The DIY approach to going green

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WHEN a journalist asked Bill Whiting, marketing director of B&Q, how much and what type of tropical timber the DIY goods company used, he did not know. And after a week of research, he had only half the answer.

This - and the realisation that B&Q stocked about two- thirds of the materials, including solvents and oils, deemed by a research report as unsafe to dispose of with paper, glass and other recyclable items of domestic rubbish - prompted him to set the company on the road to taking the environment seriously.

The result was a prize in the Royal Society for the Arts Environmental Management Awards, announced last Friday.

Although he acknowledges there are benefits in PR terms, he insists the programme was set in train about three years ago because it would be good for business.

'We believed that although there would be a lot of ebb and flow in environmental issues, it would be a stayer,' he said.

Since responding to such a change in circumstances would amount to more than a marketing exercise for a company such as B&Q, it was decided to start work sooner rather than later.

'We were facing fairly big issues concerning such things as raw materials and it was not solvable quickly. As a result, we couldn't wait until legislation arrived or public pressure increased.'

The initiative - which centred on establishing a supplier environmental audit - was felt to be important both for the long-term security of the business and its ability to gain a competitive edge.

The RSA awards are designed to recognise significant initiatives by British companies that seek to eliminate their negative impact on the environment at the same time as maintaining their long-term viability.

The B&Q scheme involves all its 450 suppliers, who are required to create and implement an environmental policy. This is supported by a thorough audit that helps B&Q to understand what effect each product has on the environment throughout its life. Most of the detail is obtained through 40-page questionnaires. However, one in five companies are visited by B&Q's environmental co-ordinator, Alan Knight, or its environmental consultants, Aspinwall & Co.

(Photograph omitted)