By Harry Morrison, General Manager of The Carbon Trust Standard Company

1. Do your research

As with any marketing strategy, the critical point is starting with the right data to begin with. If you have an objective measure of your environmental impact, it helps decide which initiatives to focus on; which will reinforce your brand values and which are credible and realistic for your organisation.

2. Take early action

Stand out by acting early. If you want to bring about genuine change and avoid charges of jumping on the bandwagon, taking early action is vital. It positions the company as forward thinking and as being serious about its environmental policy. It is also worth bearing in mind that national and international policy makers are looking closely at carbon reduction requirements and various environmental targets may soon become mandatory. The UK already has the Carbon Reduction Commitment Energy Efficiency Scheme in place and so why not pre-empt regulation.

3. Get independent certification

Savvy consumers are sceptical of ‘softer’ initiatives which lack quantifiable evidence that a company is backing their green claims with tangible action. Instead they look for robust action supported by evidence. The Carbon Trust Standard in particular has proved popular because it has a rigorous, independently assessed methodology, which looks at carbon impacts across every aspect of an organisation’s operations.

4. Demonstrate the commercial value of certification to the board

Communications professionals often debate how to show the commercial value of social responsibility initiatives. By championing the achievement of credible environmental certifications, senior communicators can not only boost external reputation but also use it as a means of bringing about tangible operational savings for their company. For example, collectively, the companies which have achieved the Carbon Trust Standard certification have saved £62 million in energy bills, reduced CO2 by 2 million tonnes. Many of these initiatives have begun in the marketing and PR team but been adopted companywide, for example Tracey Rawling Church, Director of Brand and Reputation at Kyocera Mita has been instrumental in her company’s carbon reduction.

5. Get employees on board

Being part of a company which has a strong environment focus has formed a central tenet for many organisation’s internal communications and staff recruitment and retention programmes. For example, Andy Bond, Chairman of Asda comments that the achievement of an independently verified certification has “proved a real motivating factor for our colleagues and has been a great boost for everyone at Asda.”

6. Get partners on board

By assessing carbon usage through the lifecycle of products and services, a company can also use this to achieve credible, positive perceptions amongst partners, suppliers and consumers. The Carbon Trust Footprint certification is awarded to specific products and services and is based on carbon consumption throughout a product’s lifecycle.

7. Maximise the value

Robust environmental assessment gives marketing and communications professionals strong evidence to back up major campaigns, without risk of accusations of green washing. Marks & Spencer has made ‘Plan A’ its social responsibility programme an integral part of many of its external communications and extended this through a wide range of marketing activities — from overall brand reputation, through to point of sales promotion, internal communications and external recruitment and as a differentiator in business development and customer marketing.

8. Product and brand differentiation

Tesco is using the Carbon Reduction Label from The Carbon Trust to expand the range of choices it offers consumers so that they can decide which products to buy based on sustainability as well as price or brand. Sir Terry Leahy, CEO of Tesco comments that: “the Tesco Community Plan puts social and environmental issues at the heart of our business, empowering customers to make environmental choices by providing the information on which to make an informed choice”.

9. Meet external disclosure requirements

The US Security Exchange Commission is currently in considering whether listed companies should be obliged to disclose carbon footprint in their financial reporting. If this is adopted and other governments adopt similar schemes, a credible, measurable environmental strategy will soon be high on the agenda for investor relations and shareholder communications professionals.

10. Quantify the benefits holistically

If you are looking for internal support for an environmental policy, quantify the benefits holistically. As well as the obvious external reputational benefits, there are gains in operational efficiency such as reduced energy bills and reduced consumption; there can be supply chain efficiencies; opportunities for product and company differentiation and benefits in terms of internal communications and human resources.