How to ‘green’ your organisation’s value chain

Has your company already made a commitment to achieving net zero? Great! But how does this undertaking cascade down across multi-site, regional, and complex operations? And how do you ensure you’re involving the whole team with the transition?

Every business has a role to play in creating a more sustainable future. But what can you do when you’re struggling to get site or brand level engagement with corporate sustainability? And how can you meaningfully support and empower a supply chain of small businesses with your own limited resources? Across very large organisations it can prove particularly challenging.

What is a value chain?

To start, what do we mean when we talk about greening your organisation’s value chain? Put simply, we’re talking about all the business activities that it takes for your organisation to create a product, from start to finish. This includes design, production, distribution, marketing and sales and everything in-between.

In this article, we offer some ideas and solutions for ensuring a successful transition towards making your business activities more sustainable.

What are your areas of influence?

So, let’s look at what you might need to focus on. There are two aspects of your corporation’s areas of influence that need to be considered. The first is around greening your complex company-owned impacts. This needs to work alongside the second element: greening your supply chain.

  1. When we’re talking about making your value chain more sustainable, we mean how you support reducing the environmental impact of the many elements of your business. This includes everything from the initial sourcing of raw materials through to its promotion and delivery to market. To make the value chain more environmentally-friendly, you might look at using recycled materials, reducing waste, redesigning processes and instigating new systems. Even in a smaller business, let alone a larger one, this can be a huge undertaking.
  2. A further aim, beyond this, is to be able to influence your traditional supply chains to incorporate sustainable processes too. Every area of the supply chain has room for green improvements – from manufacturing to distribution, warehousing, and transportation. It’s a great way to hold suppliers to account and promote the importance of eco improvement.

The most eloquently drafted sustainability strategy can often lack teeth when it comes to getting people on the ground engaged and empowered. Why is this important? Because sustainability is everyone’s job, not just the role of a central environmental team. Everyone has a part to play, and everyone can contribute towards making it a success. Without widespread organisational support, the sustainability targets will be hard to achieve.

How can you make it easier and more rewarding for individual business units in your large organisation to get on board? You will need to have brand level uptake on practical sustainability measures that empower a place-based, team-centric approach to reducing carbon, in a way that makes sense for localised leadership. It can’t just remain a written strategy, it needs to work in real life too.

Our experience shows that you can make traction through a combination of a top-down, bottom-up approach. This article describes how you can enable all parts of the business to fully engage with your net zero agenda, from 1) multi-site operations 2) the suppliers within the value chain who offer the most potential for real environmental progress.

But, beyond that, every member of the organisation’s team needs to feel they have a say and can influence the direction being taken, particularly at individual sites. An important way to get people on board is to be able to measurably demonstrate the impact the agreed actions have. If you can prove their worth, then more members of the team will understand the importance of retaining and working towards those actions.

How can you get people on board?

The experiences we’ve had with numerous organisations across the UK show that many benefit from extra external assistance, particularly when it comes to motivating and mobilising colleagues across a large multi-site business. Here at iiE, we support you with solutions that make a real, credible, and lasting difference.

Changing businesses for the better is hard when we’re surrounded by fundamentally unsustainable systems. We see these challenges and work to develop practical solutions that make it easier for our Green Champions to keep up their good work.

Our top tips to ‘green’ your organisation’s value chain are:

  • Provide leadership

Clear direction from the highest levels will give people the encouragement and incentive to go all in, and this means both explicit commitment alongside providing resources to help teams get started. Where hesitation and doubt remain, inaction will prevail. Through strong and clear leadership, many of our corporate members are leveraging the independent power of iiE to enable brands or business units within the company to find practical ways to contribute to high-level targets.

  • Create a robust strategy

It’s critical to develop a credible Environmental Management System (EMS) for organisational sustainability to make sure the sustainability effort doesn’t sit as a small project in a small team forever. The EMS will establish a clear purpose and scope – including legal compliance, tracking resource use, carbon footprinting, sustainable procurement, travel planning, communication, and waste management. It will also set targets and objectives to track progress, including on quantifiable resource use.

  • Show people the way

People are busy, and there aren’t enough sustainability professionals in the world to challenge or change all areas of business so that they operate more sustainably. So people need a way to make progress now. It’s important to show them the way and make it as easy as possible for them. We’ve found this is where accreditation has been key to achieving traction.

  • Upskill your staff on sustainability

You should aim to empower people with solutions to support climate action, waste reduction, and to protect and enhance the natural environment. Key messages around sustainability should be introduced to staff through internal marketing and engagement campaigns. Get teams together for training purposes and to plan, report on challenges/successes and support meaningful action planning. Encourage in-house networking, knowledge sharing and ideas generation.

  • Give ownership

iiE’s approach in hard-to-reach or hard-to-engage parts of the organisation is to get deep into business units or sites and give them ownership of their targets. You can gain engagement through empowerment.

  • Demonstrate progress

Help team members to understand your organisational impact, take action, and demonstrate progress through an externally verified and credible scheme. Sustainability actions can be embedded into processes and measured through ongoing annual accreditation audits. iiE provides an audit trail that both encourages people to keep going by celebrating progress, whilst also providing the necessary transparency of claims through an audit trail.

  • Learn how to communicate, influence, and pay it forward

Your position of influence can be encouraged with a set target for achieving a green supply chain. This means working with suppliers who meet or are actively working towards achieving the criteria in your sustainable procurement policy.

  • Reward achievement

Recognise those within your organisation who successfully complete their audits and move ‘sustainability’ from being a project into an integrated function of the business.

How do you know when you’ve succeeded?

One example of how we’ve helped large, multi-site, or complex organisations green their value chain is our work with a number of market-leading veterinary corporate groups. They are empowering their local brands to get engaged through site-level support, decentralised target setting, and upskilling key staff to help lead the way.

This enterprise-level support and coordination includes supporting the primary sustainability lead with progress tracking, reporting, and programme adaptation to ensure associated brands and sites are accessing all of their support and making progress. We have also helped review sites, policies, actions to date and facilitated networking and ideas sharing within the group.

Success can be seen when large organisations look at transformative change in processes and systems.

  • Wear Referrals is a purpose-built multidisciplinary veterinary hospital located in the North East of England. To tackle plastic waste, the team decided to focus on the use of incontinence pads in the hospital, which were costing the practice approximately £16,000 per year. Since implementing measures in October 2021, the hospital has seen a 450% decrease in incontinence pad use.

Read the case study

  • Davies Veterinary Specialists is one of the largest and most diverse small animal specialists in Europe. The global and local issues arising from climate change compelled Davies to take their first steps towards sustainability. In their first year with iiE, Davies built on previous green initiatives by establishing a comprehensive environmental policy and action plan. In 2018, Davies became the first veterinary practice in the UK to achieve Silver accreditation, going on to achieve Green accreditation in 2019.

Find out how they did it

Once you’ve implemented an EMS, working within the framework will help you embed procedures into everyday activities and consequently reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve waste management, and address wider legislative requirements. You’ll know when you’ve succeeded when sustainability is a thread that runs throughout your whole value chain. The change is transformative.

Take a look at more of our case studies, which show how businesses are tackling single-issues like waste, or holistically looking at overall environmental improvement.

What’s next?

iiE can help you ‘green’ your organisation’s value chain through training and supported accreditation. Whether you’re looking for bespoke training, Green Champion eLearning, or assistance with in-house networking, knowledge sharing and ideas generation, you can get in touch with the team by calling 01733 866436 or by emailing