Belfast Telegraph

Organisations are put to the test on their green credentials

By John Simpson

The top rank Platinum Awards for environmental performance in the results of this year's Northern Ireland Environmental Benchmarking Survey go to 10 organisations: Belfast Harbour, Royal Mail, Dale Farm, Farrans, Pritchitts, Seagate Technology, IKEA, Bombardier, BT and John Graham.

To qualify for the highest award category, these businesses allowed their environmental performance to be professionally tested. Voluntarily they demonstrated the degree to which their businesses are environmentally friendly.

The performance of each of 128 local organisations has been measured as part of the annual benchmarking survey, conducted by the Arena organisation, part of Business in the Community. The 13th annual survey has been published and is expected by the authors to act as a key driver for the improvement of environmental management and to encourage organisations to introduce more sustainable ways of doing business.

The outcome is testing. The Northern Ireland average score, out of a possible 100, this year was 68%, slightly lower than the 72% in 2010. The slight fall is attributed not to poorer performance but to a tightening of some of the criteria.

Suffice to add that, as an overall average, the local performance demonstrates that environmental criteria do feature strongly in business behaviour. Business organisations now accept that they must be accountable not just in terms of economic performance but also to reflect how it relates to the wider environment.

The published results identify each business entered but in a slightly softened form. Each business is classified within one of five quintiles, where the top quintile means a score of over 80% and the fifth quintile a score of less than 20%. No local business fell into the fifth quintile but 8% scored between 20% and 39%, deemed to be in the fourth quintile.

A total of 27% of the businesses (35) were placed in the top quintile. Ten were given the very top scores, classified as earning a Platinum award. They are a diverse group.

When the entries are analysed into sector groups, the same two sectors came top this year as in 2010 - information technology firms and large retailers.

There is no surprise that environmental management is a strong feature of the responses, perhaps for two reasons. First, possibly because there are an increasing number of reasons why this is important in terms of business performance and, second, possibly because these are organisations taking the issues seriously which are more likely to have responded.

Whatever the motivation, the headline outcome is that 95% of these organisations report that they provide formal environmental reports to their boards and management teams on a regular basis.

The delivery of environmental management processes is confirmed by evidence that 94% have a formal register of (relevant) environmental legislation, 88% have stated environmental objectives with 84% converting these objectives to specific targets.

The value of recognised international standards is confirmed by 64% which are certified under such a standard (such as ISO14001).

In the more detailed areas, the Arena survey has published evidence on improving environmental management policies in relation to energy usage, water and waste water management, transport and travel, waste generation and (separately) waste management.

The Arena authors offer a compliment to local firms by describing the 128 organisations in the review as 'being ahead of the curve' in their responses to environmental performance.