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
2 BT

116 page PDF

1.1 MB

2 BT

This case study provides valuable learning for large organisations with highly mobile and dispersed workforces that are attempting to engage staff in low carbon activity. It illustrates how organisations, in which decisions are typically taken at senior levels of the corporate hierarchy, can find opportunities for staff to contribute to programmes of change. It also emphasises how in target-driven businesses, appropriate priority needs to be given to environmental activities which achieve real, quantifiable, success.


2.1 The BT Group aspires to be a sustainable and responsible business leader. The BT commitment to environmental sustainability has caused it to set itself challenging global carbon footprint reduction targets. The objective, by 2020, is to reduce carbon intensity by 80 per cent compared to levels in 1997. In their UK operations, a reduction of around 60 per cent has already been achieved. BT is responsible for approximately 0.7 per cent of the UK's electricity consumption through its use of power servers, networks and 7,000 buildings and data exchanges, therefore demonstrating environmental sustainability to its customers and employees is considered to be critical.

Low carbon initiatives

2.2 The BT carbon reduction strategy is based upon driving energy efficiency, developing renewable energy generation, and purchasing energy from low carbon sources. Its commitment to carbon reduction activities covers all its businesses and a wide range of activities. BT's sustainability strategy, 'Better Future', has three main dimensions: reducing the levels of carbon that the company is emitting through its operations and products; building stronger communities through technology and people and helping customers and suppliers to reduce their carbon footprint through responsible behaviours.

2.3 The focus of this case study is upon the BT Energy Saving Campaign. We, however, also look briefly at the fuel efficient driving programme that is being rolled out across the BT Openreach division.

Energy Saving - The BT Campaign

2.4 Over the last couple of years, a significant focus has been placed upon the BT building infrastructure and its carbon contribution through the use of heating, lighting and equipment permanently located in BT premises. Efforts have been made to make staff aware of energy use and give employees opportunities to make a difference to the carbon consumption of the business. The five major commitments for BT in this campaign are to:

  • audit energy use
  • install energy efficient lighting
  • switch off unnecessary network equipment
  • optimise air conditioning and heating
  • stop using energy in office space that is not being used.

2.5 In 2010 a pilot for an Energy Saving campaign was run in BT Headquarters, which houses 3,000 staff. A target of 10 per cent energy savings over a three month period was set for this pilot. Teams of volunteers in the BT Group worked closely with catering and facilities partners in order to identify areas in which the five commitments above could be realised. The team held weekly teleconferences and conducted an in-depth analysis of energy expenditure in the building as part of the energy audit commitment. As a result, a 17 per cent saving was achieved over the three months. Following this pilot, the team approach has been rolled out to another 25 buildings around the BT estate. The Campaign also recruited 92 'Energy Champions' - BT employees who have volunteered to champion energy saving and encourage staff to engage with the commitments of the campaign. These champions, sourced from all levels of the business, are helping to raise awareness and reduce energy waste by reporting energy faults, conducting energy audits of their buildings and by networking to share ideas. These duties are conducted on top of existing work commitments.

Transport - Fuel efficient driving

2.6 BT Openreach is the largest division within BT and 80 per cent of the BT vehicle fleet is within Openreach. Of the 30,000 staff in BT Openreach, some 20,000 are engineers who use BT vehicles to maintain the network between home/business and the exchanges. Openreach is seeking to reduce the carbon footprint of its fleet across three areas:

  1. the Driver - training and behaviour
  2. the Journey - avoiding journeys or resolving issue electronically
  3. the Vehicle - making sensible choices based on necessary size of vehicle for task and its load.

2.7 Fuel efficient driver training, which first took place four years ago at BT Openreach, focuses on the driver behaviour factor. The training is delivered by the Government's SAFED (Safe and Fuel Efficient Driving) scheme which provides subsidised training for organisations to undertake driver training.

Process of implementation

2.8 The Energy Saving Campaign, during the pilot stage, was targeted towards the individuals who could make a marked difference due to their sphere of influence. Engagement managers identified the 'key players' in BT Headquarters who could do something significant to reduce energy use, such as, the Head Chef and the manager of the BT auditorium. The BT HQ was chosen as the pilot location as it is one of BT's largest buildings and is well-placed to set an example to the rest of the company. Successful initiatives here can be rolled out to the regions with the message that if Head Office can achieve savings and are prepared to engage in the campaign, regional offices should as well.

