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Publication - Research and analysis

The Impact of Workplace Initiatives on Low Carbon Behaviours - Case Study Report

Published: 23 Mar 2012

This case study report is one output from a research project, commissioned jointly by the Scottish Government, Defra and the 2020 Climate Group, which investigates ‘what works’ in delivering low-carbon behavioural initiatives in the workplace. The report highlights the actions taken by 10 innovative employers.

116 page PDF

1.1 MB

116 page PDF

1.1 MB

The Impact of Workplace Initiatives on Low Carbon Behaviours - Case Study Report

116 page PDF

1.1 MB


This case study examines how the appointment of a dedicated champion in a senior management role has helped create a holistic approach to carbon reduction within the workplace. Universal values around low carbon working have been embedded in the organisation through the use of entertaining educational tools and attractive and engaging communication materials. These have proved effective at building engagement at all levels in the organisation; from warehouse staff to director level.


10.1 Wiles Greenworld is an office supplies distributor, based in West London. The company is the result of a merger that occurred in September 2006 between Wiles (established in 1935) and Greenworld (established in 1989). The company employs about 50 staff and its customer base is located in central London. Keeping the customer base close to the business location is part of the company's green strategy by reducing the carbon footprint of delivery. Customers outside London account for only about 10 per cent of the business and are serviced through overnight carriers. Wiles Greenworld also offers an environmental consultancy service which helps customers establish an environmental office and reduce waste, through the implementation of environmental management systems. In 2009, the company also set up its own Charitable Trust fund to support greenhouse gas reducing schemes locally.

10.2 Given the nature of its business, the primary focus of Wiles Greenworld is on recycling its own waste, and it also provides this service to 40 per cent of its customers, but it has a strong philosophy of environmental education underpinning its low carbon activities with staff, which extend beyond the impact of its own products and services. The company's environmental expertise is evidenced by the large number of green awards they have won over a number of years, including their inclusion in the Sunday Times Best Green Companies List 2011(2nd place) and the Mayor of London's Green 500.

10.3 The Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) believes there are three main drivers for an organisation to 'go green':

  • Reputational: There is a moral imperative to engage in low carbon activity and this moral imperative can be translated into reputational benefits for a company, with this recognised through winning and retaining business and staff retention.
  • Financial: It is necessary to find a commercial justification to support the moral imperative and these are often the clear financial benefits that can be achieved in terms of reduction in waste and therefore reduced landfill tax, and in winning new business based on reputation, alongside reduced training costs as a result of low staff turnover.
  • Legislative: The third driver is legislative as it is necessary to respond to the increasing volume of environmental legislation in order to protect the reputation of the company and avoid any fines for non-compliance.

Low carbon initiatives

10.4 The approach to reducing carbon consumption at Wiles Greenworld is holistic. Key elements of Wiles Greenworld's strategy are to minimise waste through evaluation of its operations; minimise toxic emissions through the selection and operation of their fleet, reduce energy usage and improve the disposal of waste; and promote recycling, internally and among its customers.

10.5 Within the company, low carbon behaviour is promoted by the Board of Directors, all of whom are committed to sustainable operations. The CSO, who is one of three company directors, is solely responsible for the sustainable development of Wiles Greenworld and it is his leadership which is key to the adoption of low carbon behaviours among staff.

10.6 Staff education is considered by managers to be a critical element of changing staff behaviour within Wiles Greenworld through raising awareness and raising the profile of sustainability initiatives sufficiently high so that staff adopt low carbon behaviour. The types of initiatives the company has implemented internally which engage staff include:

  • an induction and training programme for all staff on how their actions can help reduce carbon consumption, led by the CSO
  • monthly meetings to provide training for all staff on a breadth of environmental issues
  • converting 70 per cent of its delivery fleet to alternative fuels and promoting fuel efficient driving, for which drivers receive a bonus. The bonus is typically worth £50 and is awarded about twice a year
  • providing recycling facilities and removing personal waste bins from the office
  • working from home - the entire sales team work from home and come into the office once a month for a meeting. Home working is also open to other staff if it is suitable for their role
  • sustainable break out facilities (i.e. no plastic for drinking cups, Fairtrade products).

