Mark Fiddy explains how to go green without compromising your bottom line

We all know the old adage “time is money” and, in the current trading environment, where many are looking to cut labour time to save on costs, this has never been more true. Added to this is the mounting pressure to reduce our carbon footprint, so improving sustainability is a key responsibility that cannot be ignored.

So, realistically, how easily can we achieve this dual aim of being sustainable while remaining profitable? Rather than treating these separately, the trick is to strike a balance between the two. This can be done by having the right level of knowledge, making intelligent product choices, choosing sustainable suppliers and, of course, using a bit of ingenuity.

This means big changes for the role of the wholesaler. The responsibility of the distributor has gone far beyond simply stocking and delivering the goods. We now need to provide the product knowledge, training and initiatives to help accomplish a fully sustainable solution for our customers.

At a basic level, there is product choice. Using the most sustainable and energy-efficient products and services available can help reduce CO2 emissions, but it can also reduce lifetime running costs for the end-user. So, with the government’s increasing focus on carbon reduction, alongside a need to lower utility bills, wholesalers must provide their customers with the most innovative and cost-effective sustainable solutions.

This includes not only the more obvious avenues of recommending energy-efficient lamps and lighting controls, but also products for energy metering, monitoring and power correction.

Then there are more acute details to consider. When choosing a supplier, it is essential to recognise the importance of sustainable manufacture. For example, those who use recycled materials within their manufacturing process and who reduce packaging to a minimum will get ahead.

Wholesalers can also provide a ‘greener’ transport system. A simple order-and-deliver service may work with small projects, but with larger projects such as airports or stadiums, there is the associated difficulty of multiple deadlines. An effective solution could be to provide a project office on site, with a dedicated team that can hone a lean, sustainable operation.

As well as improving sustainability, when a fluid, one-channel system is adopted, lead-time monitoring and negotiating reduced costs with suppliers can be achieved, further improving the commercial viability of the project

But logistics and a slick delivery system also have a part to play. Minimising the carbon footprint of deliveries can be difficult, with products naturally spending a lot of time on the road. Dropping products off en route to other jobs and sending the smallest suitable vehicle, plus effective returns management, will ensure cost and environmental impact are minimised.

Considering the best way to supply into a project, balancing sustainability with commercial viability, can be tricky. With a recent apartment building refurbishment, each apartment’s electrical products were delivered in batches in kit form, with all the equipment needed for that particular home.

Supplied in a reusable box, which was returned, this approach not only helped to eliminate all waste packaging, but also negated risk on labour costs and eliminated theft of goods stored on site. As well as improving sustainability, when a fluid, one-channel system is adopted, lead-time monitoring and negotiating reduced costs with suppliers can be achieved, further improving the project’s commercial viability.

Methods of placing the initial order can also be classed as more or less sustainable. Those that allow most flexibility will also achieve greater sustainability. Offering online ordering, for example, results in fewer trips to the wholesaler’s, which not only has a positive environmental impact but also provides benefits of faster ordering, increased opening hours and choice of collection or delivery.

Knowledge is power and specialist seminars and courses are a key way to keep up to date on the latest technologies and ideas. Find out more about energy-saving solutions, and minimise carbon emissions and running expenditures.

We are all feeling the effects of a tough economic environment, and it is easy to get wrapped up in saving costs and winning new business. But the government through legislation and the media through constant focus will continue to add pressure, making success highly difficult if you cannot prove your ‘green’ credentials.

We as wholesalers are constantly assessing all aspects of sustainability, from the most advanced product solutions, the greenest manufacturers, the most efficient route to market and the provision of training and specialised services, as well as our own green credentials. The future is a challenge that we need to face together. We’re ready – is the rest of the industry?