2.9 The Head Chef was asked to assess the potential savings in the kitchen area and found he could store food in two fewer fridges by changing the menu and ordering process. His contribution was recognised through a BT award which took the form of a retail voucher for an eco store. One interviewee told us: 'If you give people power to act in their area and get them engaged, they will amaze you'.

2.10 The BT auditorium manager was also asked to join the campaign due to the level of energy use in the space. He now turns off the studio lights and TV screens unless they are needed.

2.11 BT Energy Champions have also been rolled out across the BT buildings and there are now 332 champions in the UK who conduct energy audits and report energy faults, as well as encouraging staff to make energy savings such as turning off monitors and lights and recycling. The option to be an Energy Champion is available to any BT employee, whether they are a mobile worker or home worker. The message that was communicated (mostly electronically) to staff was that 'if you care, we would love to listen to your ideas'. Staff can join the energy campaign online in which they can sign up to receive information on progress and plans. A simple checklist has also been made available online for staff who wish to do a mini audit of energy use in their BT building or in their team and posters are also available online for printing locally to make colleagues aware of the energy challenge and the actions they can consider to make a contribution. Staff can share ideas for energy saving through submitting them through the BT New Ideas scheme. All new ideas are evaluated by BT's environment management team, which meets monthly. Staff are also encouraged to report unused areas of an office or a site to their line of business property representative, as there may be potential for the area to be mothballed. Staff can also join a BT Carbon Club which is a method of bringing staff together to discuss climate change issues. These clubs were launched in 2007 based on feedback from BT employees and there are now 500 club members. Club members are volunteers and can focus on areas of interest to them such as recycling. The clubs are given support by the champions to implement ideas such as reducing the footprint of a particular building by, for example, making sure people turn off monitors at night and recycling waste. Each club elects a captain and has its own web page which includes information such as, club name; member list; club objectives; line of business and location, which creates an informal network.

Fuel efficient driving

2.12 A fuel efficient driving pilot was conducted initially and some 50 drivers received the training and then the programme was rolled out to other selected staff. Openreach selected drivers for the fuel efficient driver training based on risk which included drivers with highest mileage and those who had the highest level of accidents. An external training provider conducts the training in house; which consists of a presentation and then practical training for the driver. Currently about 200 drivers a year are trained in this way by Openreach.

2.13 Investments to change the type of vehicles are also being made. At one BT event an electric van was displayed so that drivers could see the vehicle and learn about how their vehicles may change in future. Currently Milton Keynes and East London are the first BT sites to begin testing electric vans and, if successful, BT plans to roll them out more widely across its whole vehicle fleet.

Building staff awareness

2.14 BT employees are highly mobile and dispersed, which presents a challenge for engaging them in low carbon initiatives and therefore there is a necessity for strong communications. These have the following characteristics:

Communication type

2.15 Unsurprisingly in BT, primary communication is typically electronic. The majority of corporate communication is through email. For example, a weekly newsletter is sent out via email by the corporate communications team and information is also placed on the BT news website. Low carbon initiatives are also promoted in this way. Campaign posters are used in buildings due to the large engineering workforce who may work from exchanges rather than main office sites. Communication also goes through a management cascade down the individual lines of business and core BT targets will be localised, so that staff are briefed by their individual line managers in team meetings on how they can contribute to a corporate target. There is also a dashboard of measures displayed within BT buildings which show carbon reduction achievements.

Consistency and relevance of message

2.16 Consistency in behavioural messages is considered important by managers. Messages can be backed up by case studies of staff that have implemented new ideas to reduce carbon consumption as this provides recognition for engaged staff. This also enables front line staff to see their colleagues engaging in these behaviours and being recognised for it rather than managers enforcing behaviours.

2.17 However, one interviewee believed that it was important to be 'careful not to over egg' communication in an attempt to maintain interest and momentum in the energy saving campaign. The engagement team wanted to avoid a 'drum beat of activity' and instead give more careful consideration to how often the programme is promoted and to whom. For example, when 25 additional buildings were included in the energy saving campaign, this was rolled out in October when the annual change from British Summer Time takes place and news coverage usually begins to highlight the challenges of rising heating bills. BT also run an Energy Saving Week in October, across the whole of BT, in which it holds a short series of informal lunchtime presentations and discussions on what BT is doing to reduce its energy demand:

'By timing promotion carefully you can make sure you don't become a stuck record and time it when the messages will have the most impact rather than banging the drum constantly.'