Process of implementation

10.7 The 'individual' classification of influences on behaviour is demonstrated through the focus on staff education. Education is seen by management as the key to success in encouraging low carbon behaviour at Wiles Greenworld with the education beginning from a staff member's first day at work. Every new member of staff has a half day induction with the CSO, during which they will watch films such as 'An Inconvenient Truth', 'The End of the Line' or 'Crude'. The CSO explains this approach in that 'it gives an understanding of the bigger picture and why our culture is as it is. This is what we are about as a company and this is what's expected of you as an individual within the organisation to contribute to that.'

10.8 Not all staff recruited by Wiles Greenworld hold positive values and beliefs about the importance of sustainable business upon recruitment, but the interviews with staff showed the organisation seems to be successful in its educational approach to staff engagement. One member of staff reported:

'Prior to joining the company I had very little knowledge of environmental issues. I originally thought I won't fit into this company as I'm not 'green'. Obviously I knew about recycling but in terms of going deeper than that it was very limited knowledge. When I joined the company a lot of time was spent training me, going through the reasons why it is important to recycle and why you need to use less, where possible…. once you understand that it automatically makes you do things differently for example, every time we print paper, I will recycle it to make a notebook, and that's just one of the things that I would never have considered doing before, but since being in a green company, and having this much exposure to environmental issues it has meant that I do things completely differently than I would in a normal office.'

10.9 The sustainability message is also reinforced at every departmental monthly meeting in which there will be a 'green slot' in which films are shown with a message about environmental sustainability. Whilst these films are unconnected to the core business of Wiles Greenworld, the manager believes that they are fundamental to an understanding of the organisation. These meetings will also include quizzes for staff members on environmental issues. Discussion of topical issues are also encouraged in departmental meetings and the CSO stated:

'We discuss topical issues that may be out there at the moment and try to actually relate them to the bigger picture; how they affect us as a company; and what's happening in the world; what the UK is doing about it; and what we're doing about it within that. Education is absolutely key and spreading that message as widely as I can allows people to actually take the message home rather than just keeping it in the office.'

10.10 According to management, some simple methods have helped encourage staff to engage in low carbon behaviours at Wiles Greenworld, based on what the CSO described as a concept of 'nudge economics'. For example, recycling bins without lids are provided for staff but the general waste bin provided alongside has a lid, which encourages people to recycle because more effort is required to place rubbish in the general bin. Also in the kitchen area, staff were encouraged to drink Fairtrade coffee. In order to encourage staff to try it, the CSO put a jar of Fairtrade coffee in the kitchen, removed the lid and put a spoon in the jar. He put a lid on the jar of non- coffee and placed a packet of spoons on top of the tin to make it harder to access. Staff have now started to use the Fairtrade coffee after being nudged in this direction. 'If you make it easy for people to do the right thing, then that's what they should default to'. Staff themselves recognised this change in habit but only once the actions had been drawn to their attention. They recognised that their habits had been broken because it was less effort to use the Fairtrade blend; it gave them a feeling of 'doing the right thing' and it still 'tasted good'.

10.11 Whilst both managers and employees believe the social context of Wiles Greenworld is effective at engaging staff in green behaviour, with the CSO acting as the green champion and spending a considerable amount of time with staff advancing their knowledge about the green agenda, it is the material context which drives behaviour in the office through the procedures that are in place. For example, the company has policies on recycling and procedures around fuel efficient driving which rely on compliance with company rules to change drivers' behaviour and recycling behaviours among the wider workforce.

10.12 The sales team have taken the fullest advantage of home working; with the whole team working from home and meeting in the office once a month. There is also broader capacity to work from home due to Wiles Greenworld's investment in 'cloud computing'. This is a new way of remote server storage which allows organisations to access their data through an internet connection without the physical servers being located in the office. Cloud computing itself also reduces energy consumption through consolidating servers more efficiently at a third party base. Home working at Wiles Greenworld outside of the sales team is currently performed on an ad hoc basis by the Distribution Manager and the Directors and staff in Finance, but as long as staff can provide adequate cover in the office, they are all permitted to work from home.

