An office supply company seems like an unlikely candidate to be organising a day dedicated to the practical measures businesses can take to mitigate global warming. Anna Blackaby looks at how Commercial Group – which has halved its carbon footprint in two years – is aiming to spread the word.

When Simone Mann, co-founder and director of the Cheltenham-based office services and procurement firm Commercial Group, went to hear Al Gore speak at the Tate in London in 2006, it sent her and the company she ran heading in a new direction.

“We decided as a business that it was a real responsibility to take climate change very seriously as a part of our business strategy and we also realised that there was a lot of opportunity in doing that,” she said.

“We have set about going carbon neutral and putting together a plan to reduce our carbon footprint.”

Three years on, the company is today holding its third CSR day at Cheltenham Racecourse which aims to bring businesses and experts together to discuss practical ways they can reduce their carbon footprint.

Past events have seen highly-acclaimed green experts speak at the conference, such as chair of the Sustainable Development Commission Jonathon Porritt. This year’s headline speaker is leading climatologist Professor Mark Maslin of the UCL Environment Institute.

Ms Mann explained how the decision to focus on reducing Commercial Group’s environmental impact – which has seen the company lower its carbon footprint from 1,078 cubic tonnes to between 450-480 cubic tonnes in 25 months – is also paying off in commercial terms.

“We have won over £3?million in new business this year in a very tough climate and I think quite a large part of it has do with our environmental policies,” she said. “It has set us apart and differentiates us from our competitors and I also think it has brought us together as a company.

“If you look at brands like Marks and Spencer and HSBC, their advertising is talking about it – look at Marks and Spencer’s Plan A.”

But Ms Mann was quick to point out that the CSR day is not about “greenwash,” and emphasised it is about businesses looking honestly at what they are doing and taking practical environmental measures – some of which may be cost-saving.

“The CSR day is about getting people motivated about the things we can do and sharing success stories,” she said.

“We have a business to run. We supply office products and networks and furniture – that’s what we do. It’s a really competitive marketplace so this helps us stand out. But it’s not about greenwash, or ‘eco-bling’ as Jonathon Porritt described it last year – sprinkling little bits of glitter round the business and shouting about it.”

She explained how Commercial Group went about achieving the reduction in its carbon footprint.

“Each business is different but for us 84 per cent of our emissions were from the fleet,” she said. “We decided to go for sustainably sourced by-product biofuels.

“We also looked at dynamically rerouting our vehicles with software which tracks where all your vehicles are going and reroutes them in a more efficient way. We managed to take two vehicles off the road by doing that which is quite a significant cost saving in this climate.

“We changed our electricity provider so it all comes from renewables and we cut our waste by 88 per cent.”