Inclusive communications

2.18 BT wanted to communicate an inclusive message regarding the Energy Saving Campaign due to the different profiles of their workforce. Some staff are fully mobile, some are home workers or based in a call centre, so it was important that all groups were included in the campaign as opposed to focusing on full-time office-based workers. For home workers, a pilot was run with about 430 home workers in Wales which attempted to identify what home workers would want to know about the energy saving campaign and how they could contribute. A dedicated website was set up which gave tips about how to save energy at home. Some 310 home workers visited the site and some 26 per cent registered on the website to receive progress reports and regular information. The site also provided feedback to staff on the contribution they were already making by working from home and therefore reducing carbon consumption related to the commute and saving energy in the BT offices. For example, to work from a desk in an office is estimated to cost £5,000 a year, but as a homeworker once initial set up costs for network lines and equipment have been covered there is a potential for significant savings.

Peer communications

2.19 In October 2011 BT used its energy champions as the voices of Energy Saving Week, as 'people can get bored with the corporate voice of BT'. Energy Champions led the 2011 Energy Week, spreading the message of why they were involved and what they did at home to save energy. This 'user generated content' is considered to be sometimes more powerful than corporate communications. The frameworks to engage and structure low carbon initiatives have been set up with corporate level managers (e.g. Carbon Clubs and Energy Champions) but these then seek ideas from operational staff, such as the ideas for savings from the Head Chef and Auditorium Manager.

Communicating the financial benefits

2.20 According to the quarterly employee survey, the majority of employees are classified as on the 'side of green'. This means that they believe that energy saving is the right thing to do and individuals can have an impact. However, one manager told us:

'BT doesn't shy away from the fact that these low carbon projects are a win-win. The core motivation for BT to introduce them is to drive down costs as well as the environmental consideration. There is no embarrassment that it is also about driving down costs too. You can do all the right things from a green perspective but you will also generate cost savings; be more efficient and reduce travel.'

Communicating fuel efficient driver training

2.21 Within the fuel efficient driving programme, drivers are told that a benefit of attending the course is that they will learn techniques that will benefit their personal driving behaviours when not at work. This can be attractive when fuel costs are rising. Fuel efficient driving can help take 10 per cent off a personal fuel bill. For some drivers this rationale is appealing, but others want to divorce what they are doing at work from their behaviour at home.

Staff responses

2.22 The BT 2010 annual employee survey revealed that energy saving and waste were at the top of the list of issues that employees felt they should support. Almost 10,000 people, out of a workforce equivalent to 75,000 full-time staff, have signed up to at least one of their engagement initiatives which include Carbon Clubs, Energy Champion, Car Sharing, and cycling to work. In 2010, BT also piloted online sustainability training modules for BT staff to help employees integrate sustainability into their work. These specific modules help product managers and developers embed sustainability into products and covers issues such as energy efficiency, waste and reuse. There is also a module for sales and marketing teams to help them communicate the environmental and social credentials of BT products and services to customers. Over 1,000 employees completed one or more of the courses in the first six months. BT also now has over 300 Energy Champions across BT since its launch in October 2010.

2.23 Energy Champions across the BT Group meet up and have conference calls to share best practice and the team in Northern Ireland is particularly proactive, using the Energy Champion network to share ideas. One manager told us:

'You need to make a judgement call on how much you interfere with this and try to co-ordinate them as it can lose its magic. You need to give staff the opportunities and then you stand back and watch it happen. We want people to be engaged and have ideas without us directing it too much.'

2.24 Staff felt that the core motivation behind the Energy Awareness campaign is to drive down financial cost, however they were also confident that carbon reduction was a significant driver:

'It's our corporate social responsibility, companies should be leading by example and people can be involved by just being energy efficient - in that sense everyone can be an energy champion.'

2.25 Staff also felt that many of the energy saving initiatives that have been highlighted by the Energy Awareness Campaign have become part of the BT culture and colleagues support the message:

'If you come to a meeting you have to make sure you do printing on double sided and it's got to be black and white. People are not pleased if you've even printed out handouts for meetings; this is a good change in the culture. Colleagues comment about it if you don't do your bit to save energy.'

