situations – in my view – of organisations wanting to try and stand out (fair enough) but completely missing the point when it comes to deployment/CSR issues.
I can think of far more creative ways to make the point, to grab attention or to make an impact. In these times, where natural resources are becoming scarcer and the whole world is battling with carbon emmissions, surely someone, somewhere, in these organisations should reviewing the deployment of such activity? One of the Megatrends I talk about is REDuce. That is, Green buyers seeing RED at suppliers that don’t take environmental issues seriously. So, if you don’t want an unintended consequence and your marketing to do more harm that good, take a step back and consider the wider picture.

10 Easy Ways to reduce your Carbon Footprint

Here’s a list of 10 low-cost things that you could do immediately to reduce your carbon footprint in a business of any size: -

  1. Switch off your monitors at night (saves around £35 per year, per monitor).
  2. Put timers on your photo-copiers and printers that switches them off when you’re office is closed (a copier left on over-night used as much energy as it needs to copy 2,000 pages).
  3. Put a motion sensor switch on your lights (No activity, no lights = save costs).
  4. Print on both sides of the paper (there is around 17w of embedded carbon in a piece of A4 paper), print on both sides, save energy.
  5. Take the train.
  6. Introduce a Cycle2work Scheme. Employees will save CO2 by cycling not driving.
  7. Upgrade your office technology. Newer IT is more energy efficient and can offer quick ROI through reduced energy consumption. Look for the Energy Star mark.
  8. Re-cycle your paper. Incredibly many business still don’t do this most simple thing.
  9. Switch to renewable energy.
  10. Hold more web meetings. It’s so easy and cheap now. I use Webex. Saves on travel, you can show Powerpoint presentations and share applications in real time.

Climate Change

I sat on a panel at Business North West today in Manchester to represent the view of a local business on the issue of climate change. Joining me on panel were a number of public sector people, directly involved in the area. Here are some of the bullet point factoids that I threw out today: -

  1. The global market for low carbon = £3 trillion.
  2. UK market is around £106.5bn.
  3. 1000 tonnes of CO2 are being released into the atmosphere every second.
  4. It’s taken 250 years to undo the last 650,000 years of civilisation (in terms of carbon emmitted).
  5. Around 488bn tonnes of CO2 have been emmitted since the industrial revolution.
  6. Failure to act could cost around 5% of GDP. Acting could reduce this to 1% of GDP.
  7. Business is expected to contribute around 9% of CO2 reductions under the Governments Low Carbon Transition plan, which you can read here.
  8. Envirowise estimate that UK businesses could benefit by around £6.4bn worth of available savings if they got smarter around carbon.
  9. We have around 86 months before we reach a point of no-return in terms of carbon emmissions before the damage is irrecoverable. Check out the clock here.
  10. The government is driving for cuts of 50% of CO2 by 2020 (compared to 1990 levels).