10.13 Wiles Greenworld also runs an internship programme which has proved to be a source of new ideas for the low carbon agenda in the office. The interns are typically already engaged with sustainability issues and are attracted to Wiles Greenworld due to its low environmental impact business approach and recognition through awards. These interns were described as 'fantastic to bring more of a campaigning spirit into the office environment'. They work with existing staff on environmental initiatives and sourcing alternative green products. There is a requirement on all staff to find alternative green products and validate its sources for items listed in their catalogue during less busy times. Some 40 per cent of the products Wiles Greenworld sell have an environmental benefit and interns help to identify further products. Interns with expertise in IT were also used to investigate the opportunities in cloud computing.

Building staff awareness

10.14 Management believe a key to sustaining momentum and staff commitment appears to be through simply repeating the messages, albeit with variation and interest through focussing on different topics in each communication. The company uses 'G-mails' or 'Green mails' (see figure five) which are sent to staff raising awareness of a current environmental issue. It also distributes 'green' newsletters and in departmental meetings staff can expect environmental quizzes based on the content of these newsletters. Staff we interviewed talked positively about these emails and reported that they found them enjoyable to read:

'They're eye-catching. It looks very different and you want to see something different. I mean, you get normal emails every day, but when you get a newsletter that's bold and colourful you want to read it. If you don't want to read it there and then, just print it off and take it home with you. Sometimes I do that, I just stick it on a USB stick and take it home with me.' - Warehouse operative

10.15 As customers also frequently ask about environmentally friendly products and recycled versions of products, staff need to be sufficiently familiar with principles of sustainable materials and production in order to answer their questions. This therefore provides an additional incentive for staff to read the communications.

10.16 Wiles Greenworld has won a number of awards for its activities which are displayed prominently in the office to remind staff and there are posters all over the office highlighting the company's low carbon performance. The firm is now being more selective about the awards it enters in order to avoid 'award fatigue'. It is aware that staff and customers start to lose sight of their value when they are given yet another 'gong' for their low carbon behaviour.

Staff responses

10.17 Staff expressed overwhelming support for the green ethos of Wiles Greenworld. Their recent high scores for staff engagement in The Sunday Times 'Green List' Awards illustrated that staff are engaged in low carbon behaviour but interviews we conducted also revealed evidence of staff commitment. One staff interviewee, who prior to joining the company was not environmentally aware, told us they now participate in debates in the office about the environment and sustainability.

'This morning we were talking about sustainability and giving staff the option of offsetting the carbon when they go on holidays. It was really interesting, thinking about not just the impact, but also the solutions. It really sparks debate. That's the sort of thing I never used to do before. You could tell me to recycle before and I wouldn't question it. It was something that I just did, or I didn't do. But now it's more about I need to do this, because of this reason.' - Product manager

10.18 Other staff have made suggestions including the use of hand dryers instead of paper towels in the staff toilets and kitchen; a more efficient water heating system for boiling water for hot drinks and more extensive use of motion sensor lighting. One member of staff contributed an idea to increase the levels of natural lighting within the offices to improve the working environment and reduce energy consumption through putting windows through into the adjoining warehouse which is lit by skylights. This has been implemented by the organisation.

10.19 The award recognition the company has been received has been welcomed by staff, particularly the Sunday Times Green Award. Staff told us that the publicity of this award means that their friends and family are now aware of their organisation and they feel a sense of pride about working for a green company and that their efforts have been recognised:

'It's good, because it shows you're actually doing something, you're actually making a difference. And it's not just because you've got a director saying that it's a good thing to do, because that's what he personally believes. You can actually see the bigger picture, it is a really good thing that we're doing here and it's being recognised.'