2.26 The role of managers in supporting the message of the Energy Awareness Campaign was also seen as important by staff. One home worker described her manager as 'personally very passionate about saving energy'. She described how her manager only holds team meetings when absolutely necessary in an attempt to save commuting costs due to having a core home working team and having managers 'leading the way' is seen as encouraging to others to save energy in the way they work.

2.27 Responses from drivers to the fuel efficient driver training were mostly positive according to managers. However, some drivers sent for the training felt they did not need it and there are some reports of non-attendance on the courses. The pilot evaluated ongoing fuel efficiency achieved by the driver and the outcome from this encouraged expansion of the scheme to greater numbers of drivers, based on cost efficiencies in fuel efficiency.

Key challenges

2.28 One of the key challenges for the Energy Saving Campaign was that staff are busy and campaigns have to be sufficiently creative to engage people who are focused on other business priorities. This may have been exacerbated because much of the communication and engagement techniques have relied on electronic methods. One interviewee advised that in order to overcome this challenge 'you have to think about your people first before your own objectives. This is difficult to do but you have to think about whether what you're asking is realistic. If you have an answer for the 'what's in it for me?' question from staff, the message is much clearer'.

2.29 A key challenge is providing staff with the opportunity to make changes in the workplace that will reduce energy use and embed these actions into their day job. It is also necessary to ensure staff understand how they can bring low carbon behaviours into their day job. This can be achieved through communication efforts. At BT, weekly newsletters are sent out through email, however, one staff member commented that the communication of these types of messages should not in themselves involve the use of a lot of paper, which is why electronic messages are considered the best method.

2.30 Challenges highlighted by previous energy-related campaigns run at BT (ie. the 'Big Switch Off') were related to persuading staff to demonstrate the behaviours they display at home in the office, as BT has found that staff do not automatically bring their values from home into the office:

'Part of it is the permission piece - am I supposed to leave a light on, what if someone else doesn't know where it is? So to get around this we put signs on the doors asking people to turn lights off. We usually don't need permission to turn lights off so asking for it to be done, let's people know it's ok and encourages them to do it.'

2.31 In the fuel efficient driving programme the biggest challenge to overcome is the driver's own perception of the need for the training. The only way to overcome this challenge is to draw the driver's attention to their own driving record. One manager told us:

'Drivers are busy and they all think they are the best driver in the world so why do they need this training? They will tell you "what do you mean I've been selected because I'm high risk? I'm a good driver!"'

Evidence of impact

2.32 BT have publicised their energy saving target and want to reduce next year's total energy bill by 3 per cent, despite growth. Some 2.5 per cent in energy savings was achieved across the group last year while the business also grew, saving more than £18 million, which shows greater efficiency. Some £6.2 million of this total saving stems from the use of smart control initiatives, with electricity consumption now monitored through smart meters, which provide real time data on how much energy is being consumed and enable BT to identify and tackle any wasted energy. It was not possible to determine how much of the remaining saving can be attributed to the direct impact of staff efforts as part of the energy saving campaign, rather than material changes, but BT research has found that up to 1.4 tonnes of CO2 emissions can be avoided each year for every employee who works from home, rather than the office. As part of the annual employee survey, the question: 'Have you taken personal action over the last three months to reduce BT's energy consumption?' is asked of BT employees. Some 54 per cent of employees agreed with this statement in 2011. Over three months, energy consumption at BT headquarters was reduced by 17 per cent, lowering carbon emissions by around 1,500 tonnes and enabling annual savings of £200,000. Similar exercises rolled out to the 25 other BT buildings yielded a 6 per cent reduction in energy usage, giving annualised savings of £873,649 and 6,527 tonnes of CO2 - equivalent to the annual emissions from 1,000 houses.

2.33 The perceived benefits of the fuel efficient driver training were cost savings through more fuel efficient driving; reduced driver risk; improved insurance premiums; reduced carbon footprint; and improved driver engagement and morale.

