99.9% of all Swedish companies have less than 250 employees and are thus categorized as Small to Medium sized companies (SME). Many of these companies have a desire to do their work in an environmentally sustainable way, but have trouble knowing where to start. They may find that many assessment and tracking tools are overly complicated and require data that just isn’t readily available.
That is the problem that the Gothenburg, Sweden-based private industrial conglomerate Ernströmgruppen AB sought to solve. This investment firm owns a range of small to midsize companies, many of them too small to have their own environmental compliance staff. But Ernströmgruppen President and CEO Pontus Cornelius wanted to help the group’s companies understand their environmental impact, find ways to reduce that impact, track the results and get concrete actions.
He also wanted to set a positive example for the business community, showing that even midsize companies could gain a clear picture of their environmental impacts, and then establish tangible steps to better manage those impacts over time.
So, Ernströmgruppen engaged Golder to develop an assessment tool that would be easy for their companies to implement, not require excessive amounts of data, and would be effective at tracking progress.
Golder began this work by listening – interviewing the site managers across most Ernströmgruppen’s companies, to assess how they currently manage environmental issues. Golder’s team found that the important factors included the volumes and types of materials and chemicals the companies used, their waste stream, energy used and their transportation impacts, as well as larger issues such as whether the company has an environmental policy.
One of the challenges was the wide variety of companies within the group. Some are production companies, requiring raw materials, components and other inputs such as energy, causing impacts to the air and water. Others are trading companies, with perhaps smaller direct environmental footprints, but which produced indirect environmental impacts through transportation, including shipment of goods from China.
Golder developed a universal evaluation tool in the form of an Excel spreadsheet, to be used across all Ernströmgruppen’s companies. It was tested on five companies and revised based on their feedback. The evaluation tool was then sent to all of the companies in the group. In some cases, Golder staff supported company management in completing the assessment.
To ensure the tool would adapt to future developments, Golder added questions to help assess how each company follows changes in legislation that affects it and how it follows discussions in environmental forums. This supports the “future-proofing” of the assessment tool.
Ernströmgruppen’s companies complete the spreadsheet themselves on a yearly basis. From this, they are given a grade of A through F (imagine an energy declaration on a refrigerator). Golder then helps them identify areas to focus on for reducing their environmental footprint. Each company next develops an action plan for working on these areas.
The tool has proven invaluable in helping Ernströmgruppen meet its priorities around understanding and managing the group’s environmental impacts, in order to ensure that resources are put in the areas giving the best financial and ecological effect. The tool is not in any way covering all areas or companies, but is a good start for beginners in their quest toward structured sustainability work.
Ernströmgruppen has a deep belief that reducing environmental footprint is an area where collaboration over competition is necessary in order to meet our planet’s future challenges. Therefore, they have chosen to distribute this tool as freeware with the only request to the user to pay if forward with other good ideas to help them, and other SMEs, to develop.
This spreadsheet, called the “Ernströmgruppen Eco Screening Tool,” available in English as well as Swedish, is downloadable for free download on its website. The company says, “Through some 30 simple questions, the user will know if they are A-B-C-D-E or F-classified, and perhaps even more important, gain increased awareness of where to start in their environmental work.”