When I worked in a paper company, health and safety was always a big concern. The machinery used in paper making could be quite lethal in the case of an accident. Quite an amount of money was spent annually by my employer to ensure the safety of all staff, but in particular those exposed to process equipment and machinery. As an accountant, one comment made by a manager on health and safety always stuck in my mind, namely that “there is not return on investment in health and safety”. I’m not going into detail here, but I’m sure you can appreciate it may be difficult to put a financial return on health and safety expenditure.
Another hot topic in business for the past decade or so is energy efficiency. Investment in energy efficient ways of working and running a business, like health and safety, is a good thing to do and probably adds to the longer term survival of a business (and the planet!). But, unlike health and safety, for accountants the return and investment can be ascertained a lot easier. For example, a recent article in The Guardian reports that many well-known UK companies are achieving definite returns on investment. DIY company B&Q saves 12% on CO2 emissions through education of staff and monitoring energy usage; hospitality group Whitbread can save 3% on energy costs just by changing behaviour. However the article also reports that companies may be seriously underestimating the return investment. recent research at the Carbon Trust in the UK took a close look at 1,000 energy efficiency projects it has been involved with and found that companies can expect to see an internal rate of return (IRR) of 48% on average and payback within three years. In the retail sector, the research shows the average IRR from energy efficiency projects leaps to 82%. Most “normal” investment projects would be happy to see a return of about 15%.
The full Carbon Trust report can be read here.
About a month ago, I read a piece in the New York Times about saving money by making your business greener. I’m no tree hugger, but most of the energy saving tips given by the NY Times (and many others) actually make sound business sense – as well as do something for the environment. A win win situation. The NY Times piece suggests any changes need to start at the top i.e. at the owner/manager level. I could not agree more, as it’s really all about changing behaviour, and only those is power in a business can make and support the changes.
Here’s what you can do in your business:
- I’ll sound like a real accountant here, but start with an inventory of the energy you use, the water you use and the waste you generate. This is your benchmark.
- Try to work out what you can do. Can you get staff to be more energy aware? Can you recycle (or sell) waste, can you recycle water? Can you replace paper with electronics – email invoices for example
- Track what you do and report on it. How much energy have you saved, how much less waste has been generated and so on.