Rebecca Chedd, one of our expert environmental business advisors, summarises how businesses can effectively engage their staff to instil a resource efficient culture in the workforce.
When we think about ways to improve the environmental performance of a business, it can be easy to jump into the trap of thinking it requires lots of capital investment in green technologies like solar panels or electric vehicles.
Actually, some of the most effective ways to drive down your consumption of energy and resources are achievable simply through instilling an environmental culture and harnessing the motivations of staff.
Below are some of the key takeaway points from our webinar workshop, Creating an Environmentally Aware Workforce.
The business case for culture change
So why put effort into creating an environmentally aware workforce? Here are a few of the benefits:
- Staff will feel more involved in the business
- You can achieve some quick and easy cost savings with little to no investment
- It can help you to demonstrate green credentials to customers and stakeholders
- There can be knock-on benefits to other areas of your business such as your quality policy or social value commitments
- It can provide your employees with tips for saving energy and resources they can use at home.
As long as there is continuous reinforcement to embed real long-term culture change, the potential cost savings can be surprising. Typically, businesses can achieve between 5-20 per cent savings on their bottom line through relatively straightforward actions.
For many businesses, it can be as simple as reminders to switch equipment off, introducing a first in/last out procedure, using recycling bins correctly or encouraging video conferencing rather than business travel.
For manufacturers, additional measures such as training staff to maximise the utilisation of plant or implement good production scheduling can deliver sizeable savings. Combining these ‘people-focused’ solutions with low cost technologies like sensors and controls will maximise the benefits. You can find some good starter ideas for energy efficiency here.
Consult with the team
In any engagement exercise, listening to and consulting with your staff is far more effective than giving orders. Employees should be given ample opportunities for input, for example through formal consultations or surveys, suggestion boxes, team meetings or an ‘open door’ policy with senior management.
A great example I like to point to is one of my clients in Bolton, Clean Air Ltd. The company has done a fantastic job of engaging staff in its mission to become carbon neutral through setting up an in-house ‘environmental committee’. The committee is made up of representatives from all levels of the business and meets every three months to monitor progress and discuss new ideas. It’s been a huge success.
Get management buy-in
It’s crucial to get top-level buy-in when running any employee engagement initiative – without it you’re just fighting a losing battle. After all, if management doesn’t care, why should staff?
When selling an idea to management, use their language. Explain how action can reduce costs, improve operational efficiency, manage risk, ensure regulatory compliance or give the business a marketing edge.
Focus on motivation
A strategy that just focuses on awareness is doomed to failure. An environmentally aware workforce is one thing, but to really change behaviour you need to identify what motivates people.
You can sometimes determine this from job roles and interests. For example, an employee involved in the financial side of the business may be motivated by the idea of reducing costs, but most others aren’t likely to care too much – they’re not the ones paying the bills!
Staff working in sales may be motivated more by the idea of keeping up with competitors and using green credentials to stand out from the crowd. Others might be motivated by the idea of being at the forefront of innovation through using new technologies and gadgets. And some will of course be naturally motivated by the desire to protect the natural environment and keep the planet healthy for future generations – they will be proud to work for an employer that upholds their principles.
One effective way to categorise people is to separate them into ‘settlers’, ‘prospectors’ and ‘pioneers’:
- Settlers are motivated by safety, security and the need to belong. These are the people who want to follow the crowd. They will be encouraged to join in with something if they see key influencers and leaders taking part.
- Prospectors are motivated by success, self-esteem and the esteem of others. These people are more likely to be respond to competitions, KPIs, prizes and financial incentives.
- Pioneers are motivated by ethics, ideas, and innovation. These people want to be involved and have input in campaigns in order to feel engaged.
It’s important to understand everyone’s motivations early on in the consultation process.
Dealing with resistance
Every workforce will inevitably include some resistant members of staff. Resistance can come in a variety of forms, the common ones being:
- I’m too busy to do this right now
- It’s inconvenient/will make my job more difficult
- It’s not my responsibility
Most often it comes down to breaking everyday habits. The trick is to find the root cause of resistance, identify what motivates the individual, listen to their concerns, and tailor your strategy appropriately.
Clear, consistent and frequent communication is vital, whether that’s through team meetings, newsletters or online platforms, on the bottom of emails or payslips, on notice boards, or via posters and stickers.
Prioritise key intervention points where communication is most impactful, for example in new starts or job changes, appraisals or a change in processes. And make sure your communications don’t just become ‘part of the wallpaper’ by regularly reviewing feedback and progress, and changing tack if engagement starts to slump. Sometimes the evidence is visible – if lights are beginning to be left on again, it’s time to shake things up!
Make sure the actions you communicate have clear, SMART objectives to keep people engaged and working towards shared goals. As Will Perrott, the managing director of Clean Air Ltd, puts it: “Using a KPIs is a great way to get your whole team on board. Put a target out there and they will want to beat it.”
How we can help
Our Resource Efficiency Service can help you to identify opportunities to improve efficiency, quantify your savings and work with you to deliver an environmental action plan to achieve them, including staff engagement where appropriate.
We can also help you to write a strong environmental policy that will set the foundations of your strategy, as well as access funding for eligible technologies through our Energy Efficiency Grant scheme.
Rebecca Chedd, Environmental Business Advisor
Rebecca has eight years' experience of working in the environmental sector and has been supporting SMEs as part of the Hub's Resource Efficiency team since 2015. Rebecca has previously delivered carbon reduction workshops for organisations including Transport for Greater Manchester and Great Places Housing Group. Rebecca holds an MSc in Energy and the Environment and is an Associate Member of IEMA.