London Office Supplies – What Does It Mean To Be Green?

London Office Supplies – What Does It Mean To Be Green?

If the worrying predictions of climate scientists are correct, London will be severely affected if measures are not taken imminently to address the threat of global climate change. Whole swathes of the city could be submerged by 2050 if forecasted sea-level rises are accurate. The lush green expanse of Hyde Park could more resemble the dry, dusty plains of sub-Saharan Africa. Every individual, family and organization needs to play their part; including companies whose trade is to supply the city’s offices with the products they need to operate.

There are clear indications that some of London’s office suppliers are taking their environmental responsibilities seriously. The changes in attitude are partly being led by industry leaders, but also by their customers who, for a number of reasons, expect the trade to help them achieve their environmental objectives. The image-conscious industries of London including advertisers and marketing consultants are keen to show potential clients their green credentials to help win business. Charitable organisations consider their responsibilities to the environment an integral part of a broader moral purpose. Generally speaking, there is a growing awareness by London’s companies of the connection between their activities and the potential consequences outlined earlier in this article.

There is a huge business potential in the supply of green office products. A swarm of online retailers who offer a range of everyday products that are green in varying degrees has emerged to capitalise on the demand. These companies are very keen to trumpet their virtues, but are not so willing to acknowledge that their goods tend to be delivered in diesel transit vans that spew out carbon emissions to and from their destinations. In the office supply trade product-sourcing and delivery make the largest contribution to a company’s carbon footprint. If London’s offices want the goods they buy to be greener, they need to look beyond what their products are made from and examine the broader implications of production and delivery.

More established office suppliers are gradually making important changes to their businesses to address environmental concerns. If your company’s trade is to supply office products, van deliveries are a necessity, not an option. Companies that run their own fleet of vans, such as my own employer, are better positioned to reduce their carbon footprint. RED BOX, whose large and varied customer base is located within Greater London, once prided itself on the same-day delivery service that it could provide. The company now actively encourages its customers to opt for next-day delivery. The streamlined delivery schedule reduces the number of split deliveries, but still provides the level of service that demanding London companies expect. It also enables the company to reduce costs that can be passed onto the customer in the form of savings.

Green alternatives to commonly-bought products are also being introduced by established office suppliers. Last year, 34% of RED BOX customers bought green products; now the figure is closer to 40%. In 2006, the average spend on green products was 5.6%. As customers are being made aware of green ranges and in some cases demanding them, the figure has risen to 6.3%. Unfortunately many products used mainly by creative companies do not have green alternatives, but there are indications that this situation is changing.

Xyron systems present a viable alternative to spray adhesive. The machines apply a sticky layer to materials but do not contaminate the air or emit the CFCs that destroy the fragile ozone layer. Many products may not be particularly environmentally-friendly, but there are plenty of initiatives that can be taken to limit waste. Many types of toners can be recycled for instance. Instead of plastic packaging, reusable cardboard delivery boxes can be used instead. When the customer is finished with them, the boxes can be returned when the delivery driver makes the next delivery.

Alongside the office suppliers who are making genuine efforts to change their businesses to meet these aspirations, there are others that are, perhaps cynically, using green language and hollow gestures to present an image of environmental virtue. There are signs that green window dressing is no longer good enough to win the custom of environmentally-conscious customers. An increasingly well informed customer is emerging who is prepared to challenge the claims made by companies in the industry.

My employer recently had a customer who felt our use of plastic packaging to deliver her goods contradicted our ethics that we so proudly display on our website. All her company’s orders are now delivered in the distinctive red reusable delivery boxes. For unscrupulous customers, the shallow claims made by some office suppliers are enough to satisfy their green aspirations. The office suppliers who have a genuine interest in reducing their carbon footprint will have to work hard to help inform customers and potential customers about what they truly need to do to be green. At one end of the spectrum, RED BOX has a customer who spends around 26% of their stationery budget on green products, but there are companies of a similar size and budget who spend as little as 3.6% or lower.

For many office suppliers, the logical conclusion of efforts to become greener is to reach carbon-neutrality and in turn sustainable growth. Almost all human activity in some way generates a degree of carbon emissions. In the case of office suppliers, the greatest carbon-burden is released through the sourcing of products. Office product manufacturers are under pressure to produce their goods in countries with low labour costs such as China and parts of Eastern Europe to remain competitive.

Unfortunately, the products have to travel a considerable distance to reach their markets in places such as London with the emissions that this movement produces trailing behind. Once the products land in places like the UK, they must be distributed to distribution centres and then onto suppliers, sometimes through wholesalers on the way – these journeys also accumulate carbon. Addressing the issue of sourcing presents the greatest challenge to the industry. Drastic measures to reduce the carbon footprint will not make a company completely carbon-neutral. It’s inevitable that commercial enterprises will generate some carbon. Initiatives such as carbon-offsetting and carbon-capture schemes can help to compensate for this. In short there is plenty still to do.

Robert Griffith – Business Development Assistant

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