I went for a job interview recently. The particular company has operations in the US and UK and is the world’s largest retailer in its field. It sells relatively small but valuable items through several chains of retailers, and by mail order.

The job was advertised as ‘Environmental Administrator’. It should, it transpired, have read ‘Environmental/Insurance Administrator. This was, apparently, due to an HR error.

The ‘environmental’ part of the job – the lesser part as it turned out – was principally concerned with waste recycling notes, and the maintenance of databases on greenhouse gas emissions, energy usage, and fuel used by the 200 strong company vehicle fleet. As distribution is handled by a courier firm, I could not determine exactly what these vehicles are used for.

The interviewer was very frank with me. The board was only as interested in the environment as it had to be to avoid getting fined. To date, the company had done only the minimum it legally had to do and no more. It was, I was told, likely that a more progressive environmental policy would be developed, but I was left with the impression that this was mainly to avoid any adverse publicity.

I asked if the job might involve presentations to parts of the company on issues such as energy saving, for example. I was told I could try but the board would not be very receptive. Apparently there were members of board who would fight tooth and nail against any environmental initiatives not essential to prevent prosecution. The interviewer told me that he could get any idea past the board providing he could show it would turn a profit in twelve months.

The job description mentioned liaising with NGOs. The primary reason for this, it was explained, was to keep them off the company’s back and stop them imposing fines.

The company’s website says that they seek to uphold their environmental principles and have, in the last few years, developed and tested environmental performance indicators. The US part of company recently carried out an energy audit and has begun retro-fitting premises with energy efficient light fittings.

I commented that this seemed to be a lead that UK operations needed to follow. It seems, however, that the UK and US parts of company ‘don’t really talk to each other that much’ so this is unlikely. What I was told during this interview certainly belied the impression given by the company’s website when explaining how it addresses its environmental responsibilities.

This all left me very dubious about the value of working for a company with such an attitude. I thought about it overnight, then rang them the next morning and told them to take me off the candidate list. This was the trigger for coming along to my first Birmingham Friends of the Earth meeting.