Interserve bridges the gap between sustainability and finance

Ask sustainability executives, on condition of anonymity, what the biggest obstacle to green progress is in their business and you almost invariably get the same answer: the finance director. It is a trend that risks putting Interserve Group's Tim Haywood in a somewhat difficult position, given he is both group finance director and head of sustainability at the construction and property services firm.

However, for Haywood, who last week officially launched an ambitious new strategy that promises to halve greenhouse gas emissions across the 50,000-strong global company, the perceived conflict between the two disciplines is entirely avoidable -- in fact, it has left him more than a little frustrated.

"I must admit I am a bit fed up with the way the finance director is seen as the person who knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing, just as I am fed up with the perception the sustainability executive is the reverse, knowing the value of everything and the cost of nothing," he says, reflecting on 18 months serving as both finance and sustainability director. "That is nonsense -- sustainability has a very strong business case."

The challenge, as Haywood acknowledges, is making that business case explicit, and it is this necessity that has informed the innovative management framework that underpins the company's new sustainability strategy. "The first thing I wanted to do was bring some financial director measurement to the sustainability sphere, so we have developed this concept of looking at four 'capitals,'" he explains. "Financial capital, natural capital, social capital and knowledge capital."

Measuring the performance of the first "capital" is easy since tracking the financial metrics of a project or department is something every business does, but the three new "capitals" present more of a challenge. Interserve is working with the Robertsbridge Group's Tony Juniper, who also authored the recent book, "What Has Nature Ever Done for Us," to develop a means of accounting for the environmental impacts the company has. It is an approach that Haywood admits is likely to draw on the pioneering work undertaken by sportswear company Puma, which last year published the world's first Environmental Profit and Loss sheet that committed to putting a financial value on the company's impact on the natural world. However, the plan to develop two new metrics for the company's social capital and knowledge capital will require an entirely new approach for measuring the largely intangible value of the company's interaction with the communities it is part of and the training and talent development it offers staff and stakeholders.

Next page: Measuring the four capitals