Publication - Advice and guidance

Better Business: How to go greener with staff to improve performance

Published: 12 Mar 2012

This practical guide offers help and

advice for businesses and other employers

who want to reduce their carbon footprint. In particular, it provides information on what the critical success factors are for involving staff to drive change and how staff engagement offers real benefits that are much broader than just carbon savings.

Better Business: How to go greener with staff to improve performance
How to make it work

How to make it work

Why do some initiatives succeed or others fail? Our work has found that influencing individual employees, looking at how people work together in groups and carefully planning the infrastructure of the working environment are all important to the success of low carbon initiatives. The key points discussed in more detail in this section are:

- Having a business-wide plan, which links low carbon management approaches to organisational strategy and introduces policies to shape change;

- Bringing people together through involving staff as individuals or through teams, providing feedback on environmental performance and using key influential staff members to drive change; and

- Providing time for staff to participate in low carbon projects, making the most of times of change which provide natural opportunities to develop new policies and adopt new technology.

Send out the right signals

Develop a business-wide plan

Putting a plan together for carbon reduction sends a clear signal of management intent and helps jump-start change. The rationale for the strategy should be clear and communicated to all staff. Ideally, the strategy should be co-designed with staff from across the workplace. A strategy doesn't have to be long and detailed - it's usually better short and focused.

Case example: InterfaceFLOR's 'Mission Zero'

InterfaceFLOR Europe has set out its commitment to carbon reductions in its 'Mission Zero' promise. The company aims to become "ecologically sustainable by 2020, and ultimately to become restorative in terms of impact on the planet's resources" through its 'War on Waste'. To achieve Mission Zero, it has set out clear goals for 2020 on Seven Fronts - including waste, renewable energy sources, transportation, and the redesign of processes and products.

Develop new policies to drive change

Policies are key drivers of change. New policies should be co-designed with staff wherever possible. This will give clout to initiatives where employees may initially be reluctant to do things differently, such as limiting work-related travel by car or - for longer trips - by plane.

Make it easy for staff to comply with policies by considering, for example, self-funding subsidies for public transport, and providing equipment to support the uptake of cycling (e.g. discounts, secure bike racks, showers).

Organisations like Halcrow, Scottish and Southern Energy and Aberdeenshire Council have introduced formal policies on car parking, home working, eco-driving and business travel.

Case example: Scottish and Southern Energy's (SSE) business travel policy

SSE has a well-developed business travel policy which is implemented by their internal Travel Desk. The company has introduced two 'no-fly months' - in August and December every year all but essential flights are prohibited. And it's trialled a 12-week 'no-fly period' which had an even greater impact, as staff were less likely to simply postpone flights. The Travel Desk also promotes use of the company's telepresence video-conferencing facilities as an alternative to travelling altogether, and estimates that this has saved over 800,000 travel miles in the past year, based on journeys between Edinburgh and London alone.

Make change visible

Making concrete changes to the work environment can send a clear signal that things are starting to change. The clearest signal is usually sent by new infrastructure. Even something simple like a secure, dedicated place to lock up bikes can make a difference. The more visible the change, the better.

Case example: EAE's 'Windy Boy'

The Edinburgh-based leaflet delivery and distribution company, EAE, has found that installing a wind turbine on the premises has, in addition to providing energy, served as a clear symbol of the company's commitment to sustainability, described as a 'tipping point' in the company's sustainability initiatives by one manager. It has also been a focus for engaging staff in thinking about the company's carbon emissions. Employees are made aware of the amount of electricity generated by 'Windy Boy' (as it has been named by staff) which has helped both to encourage a sense of ownership of the turbine and to generate enthusiasm for further green activity in the company. Managers reported that when the turbine was erected, 'the staff were genuinely proud. You could see it'.

Build a strong low-carbon or green image to help attract and retain customers and staff

Businesses like Wiles Greenworld say that building a powerful brand based on pro-environmental values helps them attract and retain customers. A strong brand also helps recruit high quality employees, who then go on to reinforce the low carbon culture.

