Business Essentials: This PR opportunity must not go to waste

The British arm of pharmaceuticals giant Boehringer Ingelheim needs to talk up its green credentials, writes Kate Hilpern
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The Independent Online

Think of the most obscure thing you could recycle and you'll probably find employees at Boehringer Ingel-heim have already considered it. "In 2002, we introduced a company-wide recycling initiative that involves everything from plastic cups to batteries and from furniture to building rubble," says Emma Stafford, communications manager at the UK arm of the global pharmaceutical giant.

Think of the most obscure thing you could recycle and you'll probably find employees at Boehringer Ingel-heim have already considered it. "In 2002, we introduced a company-wide recycling initiative that involves everything from plastic cups to batteries and from furniture to building rubble," says Emma Stafford, communications manager at the UK arm of the global pharmaceutical giant.

Although the organisation embarked on the project because it takes the issue of corporate social responsibility seriously, it also wants to derive some commercial benefits from it. "In a sense, we have already started this process," says Emma. "The people we provide a service to, the NHS, focus more than ever on using suppliers that are environmentally friendly. We are now thinking about how we can gain a further business advantage - particularly in terms of raising our profile."

Boehringer Ingelheim has 156 companies in 44 countries, employing 32,000 people. Its British operation is based in Bracknell, Berkshire, where its 850 staff support the recycling initiative to such an extent that many have now begun recycling a wide range of waste at home. "Where they don't have oppor-tunities to do so, we encourage them to bring certain waste materials to work," says Emma.

"Being a German company, we have long respected the environment," she adds. "So when the managing director set out four clear goals for the company two years ago, nobody was surprised that one of them related to this issue."

The recycling scheme started with a consultation process. "When we tried to introduce a similar project some years back, it didn't work because staff weren't particularly interested. But by 2002 that had changed. People had become used to recycling and recognised the benefits. They were extremely keen and it's because of their support that it has been so successful."

Indeed, both across the manufacturing and office sites, employees are now recycling whatever they can, as well as coming up with new ideas all the time. "We have an onsite dry cleaner, and one woman asked me the other day why we couldn't reuse the metal hangers, rather than throw them away," explains Emma.

Boehringer Ingelheim works with the local council, as well as local organisations and charities, as part of the scheme. "For example, we have a contract with one company that takes all our old computer equipment for use in developing countries.

"All our old office furniture goes to another company that passes them on to local charities and schools. And our printer cartridges go to a company that collects them to raise money for charity."

Although the initiative is already flourishing, Boehringer Ingelheim intends to develop it further. "We have even considered applying for the international environmental standard," says Emma, "so that we can use its stamp." (ISO - International Organisation for Standardisation - 14001 requires companies to develop systems to ensure that environmental performance is continuously monitored and improved.)

"But ultimately we are looking for as many ways as possible to show off the fact that we are a company that is about more than making money."

www.boehringer-ingelheim.co.uk

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY

Angela Baron, organisation and resourcing adviser, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development

"Boehringer could certainly build on its green credentials to market itself as an attractive employer. There is a lot of evidence that individuals want to work for firms that show a genuine regard for their environment and make efforts to minimise any adverse impact.

"It might even create opportunities for employees to get involved in local projects and for local people to participate in the recycling scheme. This will not only raise the profile of the company still further among customers and the community, but provide a development opportunity for individuals to learn new skills and develop existing ones outside the constraints of corporate life."

Ray Baker, director of social responsibility, B&Q

"When B&Q embarked on its social responsibility programme 15 years ago, it wasn't to market a green image to boost sales. But it wouldn't be natural after all this time if we didn't enjoy some reward in the form of corporate reputation and sales. We have received some kudos from non-governmental organisations and we have received awards. In hard cash terms, we have traded with local authorities because we source more environmentally sound goods.

"But generally our customers are unaware of our work because we don't heavily market ourselves as a 'green' retailer. Why is this? Because we know people are cynical about businesses that advertise themselves in this way. They believe we should be responsible anyway."

Jim Haywood, director, Business in the Community

"I'd advise Boehringer to make more noise about its environmental activities. Arguably, it has no better ambassadors than its own enthused staff. It should find ways for people at all levels to be involved in spreading the word about what Boehringer is doing. This could come through links with local schools and colleges; working jointly with customers and suppliers on environmental and social projects; using speaking opportunities at conferences; entering for awards which celebrate this type of initiative; and by publicly benchmarking its social and environmental performance against other companies."

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