Sustainability in a global organisation

Sustainability – “the ability to continue a defined behaviour indefinitely”.

With economic development worldwide predicted to increase global energy consumption yearly by up to 3.7%, considering sustainability within businesses and organisations globally has rarely been so paramount. Here we chat to Mark Hewitt, Head of Environmental Management at the British Council to find out how they are tackling the issue of sustainability in a global organisation.

1) What does sustainability mean to the British Council, and why is it so important?

Good question, firstly the word Sustainability has different meanings to different people, when I talk about Sustainability as Head of Environmental Management I mean the Triple bottom line of Sustainability where the following 3 areas are considered equally: Economic, Environmental and social.

Considering the triple bottom line we as an organisation have a way to go before we can consider ourselves sustainable but we have made clear in-roads especially in the area of Environmental management.

Our CEO Martin Davidson states:

“I think it’s really important that we as an organisation take a moment to step back and think about the issues of sustainability.  One, I do believe that sustainability is part of the core values of our organisation. And secondly, it is also central to our purpose – if we are going to build relationships with people around the world then we have to be on the agenda which is important for those people.  And, right around the world, young people particularly, are emphasising the need to pass on a better world than the one they inherited. If we are going to be on that agenda, then we ourselves have got to be seen as an organisation that takes sustainability seriously.”

2) What are the current initiatives the British Council has in place to reduce its environmental impact, and how successful have these been so far?

When I first started this job I wanted to embed Environmental Management into our systems and processes. Firstly I developed the British Council Policy and sought buy-in at the most senior levels. From this policy we developed the Environmental Management System (EMS) which is now in place covering our 6 UK offices. The system sets policy and targets and puts in place actions to meet those targets via an Environmental Management Plan (EMP). The targets set in the UK are:

• Reduce CO2 by 25%

• Reduce water consumption by 15%

• Reduce waste by 25%

• Increase recycling by 20% (to a total of 56%)

Overseas we have set up a system based on EMS best practice called the Environmental Framework Tool (EFT). 

Environmental sustainability is an integral part of how we manage our global estate. We aim for all our new build and refurbishment projects to result in a reduction of the impact our buildings make on the environment. 

3) What are your biggest challenges? Are staff members keen to support green initiatives?

The biggest challenges are behaviour change and getting Sustainability on the organisational change agenda especially considering all the other priorities that are going on in this global organisation.

Most staff are keen to support green initiatives but some struggle to juggle the many other organisational priorities. We have 410 green champions globally; staff who care about the environment and champion environmental initiatives within the organisation.

4) What are your future aims with regards to improving sustainability in the British Council, and how are you planning to achieve these?

My future aim is to embed sustainability in the British Council values, processes and behaviour. I plan to do this by working closely with senior managers to develop a sustainability strategy that is applicable to the British Council.

I need to influence senior management to make sure they buy-in and can make changes in their departments to embed sustainability and I need to work with the Procurement team to influence sustainable and ethical purchasing.

5) Sustainability is clearly high on the agenda of the British Council; do you think the British Council could provide a benchmark for sustainability within a global organisation?

Well Sustainability (Triple bottom line definition) is on some of our agendas and we are certainly ahead of the game compared to some other organisations, for example our Environmental Framework Tool is innovative and has won awards and the Environmental Management System is certified to the international standard for environmental management, but we as an organisation can do more to get sustainability on all our agendas.

We can be very proud of some of our Environmental work but we can certainly do more.

6) What do you think the biggest sustainability issue facing the world currently is?

Great question and there are global experts who can answer this question better than I can.

But off the top of my head in no particular order: Climate change, water, population, globalisation, sustainable cities, biodiversity, energy, and possibly most importantly ourselves. “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi.

Lots to do we’d best get started.