"Clients are now very environmentally aware, and this is how they're judging potential contractors and sub-contractors"

"the amount of business we win through being green means that there is a commercial incentive to remain interested…staff need to know about environmental issues because customers will ask for recycled versions of products or green alternatives"
(Manager, Wiles Greenworld)

Show leadership and be consistent

To be genuinely successful, any low carbon initiative needs to be built on solid values. Organisations must genuinely want to tackle emissions and contribute to sustainability - and be able to demonstrate that consistently across the workforce. Otherwise, change could be seen as half-hearted and staff might remain unconvinced.

"The drive has to absolutely come from the top. The message to everybody from the top needs to be - this low carbon activity is happening."
(Chief Sustainability Officer, Wiles Greenworld)

Build a culture of staff engagement on green issues

Staff involvement is essential to success because employees are one of the best sources of new ideas for carbon reduction. Engaging staff helps to:

- Make initiatives more successful

- Encourage new suggestions and innovations in working practices

- Prove to employees that their suggestions are valued and acted upon.

Make staff involvement easy

Make it as easy as possible for staff to get involved. You can do this via online suggestion schemes, team meetings, employee surveys or suggestion cards. Get staff involved early in the process and consider making some initial 'changes' which are easy for staff to take on.

"I think we're really lucky that we've got different channels for submitting ideas, through the Chief Exec's blog, through the suggestion scheme, through just speaking to line managers"
(Employee, Scottish and Southern Energy)

Give regular feedback

Giving regular, detailed feedback on how the organisation is doing on cutting carbon helps staff recognise the difference they're making. It's worth the effort: organisations with a high involvement culture achieve better organisational performance. The more local the feedback on team, departmental or work group performance, the better.

Encouraging competition between teams or areas (e.g. which team can save the most carbon from travel over three months) can also be a great way to get people interested. Setting targets at team and workplace level can also be helpful.

Case example: Fuel-efficient driving at Coca Cola Enterprises (CCE)

At CCE's East Kilbride site HGV drivers have been trained in fuel-efficient driving

techniques. Monitoring fuel usage and feeding this information back to staff has been a useful way to encourage drivers to use these techniques daily. Doing so took advantage of existing competitive attitudes between the drivers and depots, and drivers are now keen to see who can achieve the best fuel economy.

Embed values through education

Staff can sometimes find it hard to connect their own day-to-day work with high-level carbon reduction targets, but good quality education and training can help with this.

Making learning fun can be a powerful way to engage employees. Use educational activities to introduce environmental values into work routines. Organisations like Commercial Group and Wiles Greenworld show environmental documentaries, and have quizzes and competitions to educate and involve staff.

Be clear about: What's in it for staff?

Employers in our research said it was important to find out about staff motivations to take part - the 'what's in it for me' question - and to communicate these benefits widely.

At Aberdeenshire Council, staff strongly identified with cutting costs to meet reduced budgets, so promoting financial savings from less business travel through flexible working was an effective motivator. Both staff and the organisation benefited.

"…if you take a three-hour commute out of a staff day, they will happily work longer for you when needed. It's a win-win situation as happier staff are more productive staff"
(Manager, Aberdeenshire Council)

Staff at Coca Cola and BT benefited from fuel efficient driving training, and valued the money they were saving from using these techniques outside work. A manager at Coca Cola reported that the bonus scheme offered to mobile sales staff based on fuel efficient driving could yield big rewards.

"some of them were getting enough money back to fill their tank, which got them almost free travel back and forward to work if they drove the fuel efficient way."
(Manager, Coca Cola)

Research shows that staff will accept policies that seem to be 'bad news' - for example, replacing flying with the train - providing they understand the rationale for the policy, that it supports the sustainability values of the organisation and that it's implemented fairly.

Identify key influencers

It's vital that senior staff are seen to 'walk the talk': senior managers need to make a commitment to taking action on carbon reduction.

"Leadership from the top is important. Senior staff have got to believe in it and be seen to be doing it."
(Manager, BT)

Other key players are also important. Identify staff members who can make significant change or have influence over particular staff groups: these could be middle managers, line managers, premises or HR staff.

Communicate effectively

Talking face to face is important - it gives employees opportunities to voice concerns, make suggestions, seek reassurance and get answers to questions. Supplement this with information customised to suit the activity, using a range of methods such as web-based material, posters, newsletters and emails. Communications can be simple but should look clear, professional and attractive.

