Don’t Become a Target for Protesters
What you’ll gain from this article:
- practical guidance on developing and implementing a paper procurement policy that integrates environmental and business goals; and
- a six-step process for arriving at a policy that aligns with your corporate philosophy.
A catalog company’s environmental policy reflects the values of an organization and has an impact on relations with its stakeholders. Its implementation within your company will demonstrate your commitment to corporate responsibility. And it can significantly affect your company’s environmental footprint as well as its financial strength.
Effective environmental policies guide executives’ decision-making in ways that have real environmental and business consequences. Following are some strategies that have worked well for us at multititle catalog company Norm Thompson Outfitters. Perhaps some of these tactics will work at your company, too.
Step 1: Reflect
First ask why you want to draft an environmental policy, what you’d like it to accomplish and who your primary audiences are. What are your environmental and business goals, and how will the policy help you achieve them?
For example, do you want to position your catalog company as an environmental leader? Are you responding to — or trying to avoid — pressure from environmental activists? Or are you simply trying to keep pace with what seems to be an issue of rising importance in the marketplace?
How much does your company know about environmental issues, and are there particular ones that you care about?
Knowing answers to these questions will help you frame a realistic and useful policy.
Step 2: Learn More
Make no mistake, environmental issues can be complex, and there are a range of viewpoints on many issues. Believe it or not, some terms can be highly controversial.
To help you discern the right decision for your company and to demonstrate thoughtfulness to consumers (who, as you know, have access to a significant amount of information about you from the Web), reach out to stakeholders who are particularly relevant, such as:
- your paper suppliers,
- environmental groups,
- trade associations,
- companies experienced in environmental issues, and
- other members of your supply chain, including printers.
Suppliers in general appreciate clearly worded policies and get frustrated by vague or unreasonable plans. In the past, paper suppliers sometimes faced a barrage of differing pressures from environmental groups with single-issue interests, and from customers who were well-intentioned but often ill-informed. Many suppliers such as printers and pulp manufacturers also are entrenched in competitive industries saddled with enormous, fixed infrastructures.
When you talk with your paper suppliers, get a clear understanding of the source of the fiber that goes into your paper. Questions to ask:
- How much recycled fiber does the paper contain?
- Does the virgin fiber come from any ecologically sensitive or controversial areas?
- Are the forest practices on the lands from where the paper comes certified to a sustainable forestry standard? If so, which one?
Broaden the purpose of your supplier outreach to incorporate ways to save money while at the same time improving your environmental performance. You’ll find there are many ways to achieve both of these objectives, including using lighter-weight paper, switching grades and trimming more efficiently.
Environmental groups can be excellent resources for paper buyers who genuinely want to do the right thing. They, like direct marketers, are a diverse lot. Some are very sophisticated, while others are perceived as unfriendly to business. Our experience is that, in addition to possessing a wealth of environmental expertise, many environmental groups have a deep understanding of business concerns (e.g., response rate impacts) and a reasonable tolerance for trade-offs that must be part of any cataloger’s decision. So the bottom line is: Don’t be afraid to talk with them. But before you pick up the phone, consider which organizations may resonate best with your brand and customers.
In your conversations with environmental groups, ask them if the sources of your fiber are of concern. And if so, why and what you may be able to do about it. You’ll be well served by asking their views on the range of certification standards.
Through your stakeholder discussions, you’ll likely find that a set of issues to consider in drafting a paper procurement policy includes, but is not limited, to:
- source reduction,
- recycled content,
- sustainable forest management,
- certification and chain of custody,
- manufacturing impacts,
- alternative fibers,
- life-cycle analysis, and
- social issues.
How far you push on any of these issues will be determined by your ultimate goal, which is why Step No. 1 is such a critical starting point.
Our goal at Norm Thompson Outfitters has been to create fundamental change in the supply options available in the marketplace by working collaboratively with colleagues, environmental groups and supply-chain partners. The policy we developed is part of our strategy to achieve that goal.
(Ed. note: To view a recent copy of Norm Thompson Outfitters’ paper procurment policy, visit the Web site, www.normthompson.com.)
Step 3: Draft It
Once you feel you’ve sufficiently explored the topics that relate to your purchasing scenario, begin writing the policy. State your environmental goals at the outset, along with your business objectives (e.g., availability, price, market stability).
A critical component of any environmental policy is its implementation plan. Without it, a policy is just a set of words on paper. Set some targets and discuss them with your suppliers and relevant employees.
Be sure you understand all supply options and how their price and quality implications satisfy your policy objectives. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to write an overly specific policy that no catalog paper on the market can match at a reasonable price.
Set up systems for ongoing measurement. Ensure accountability among your buyers by incorporating policy targets into performance evaluations.
Then decide how you’re going to communicate progress to your stakeholders. They need to know that your policy is producing real results for the environment, and that your company truly is walking the walk.
Step 4: Review the Policy With Others
It shows a deep amount of respect to share your policy language with your suppliers ahead of its release. They may be able to help you fine-tune some terms that could inadvertently trap you from making progress. Suggestion: Also ask some environmental groups for their perspectives.
Obviously, you’ll want to engage your marketing and procurement departments in any policy review before you share it with external audiences.
Step 5: Announce It
Announcing an environmental policy may be as simple as posting it on your Web site, or you may choose to make a press or employee event out of it. Consider your audiences and make the decision that feels right for your organization. Make the implementation steps to which you are committing part of the announcement.
At Norm Thompson, our employees feel a great deal of pride about our environmental commitments, so we do our best to make them part of important announcements. We also regularly report progress toward our environmental goals.
Step 6: Communicate Your Progress
Your stakeholders will appreciate ongoing updates on your progress toward meeting the environmental goals. Environmental groups often are willing to tout significant achievements by paper purchasers. Their endorsements can lend credibility to your most important stakeholders — your customers. Nowadays, many consumers want to do business with companies that demonstrate social and environmental responsibility. We at Norm Thompson have received thousands of positive messages from our customers and shoppers who say things like, “Next time I shop I’ll shop with you because of what you stand for.” Next to aligning with your corporate values, statements such as these provide the most rewarding outcomes of executing a successful environmental policy.
Derek Smith is the director of communications and corporate responsibility for multititle cataloger Norm Thompson Outfitters, one of the catalog industry’s recognized leaders in environmental issues. You can reach him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For More Info
Environmental Defense, www.environmentaldefense.org/alliance
New American Dream, www.newdream.org/procure
Environmental Paper Network, www.environmentalpaper.net
Also check other companies’ policies as posted on their Web sites or that are available by contacting them.