Site services company Speedy believes it can use its position in the middle ground between contractors and manufacturers to influence both sides to improve their sustainability, as Margo Cole discovers.
It is not unusual to find large firms exerting their buying power to influence suppliers - the big supermarkets do it all the time to make sure their shelves are packed with products that meet their requirements of size, shape, quality and price.
But equipment hire giant Speedy has decided to use its buying clout to encourage suppliers to up their game when it comes to sustainability.
“We’ve challenged our suppliers to come up with more sustainable products and set up our own label for environmental performance,” explains Speedy director of sustainability services Martin Gibson.
“At the start it [the labelling scheme] was very much focused on energy, but now it covers other resource use, recycled content, pollution reduction and end of life.”
The Go scheme, as it is known, involves suppliers demonstrating that their products perform better on these criteria than the standard products in the marketplace.
At the moment the scheme is voluntary - Go-rated products sit alongside non-rated alternatives, giving Speedy’s customers a sustainable option if they want it. But, says Gibson, “there will no doubt come a point where we say we won’t do business with companies that don’t give us sustainable products”.
While this may sound draconian, Speedy intends making the transition as easy as possible for the supply chain, offering a training programme for its suppliers on environmental and wider sustainability issues based on the approach the firm has taken to improve its own sustainability performance. “We’ll take them on a similar journey, focusing on what are the big issues for them and offering workshops and training,” explains Gibson.
Early pay off
“Anyone can join, and I’m convinced it should pay for itself quite early in savings from energy reduction, water packaging, transport logistics etc.”
Speedy’s own “journey” includes setting challenging KPIs on a range of issues, including energy consumption per employee and total carbon emissions from the company vehicle fleet - a target that has almost been achieved, in part by offering cash incentives for employees to choose the lowest emission cars in every class.
But the firm’s attempts to make the industry more sustainable are not limited to its own staff and suppliers: the third prong in Speedy’s “One Plan” sustainability strategy is aimed at its customers - the contracting community.
“Our biggest environmental impact is the use of our kit by other people,” explains Gibson.
“A lot of the big companies have sustainability policies but they may not always be fully implemented. If we can help them implement those policies, that will be a driver for change, so we’re speaking to them regularly and letting them know how we think we might be able to help.”
More carrot than stick
Speedy’s strategy with its customers is more carrot than stick: “At some point in the future we will expect every product to be very safe to use, good for the environment and good value for money,” says Gibson.
But the company doesn’t want to alienate customers by forcing them down a sustainable route until they’re ready, and risk the possibility that customers will simply go down the road to one of Speedy’s competitors and hire a less sustainable option.
“If our customers just go elsewhere to get other products, we’re not in a position to influence,” says Gibson.
“It’s our belief that the Go products are generally better products, so our customers will have good reasons for using the products,” he adds.
“A lot of them are attracted by the low running costs, for example, and some just recognise that it’s the right thing to do.”