Thinking green

BAT Caribbean and Central America is operating in one of the most sensitive and spectacular locations. Federico Jenkins talks to Gay Sutton about protecting this natural environment and working to relieve poverty in the local communities.


Corporate sustainability in today’s exacting financial environment is seen not only as the measure of an ethical company, but also of good risk management practices and therefore reliable business performance. One of the global role models, British American Tobacco (BAT), listed on the Dow Jones Sustainability Global Index for the past nine years, has incorporated sustainability and corporate social responsibility as a foundation stone of its corporate strategy.

BAT’s Caribbean and Central America division BATCCA, which was brought together in 2003 as part of a gradual global restructuring process, has chosen to go over and above the requirements of corporate strategy. “We launched the Thinking Green Initiative about four years ago,” explained director of legal and corporate affairs, Federico Jenkins, “and this looks at many aspects of our environmental impact, the most important being carbon emission and water use.”

Scientifically and rigorously managed, the initiative focuses on taking more detailed measurements of environmental impact, working to reduce that impact, and finally mitigating what it cannot reduce. “Not surprisingly, we found transport responsible for a large proportion of our emissions. We measure how many miles our executives fly, whether that’s by business or economy class as they have different impacts, and work to reduce that. We do the same with our car and transport fleet, measuring the number of kilometers the vehicles drive, and working to reduce that by optimizing the route,” he said. “Procurement also plays a central role in carbon reduction. When we buy new vehicles, their environmental impact is a major part of the economic analysis and decision making.”

The second major cause of carbon emissions is to be found in the company’s two factories, one in Honduras which supplies to all of Central America, and another in Trinidad and Tobago which supplies into the Caribbean. Following rigorous monitoring, the oil boilers at both plants have been upgraded, and a number of other interesting initiatives have been undertaken. “We have, for example, installed solar heated water in the Honduras factory.”

Water sustainability is the second major area of focus, and water meters have been installed at all offices and facilities to monitor usage. Water treatment plants have been installed at the head office and the Honduras factory, recycling 100 percent of the water for local irrigation. 

The area headquarters in Costa Rica was designed and built around sustainability some five years ago and includes features that maximize natural ventilation and reduce the heating effect of direct sunlight. “But you can always find opportunities for improvement,” Jenkins said. “Last year, for example, we invested in a small air conditioning system for the computer room. This operates through the weekend and allows us to shut down the chillers to the offices.”

This search for new opportunities is the hallmark of the Thinking Green initiative. “Last year we launched the Thinking Green Award, across the entire organization,” Jenkins said. “We said: no matter how simple or complex the idea, we will examine it and commit to implement the viable measures. We received 33 submissions, many of them comprehensive, and some of them very simple. One of the two winners was an idea to save water simply by filling an empty plastic bottle with water and placing it in the toilet cistern. By doing so, we reckon we can reduce water use by 40 percent. We implemented it in February this year, and we’re now measuring the impact on the water meters at all our facilities and offices.”

Other suggestions included introducing a water-free car washing system which with close to 1000 cars in the company that are washed weekly could save significant amounts of water, and replacing standard light bulbs with new LED technology. “We’re piloting the LED lights at the Honduras factory, and we’re evaluating the car wash system.” In the meantime, the company will shortly be launching its second year awards scheme to look for new good ideas.

Reducing carbon emissions is an ongoing battle, and the final element of Thinking Green is to mitigate emissions it cannot remove by working in partnership with local and international NGOs on forestry projects. Ultimately BATCCA would like to run the scheme in every country in which it operates, but the project has been introduced into its 10 key markets so far.

“We have chosen to mitigate through forestry because it not only impacts the environment, which is our number one goal, but it also has a benefit to the community. In Nicaragua, for example, we have partnered with Fauna and Flora International on the Ometepe Island project.” The project includes tree planting for mitigation purposes but is much wider than that. With two scalable active volcanoes, archaeological sites, natural reserves and forests teeming with tropical biodiversity it is a prime opportunity for ecotourism. The project includes construction of the Pena Inculta, or ecotourism trail which will bring many benefits to the local community. “And at the end of the project we will train the local people to be tourist guides.”

“This is all part of another program we’re particularly proud of,” Jenkins said. Called ‘Volunteer For’ this initiative has been going since 2002 and providesBATCCA’s employees with the opportunity to play a more personal role in this and many other social projects.

A local BAT CSI committee has been set up in every country in which the company operates, to analyze the local needs and priorities and decide which initiatives to back. “We believe that every country has unique priorities, threats and risks, so we do not try to do the same thing everywhere. Once the projects are identified locally we run an internal campaign, either across the country or an area within it, asking for volunteers to offer their time.” Under the terms of the scheme, 50 percent of the work is done in company time and 50 percent in the employee’s own time. “We’ve had many discussions about whether the company should give 100 percent of the time, but we believe that would violate the volunteering ethos so 50-50 is a good balance.”

Another of the highly effective schemes the company has been taking part in over the last six years is ‘A Roof for My Country’. Aimed at the poorest in the community, the scheme provides basic wooden-built homes for people living in extreme poverty. “We pay for the solutions, and our employees together with the people from the local community and the NGO, go in and build the homes,” Jenkins explained. The benefit on the human scale is enormous, but it’s also shared by those taking part. “Our volunteers spend one or two days with a family that has nothing. They see the reality that faces them every day having no roof over their heads or basic health service. What they do positively impacts lives and provides a real opportunity.”

Last year, of course, one of the worst disasters in generations happened on BAT’s doorstep when an earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince in Haiti. Donations flooded in from employees around the globe and the company matched their contributions to fund the construction of shelters for those made homeless. Interestingly, although BAT does not have a presence in Haiti, a number of staff from the neighboring Dominican Republic quickly volunteered to help with the construction work, and were soon to be found working alongside some the world’s largest NGOs.

Volunteering has become a way of life for staff at BATCCA and the statistics support this. Of a staff of around 1000, some 550 have volunteered over eight hours of their own time to social projects in their locality. Much has been achieved both socially and environmentally but, as Jenkins said, there is always something more that can be done.