Green advice for businesses to bank on

Maureen O'Connor talks to academics and bankers who are collaborating for the sake of the environment

Bankers bearing large bags of money have a wonderfully concentrating effect on the mind, admits Professor Tom Husband, Vice-Chancellor of Salford University. So much so that the four universities in Greater Manchester - Salford, Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan and UMIST - have got themselves together in record time to back the Co-operative Bank's National Centre for Business and Ecology, launched last week.

The idea, to which the bank has committed pounds lm over five years, is a simple one. With its highly visible commitment to ethical banking, the co-operative was already aware that many of its small- to medium-sized business customers had nowhere to turn for advice on environmental issues.

"We encourage customers to take a responsible attitude towards the environment," says Terry Thomas, the bank's managing director. "But the majority of environmental consultancies only provide services tailored to the needs of big business."

Business executives, he says, are being placed under increasing pressure on ecological issues, both in terms of their processes and their final products, but no one is coming forward with solutions.

Having defined the problem, the bank looked for a local solution. Based in Manchester itself, the bank was aware that the concentration of higher education institutions in the twin cities of Manchester and Salford - 50,000 students and more than 12,000 staff - offered a treasure house of expertise just waiting to be raided.

The four universities were quickly convinced of the mutual benefits of the proposed centre. Professor John Spencer of Salford University, who chaired the joint universities working party, is enthusiastic.

"This has really captured the imagination of our academics," he says. "There are already many courses which include an ecological component, from chemistry and engineering to business. And increasingly we and our students who go into industry are aware of the environmental issues that are looming, and we are sometimes appalled at what is going on in some industries." The universities can offer expertise on ecosystems, waste disposal, energy conservation, climate change and a vast array of other environmental issues that affect industrial processes, says Professor Spencer.

"This is something that is going to creep up on the business world. Firms are either going to have to take a lead, like the Co-op Bank, or the Body Shop, or they are going to wait until it bears down on them."

Pressure on business is coming from two directions. A British Chamber of Commerce survey found that 18 per cent of small- and medium-sized businesses had experienced pressure from customers to improve their environmental performance. At the same time, the entry of Finland, Sweden and Austria into the EU is expected to push through more environmental legislation.

Surveys show that only a small minority of businesses have an environmental policy, have conducted an environmental audit or have access to training in environmental issues. This is in spite of the fact that the CBI reckons that businesses can reduce energy costs by between 10 and 20 per cent simply by introducing energy efficiency measures.

The director of the new centre, which will be based at Salford University, is Phil Barton, an environmentalist who has been running the Mersey Basin Project, which has improved the ecology of one of the most polluted sites in the UK.

"This is an idea whose time has come," he says. The first step, he believes, is to establish credibility. An action programme will be launched immediately by contacting businesses which the bank has identified as possibly in need of help. The service offered will concentrate on advice and practical outcomes. The aim will be toimprove the ecological quality of products, reduce costs and, where appropriate, help to develop new, ecologically sound products. The bank's customers will be offered preferential terms, but the centre will be open to all medium and small business at prices they can afford, Mr Barton says.

"What people sometimes don't understand is that by modernising old and dirty processes you can improve economic performance as well as ecological soundness," Mr Barton argues. When it is up and running, the centre will put business people in touch with academics working in the same field. It will also provide opportunities for students to become involved in ecological projects.

"We have the academic expertise, and there is enormous potential for harnessing that," says Tom Husband. "But sometimes small businesses in particular do not know where to find what they want in an academic institution. The centre will be the link between us."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Recruitment Genius: Nursery Nurse and Room Leader - Hackney

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a qualified childcare p...

QAA: Independent member of the QAA Board of Directors

Expenses paid in connection with duties: QAA: QAA is inviting applications to ...

AER Teachers: PPA TEACHER/MENTOR

£27000 - £37000 per annum: AER Teachers: THE SCHOOL: This is a large and vibra...

AER Teachers: EYFS Teacher

£27000 - £37000 per annum: AER Teachers: EYFS TEACHERAn 'Outstanding' Primary ...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea