An Environmental Heritage from Where?

Earlier in the year I was invited to deliver a speech at an event in Houston, the U.S. center of the oil industry, on how British companies and companies in the high-tech sectors have led the way on environmental issues.   I preceded my remarks by noting that I felt a bit of a fraud. Why?   Because BT’s activity in this space were partly stimulated by an oil industry executive and by American models of good practice.

A few days before the event, a friend of mine, Sam Simon of Intersections International, came across a set of booklets on CR that were produced by BT in the late 90’s.  The environment booklet traces the history of BT’s involvement in environmental issues since the late 80s. (The other three booklets cover customers, disability and corporate ethics).

According to the text, in the late 80s BT took on a new non-executive Deputy Chairman John Raisman, previously Chairman of Shell UK, which the booklet describes as   “A company whose activities placed it firmly in the environmental front line”.   The text goes on to quote…

“Environment is an obvious area where it is important to be seen to be behaving well,” Raisman says “and the only sure fire way to achieve that is to conduct a thorough environmental audit.” With the staff pushing from the bottom, and Raisman shaping opinion at the top, the company had an increasingly open ear to environmental suggestions from outside.

Our current CSO, Chris Tuppen, my boss and in the early 90s a scientist working in BT’s research laboratories made an environmental fact finding trip to the U.S. and as described in the booklet:

He soon found they [American companies] were well ahead of BT, largely because of the regulatory pressure from the EPA. “I was struck by the coordinated way they managed their waste streams; they had a system in place to track where everything went.” Back in the UK he soon found that BT had nothing of the sort.

Our heritage in this space includes learning from the oil industry and from the U.S.  No sector or region has a monopoly on good practice or a guaranteed leadership position.


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