There are questions over whether corporate environmental action will become a casualty of the economic downturn. Robert Clark, executive director of Epson Europe, believes investment will continue and explains the drivers behind business’ increasingly strong commitment to environmental programmes
Government and business commitments to environmental initiatives have increased year on year in recent times. However, there has been understandable concern that depleted budgets and changing priorities could make the environment the greatest casualty of the economic downturn. In my time at Epson Europe, a firm that has integrated environmental awareness deep into its culture, I have taken an interest in the fast-unfolding trend of corporate environmental action – and I believe the pessimistic predictions are wrong. In fact, today’s financial situation could drive even greater efforts to tackle climate change, not less.
With stimulus plans, governments have poured hundreds of billions into affected companies and economies. Bundled within these budgets can be found genuinely ambitious environmental commitments. And there is a growing recognition that green issues should be taken seriously by said governments.
Consequently some companies, Epson included, have redoubled efforts to minimise their environmental impact. One of the many successes derived from our ongoing efforts on this front is around product lifecycle – from design through to recycling – and has resulted in up to a 90 per cent improvement in the monthly energy efficiency of our printers when compared to previous models (AcuLaser C1100 versus the more recent B-500DN).
While it is true that investment in a new generation of ‘green IT’ products leads to the dual benefits of energy efficiency and reduced usage costs, this focus on environmental responsibility is not driven primarily by the need to realise cost savings. So why, at a time of continuing economic challenges, is so much effort still being invested in environmental concerns?
At a macro economic level, action is being taken to avoid even greater costs associated with environmental inaction. And there are also some very real drivers at micro-economic level. It is likely that in the future ‘carbon footprint’ will become a key demand criterion for any product or brand. According to research by LEK consulting, 44 per cent of consumers would change buying behaviour if reliable information regarding the carbon footprint of a product was available.
Businesses too will drive demand for consideration of environmental impact: over one third of IT departments are likely to have one or more such factors in their top six buying criteria in 2010 (according to Gartner Consulting). To succeed long-term companies need to meet this demand – and preparation should already be underway, financial climate notwithstanding.
Environmental Vision 2050
At Epson, this is very much the case. We committed to reduce our carbon footprint by 90 per cent globally by 2050, and invited other companies to partner in our Environmental Vision 2050. We believe a great deal can be achieved through a solid commitment to change.
At a philosophical level, the dual challenge of the financial crisis and climate change has turned the kaleidoscope through which we see the world. The new pattern is that businesses, the public and policymakers are increasingly attuned to addressing climate change and inappropriate wastage of resources before it is too late. The driver pushing green action to the fore for businesses stems from an understanding of the forces at work in society shaping future demand, and therefore future profit, while repositioning business values. These forces will turn ongoing commitments from business and governments into long-term environmental action.