Key challenges

10.20 Due to the holistic approach taken at Wiles Greenworld and the strong leadership demonstrated, managers have some concern that staff believe that the company is already doing everything it can possibly do to reduce its environmental impact. They suspect that some staff may no longer engage in the continuous improvement approach by asking 'what could be done better?' Staff may identify further improvements to make products and processes more environmentally sustainable, but assume that change is not possible, because if it could be done, then it would already have been implemented. Managers want to give their staff the opportunity to think about new ways of working in the office, rather than implementing change 'top down', but the accepted idea among staff that 'that's simply how things are done' is a barrier to implementing new change. The education of staff is seen as a way to overcome this through increasing the awareness of staff and encouraging them to look at ways of working differently.

'Challenges include actually getting staff generating ideas rather than it all coming from the top. So, absolutely, that's a challenge and a frustration.'

10.21 Wiles Greenworld does not use environmental champions but management would like to see staff more involved in roles such as this. Currently the CSO faces the challenge of staff expecting him to have made all possible changes to support the company's sustainability agenda, which risks making the potential role of an environmental champion redundant. He regards this type of role as crucial in larger organisations where one manager cannot oversee the activity of all departments stating that 'the more people you can actually buy into beating the drum the better'.

10.22 Some of the difficulties in persuading staff to take ownership and make suggestions for change may be partly rooted in the organisation's history prior to merger. When Wiles merged with Greenworld in 2006, the companies encountered cultural differences. Greenworld staff were expected to be innovative in a relatively informal culture, whereas the culture of Wiles was far more structured and formalised. Managers perceive that there is difference in the willingness of staff to contribute new suggestions depending on which organisation they used to work for.

Evidence of impact

10.23 The individual context, in particular the development of genuine attitudes and beliefs about the green agenda, is having a significant impact at Wiles Greenworld. Our interviews with staff supported the suggestion that the staff inductions and regular meetings on environmental issues are impacting staff behaviour, particularly as they are taking their low carbon behaviours home; recycling more items; turning down the heating; and switching off unused lights; conducting minimal car journeys; and using public transport. This behaviour was similar even across the different types of employees; drivers; warehouse and office staff.

'I've changed my family's views on it as... I've noticed that they've made a lot of changes with their waste as well. So it's like a domino effect I've created, but I've enjoyed doing it' - Warehouse operative with one year tenure at Wiles Greenworld

'Consciously I will walk to the shop instead of driving to the shop. We've got a local shopping centre, I would walk there instead of driving now, because it is greener.' - Sales Manager

'I've always recycled...but because of the awareness - because you're doing it in the company, you do it at home as well.' - Finance Manager

10.24 Staff reports suggest that they have engrained low carbon behaviours as habitual and automatic responses that fit into daily schedules. This includes turning off monitors when they go to lunch or leave for the day, reporting that this activity is 'second nature'. We were told:

'It's become a total mentality change, I think, which you could only achieve if you're working in a green company, and you have a lot of exposure to someone who's got the knowledge and the expertise to tell you about why we do things.'

10.25 One member of staff has changed his personal vehicle to a lower emission vehicle. He received a contribution towards the cost through the Wiles Greenworld Charitable Trust, as the company includes commuting mileage within its carbon offset.

Another reported behavioural change in how they disposed of waste:

'I've only been here a year and they've changed the way I look at things. I mean, I've got all the bins at home all lined up. Normally, I would have just thrown everything in one bin and out it goes. Now I've got one for cans, I've got one for bottles, one's for leaves, one for food waste....'

10.26 The company has achieved ISO 14001; which is the international standard for environmental management and specifies a process to control and improve environmental performance. Wiles Greenworld also measures its carbon footprint quarterly. It has driven its carbon footprint down by 32 per cent since 2008 and now delivers 52 per cent more goods per tonne of carbon than it did three years ago. It is, however, not possible to determine how much of this reduction is attributable to individual behaviour change and whilst management at Wiles Greenworld do attribute some of this carbon reduction to staff; they recognise that they cannot deny that it is the material influences that have made the biggest impact to carbon consumption, in particular the impact of technological innovation.

10.27 Managers also report that efforts invested in staff education at the company affects the behaviour of individual employees at home but also leads to some staff acting as ambassadors with their wider families and friends. Although the company has only 50 staff, it emphasises that its influence can extend much more widely than these 50 individuals. This was described as the 'pebble in the pond effect'.

