Sheffield conference hears saving planet is top priority for business

Top bosses from national and international companies attended a Sheffield conference designed to fire sustainability back to the top of the business agenda.

From left: Tony Walker of Toyota, Peter Emery of Drax, Stephen Howard of Business In The Community and Dax Lovegrove of Kingfisher.

Senior leaders from Toyota, Kingfisher - owners of B&Q - Veolia, Yorkshire Water and Drax Power spoke about how they were helping to save the planet, at an event organised by Prince Charles charity Business in the Community.

Charity chief Stephen Howard said the prince had long been passionate about green issues, but the recession had reduced its importance to business.

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He added: “Prince Charles is very passionate about sustainability and organisations are increasingly realising if they don’t take action their business is at risk.

“That’s challenging for leaders who have to persuade their board, their customers and investors. Those are not easy conversations to have.”

Over 120 people attended the event at the Edge Conference Centre.

Peter Emery, group operations director of Drax Power - the UK’s biggest power station - said they had spent £700m shifting from coal to burning biomass wood pellets, cutting carbon emissions by 50 per cent - the equivalent of 3m cars.

Tony Walker, deputy managing director of Toyota Motor Manufacturing UK, said more than 25 per cent of their vehicles sold in the UK were hybrid and it had sold 7m worldwide. The firm was focusing on electric cars for commuting, plug-in hybrids for middle-size cars and hydrogen hybrids for larger cars and commercial vehicles. It is launching the Mirai, a flagship hydrogen hybrid saloon in August.

He added: “We believe hydrogen fuel cells could be the future.”

Dax Lovegrove, director of sustainability and innovation at Kingfisher - owners of B&Q and Screwfix - said they had 1,000 stores in Europe and they were already seeing prices rise due to competition for resources. The firm was aiming to be a “zeronaut” - producing zero waste - by 2020, he added.

Richard Flint, Yorkshire Water chief executive, said customers wanted them to take action and they would issue new guidelines on water use later this year.

Estelle Brachlianoff, senior executive vice-president UK & Ireland for Veolia - the firm that empties bins in Sheffield for the city council - said they had a dozen sustainability targets covering their 30 companies worldwide.

She added: “We have to make things simple for customers - too many bins are too complicated and people don’t have the space for them - but at the end of the day we do what the council asks us to do.”

The event was hosted by the University of Sheffield Management School.

Business in the Community is Prince Charles’ Responsible Business Network. Members agree to work together to build a ‘fairer society and a more sustainable future’.