Spread the message using individual champions or teams

Formal or informal champions or teams who have benefited from engaging in low carbon projects are powerful role models for change. Organisations like BT, Commercial Group and InterfaceFLOR use employee-led teams with a mix of staff from different grades and work areas to gather and implement ideas for cutting carbon emissions. Changing team members regularly helps to generate new ideas, and staff should have as much responsibility as possible for driving change forward.

Alternatively, individual employees who have taken part in projects but are not naturally 'green and keen' can be strong advocates for change amongst other disengaged employees.

Case example: Commercial Group's 'Green Angels':

The office supplies distributor Commercial Group has had success engaging staff through its 'Green Angels' initiative. The Green Angels team is made up of staff members who undertake a project of their own choice. Projects are backed by management and the board but entirely controlled by the employees. To avoid the initiative going stale, a new Green Angels team is selected every six months. Activities organised by the Green Angels have engaged staff in a fun and enjoyable way, e.g. raising awareness of recycling through a waste sorting race. A staff survey found that more than three quarters of Commercial employees feel themselves to be 'totally engaged' with the company's sustainability programme - and in large part this is thanks to the elements of fun and employee ownership that the Green Angels initiative brings.

"Sharing ways of cutting carbon emissions with clients and at networking events in your sector can spark inspiration and help solve problems."

Use ideas and expertise from internal and external networks

Sharing ways of cutting carbon emissions with clients and at networking events in your sector can spark inspiration and help solve problems.

Organisations like Scottish and Southern Energy and Halcrow wanted to help staff use carbon-friendly commuting methods and found that working with other local companies could help persuade public transport providers to provide more convenient schedules.

Specialist advisory organisations also offer support - see 'Sources of further advice and support' at the end of this guide.

Time and Trigger Points

Make the most of major 'moments of change'

It's often easiest to introduce new ways of working when workplaces are making other major changes. Halcrow and EAE used office moves to adopt more energy-efficient power supplies and improve recycling facilities. Scottish and Southern Energy reviewed its travel to work policies when the company car park became full.

Organisations facing financial pressures may be able to cut costs and carbon emissions at the same time. Times of financial turbulence can offer positive opportunities for rethinking and redesigning work space and working times - being flexible about the resources you have, and asking hard questions about whether you need them. Aberdeenshire Council is undertaking a radical rationalisation of its estate and offices through introducing a flexible home working policy, which has so far saved over 33,000 tonnes of CO2 and over £46,000 in business mileage.

Give employees time to get fully involved

Making some time available in working hours for individual champions to run low carbon projects helps sustain success and is a good way of developing staff leadership skills. Where you can, build low carbon activities into work schedules and consider the timing of project activities to enable staff in different roles to take part.

Organisations like Coca Cola, Hilton and Wiles Greenworld have successfully introduced low carbon activities that took up little additional time in daily work schedules. These include:

- recycling glass bottles rather than throwing them away,

- hotel staff turning off lights and appliances left on by guests,

- assessing which power sources can be turned off completely over weekends, and

- including a regular slot on low carbon projects within staff meetings.

"Sharing ways of cutting carbon emissions with clients and at networking events in your sector can spark inspiration and help solve problems."

Case example: Energy monitoring at Coca Cola Enterprises

Coca Cola Enterprises has (with support from the Carbon Trust) put in place monitoring systems which measure how much energy is being used, where, and by which machines in its bottling factory. The monitors now produce reports automatically and managers have been able to use this information to save thousands of pounds by identifying which machines could be shut down at weekends, and instances where shut-down routines have not been followed. By monitoring energy usage, managers have also discovered higher than expected energy use when agency staff are brought in during times of high production. This awareness has led the company to work closely with agency staff to deal with this problem.

Moving to the next stage

Using low carbon technologies helps establish positive work cultures

Cutting carbon emissions can be low-cost but for organisations that are prepared to invest some money, low carbon technology can lead to considerable savings on fuel and energy costs. Investing in lower emission vehicles, motion sensitive lighting or renewable energy generation sources are all ways of achieving this.

Technology is also important in supporting changes to travel behaviours, e.g. through video - or tele-conferencing instead of travelling to meetings.

Businesses told us that one of the cheapest and most useful technologies is an energy-use monitor which helps to spot high levels of consumption, track performance over time and provide feedback to staff on how their effort contributes to carbon reduction.


Email: Jonathan Waite