Critical success factors

10.28 Critical success factors identified from analysis of the case study findings are:


10.29 Whilst the focus at Wiles Greenworld is on staff education, the message that is communicated from the top of the organisation is considered to be the most crucial factor in engaging staff with low carbon activity. Evidence from Wiles Greenworld's green consultancy illustrates the importance of this top level support:

'With the consultancy we do for our customers, there are so many organisations where we go in and there's a green champion who has formed a committee, which may have set up a recycling scheme and other initiatives. But the whole approach is very fragmented and that'll only get things so far. It won't change the way the whole company is operating. The drive has to absolutely come from the top, unequivocally. The message to everybody from the top needs to be - this is happening.'

10.30 The example set by senior management is also considered to be key to getting staff engaged with the low carbon behaviour. The staff members we interviewed described the CSO as the 'Green Guru' and this Officer himself expressed that 'you can't expect staff to believe in the activities if you don't'. He stressed the need to give staff the time out to engage in low carbon behaviours, stating there is no greater demonstration of senior management's commitment than giving staff time to engage in the behaviours.


10.31 Education of staff plays its part in actually getting staff to understand what is being done within the organisation and why. Embedding universal values in the organisation through staff education is seen as key by management to ensuring the low carbon behaviours are not only displayed within the organisation but also at home.

Social norms

10.32 Helping staff to break and change habits is also considered to be very important by management, which Wiles Greenworld has attempted to do through very simple and practical 'nudge' techniques to help influence and shape staff choices.

10.33 A further helpful factor in embedding behaviour is likely to be low staff turnover: Ten per cent of staff have been with the company for over 25 years and around 50 per cent have been employed by the company for over 10 years. This has helped to support the development and embedding of a low carbon culture in the company.

10.34 The company has also been successful in changing staff behaviours by applying the principles of autonomy, mastery and purpose to implementing the company's initiatives. Staff told us that the Wiles Greenworld sustainability ethos gives them a sense of purpose and a belief that they are operating responsibly and 'doing the right thing'. It was evident from interviews with employees working in lower skilled jobs which may provide limited intrinsic interest or job satisfaction, that knowing that the way they worked had a meaningful function in contributing to a wider purpose was a source of pride and enjoyment.


10.35 The presentation and use of attractive media to communicate messages appears helpful in generating a high level of engagement with staff, evident in behaviours such as taking material home to read in leisure time.

Future plans

10.36 In response to the challenge of getting staff to think about environmental innovations for the workplace, Wiles Greenworld intends to launch what it has termed the 'Big Green Ask', through its 'G mail' communications. A G mail (see Figure 5 below) has been designed which will be sent out to staff in the coming weeks, asking staff to come up with new ideas for environmental savings.

10.37 Wiles Greenworld also plans to invest heavily in redeveloping the existing site which will allow it to expand its level of recycling. A sustainable building design is being used including a south facing roof with solar panels, rainwater harvesting, bio-diesel tanks and insulation. Wiles Greenworld has a vision of becoming a zero carbon organisation and every department has an environmental Key Performance Indicator to support that direction.

Figure 5: Big Green Ask G mail communication to staff

Figure 5: Big Green Ask G mail communication to staff

Key learning points

  • The very clear and consistent support from the top of the organisation with the appointment of a dedicated champion in a senior role is worth considering. However, the prominence of a single dominant individual may reduce some sense of individual responsibility for initiating change among staff members and measures are need to counteract this.
  • Taking an approach which focuses heavily on education appears to be an effective way of 'changing hearts and minds', through embedding universal values in the organisation and appears to lead to positive spillover of low carbon behaviours from work to home.
  • Education processes can be built into social, team-based contact time with enjoyable dimensions eg sharing pizzas while watching films on environmental topics and quizzes at team meetings.
  • Use of attractive and engaging communication materials on a variety of topics, not all of which are directly related to the organisation's core activities, can help both educate and engage staff.
  • Making time available in working hours to understand the reasons why an organisation commits to low carbon behaviour is essential to make education effective.


Email: Jonathan Waite