Aiken PR

The Briefing

Why it’s incumbent on all businesses to make environmental changes

by Aiken PR


Change, it’s a simple unassuming word that can have a vast impact delivering positive transformation or devastating destruction on so many levels.



During her resignation speech last week, one area of change that Theresa May talked assuredly about was the environment and the government’s ‘commitment to protecting the environment through tackling plastic, waste and air pollution’.

While her reference to these issues in such a difficult speech was in the context of her government’s political achievements, there is no doubting the gravity and impact that the environment and climate change is having within the political and business arena. 

Pressure is mounting and policy change will come with it.  Lobby groups such as the Extinction Rebellion which disrupted many parts of London over a nine–day period, with its demands on transparency of the ecological crisis, zero emissions and a citizens’ assembly to devise policy are having a considerable impact.

The change that we all know is needed and is coming, must be addressed across all areas of the environment for the sustainability of future generations.  This change is transforming and shaping consumers outlook.  Consumers are more demanding, they are calling out those businesses which only pay lip service to environmental and sustainable commitments and reward with their custom those who have invested in becoming environmentally sustainable.

Consequently, companies who recognise sustainability as intrinsic to their business model demonstrate that investment, innovation and partnership along the supply chain is necessary to ongoing success.  Global businesses will increasingly need to examine their supply chains to drive and lead the change needed not only to improve the quality of life in the markets in which they operate but also to ensure business sustainability and success.

Some big businesses are leading the way. Global packaging company, Huhtamaki recently opened a new facility in Antrim. The factory is the first in Ireland to produce high quality sustainable paper straws. Huhtamaki is a supplier to McDonald’s who announced last year the roll–out of paper straws to more than 1,300 UK and Irish restaurants. McDonald’s has said the move away from plastic straws is because that is what customers want it to do and working in partnership with those already in their supply chain has made the switch possible in a relatively short time frame.

Just a few weeks before the Huhtamaki factory opened Diageo, another global business, announced an investment of £16m to reduce the amount of plastics used in its beer packaging by removing the plastic ring carriers and shrink wrap from its multipacks of its products.  Diageo poured £8m of that investment into its east Belfast facility where plastic ring carriers and shrink wrap will be replaced by sustainably sourced, recyclable and fully biodegradable cardboard that will reduce plastic waste by 400 tonnes per year. 

While these investments are examples of environmental leadership in the corporate arena, they also support the long–term financial sustainability of the businesses and they reflect the all–important consumer expectation, that sustainable measures will be introduced. 

Going back just a couple of years, businesses who announced environmental initiatives were sometimes accused of doing no more than dressing up cost cutting measures as good PR.  That’s certainly no longer the case. Put simply, those businesses who are being proactive in terms of sustainability will prosper in a changing world, those who aren’t won’t exist.

There are those too, who go beyond introducing sustainable measures to an existing business but rather make sustainability the very foundation on which their business is built. Plastic Whale, a circular economy enterprise which began in the Netherlands, but which aims for a global reach, is leading the way in showing others that economic value can be created from plastic waste. Eight years ago founder Marius Smit set out with the idea of fishing enough plastic waste from the canals that crisscross his home city of Amsterdam to build a boat; eight years on Plastic Whale employs eight people full time, has a fleet of 15 recycled boats and a recently launched office furniture range which is flying off the shelves.

Such businesses are truly pioneering and we are likely to see more and more of them as societies move away from a linear economy towards a circular one. But what of existing SMEs doing traditional business?  How can they make a real and valuable impact without large scale investment or a radical change to the core function of the business? In adoption of ethical and greener practices innovation is being shown here also.  Whether it’s installing automated lights, ports for electric cars or state of the art coffee machines that produce the perfect espresso discouraging staff from going out and buying one in a single use plastic cup, every business has the opportunity to make an impact. It is incumbent upon us all to look inside our businesses and take action in every way we can.