Critical success factors

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

Communicate the financial benefits

2.35 BT has benefited in part from rising energy prices which have helped engage staff in the energy campaign. One interviewee reported that: 'this has worked to our advantage as people are hearing about it in the media and feeling the pressure in their wallets'. The financial driver is considered the most significant in communicating low carbon behaviour as the financial business case will open doors for people trying to promote low carbon behaviours in the business. The interviewee told us 'You can't decouple financial savings and engagement. Don't apologise for engaging people through the financial route.'

Invest in change through infrastructure

2.36 Providing equipment or facilities to enable change is considered to be very important by BT as staff are presumed to be unwilling to contribute to low carbon behaviours unless they see visible signs that the company is investing in the mechanisms to enable them do it.


2.37 Using senior managers or influential staff to promote low carbon behaviour is also seen as important. It is seen as necessary to engage people who are advocates of low carbon behaviour at a lower level and promote what they are doing to the rest of the business, which is where the role of energy champions can be useful.


2.38 Engagement is ultimately a voluntary action and people need to be interested in programmes of carbon reduction. Offering incentives to people to demonstrate low carbon behaviours should involve making sure that incentives are properly related to the targets, for example, BT are considering giving away packs of energy saving gadgets and the BT award given to the Head Chef for his energy saving efforts in the HQ kitchens was vouchers for an environmentally friendly store. Offering something of benefit to staff guarantees that they will be interested, but there is a difference between incentives and bribes; incentives can work as a form or recognition for low carbon behaviour, whereas bribes will not foster genuine interest in programmes.

Future plans

2.39 One manager we interviewed raised the importance of setting energy targets, but recognised this can be difficult in a matrix organisation, where a building will be filled by staff from different bits of the company. He suggested that setting energy targets for buildings and introducing an element of competition between buildings rather than business divisions could be useful:

'We could take our main buildings in the UK and make a competition out of energy reduction. If you create more targets on top of tough work targets, people won't welcome them, but competition is something more fun'.

Key learning points

  • Engaging staff in low carbon activities in a large organisation requires structuring a programme that enables them to form an identity with a smaller unit, team or division rather than the whole company, through building social affiliations.
  • Engaging staff in a highly mobile and dispersed workforce can be challenging. Using web-based technologies in an ICT company helps to ensure reach but cannot guarantee engagement with and understanding of the messages that are being communicated. Smaller, local level teams and champions can be helpful in engaging individuals meaningfully through face to face communication.
  • Communication fatigue can be managed through aligning the timing and content of messages about low carbon behaviours with changes in schedules and external media stories.
  • Giving staff the opportunities and permission to contribute to programmes aimed at reducing carbon consumption is important in large organisations which usually take decisions on change at senior levels within the corporate hierarchy. To engage people in low carbon behaviours, it is necessary to let them self organise and not over regulate. Set up a framework for staff to work within, i.e. Energy champions or Carbon Clubs and then let staff come up with ideas.
  • Make activities as enjoyable and entertaining as possible and avoid too much form filling.
  • Low carbon activities can take time to embed and organisations must persist with them. BT stress the need to be 'human' about these initiatives and 'put passion into it and know you are doing it for the right reason, rather than simply focusing on targets'.
  • BT is a goal and target-driven company and recognises that unless priority is given to activities, they risk being sidelined. Some people are motivated by goals and targets and others are turned off by additional targets alongside heavy workload pressures. However, if staff are asked to deliver energy savings as part of their job, then it can become embedded in day to day routine. It becomes part of the culture and there is an understanding that this is the behaviour that the business expects. This suggests a delicate balance between the use of targets and the expectation of participation in low carbon activities, with these becoming akin to typical role expectations such as punctuality and attendance.
  • It is necessary to find a motivation or a reason for staff to change behaviours. For example, identify individual motivations for attending training and try to meet those motivations. As different perspectives will appeal to different people, try and find this motivation for each individual if possible. BT as an organisation is comfortable with the mixed message that environmental sustainability is important in its own right but can also support cost saving to improve company financial performance.
  • While the focus should not be completely upon targets, BT advises that it is important that organisations communicate the results of efforts to staff. BT is well practised in sharing strategic corporate results in sustainability but this communication can fall at local or national level in communicating the success of individual projects led by staff. Communication of this type is necessary to support the perception that individual or team effort can contribute towards larger, organisational wide achievements, in order to encourage all staff to make a contribution. Attaching savings to the initiatives is also important as it puts it into context for people and shows how 'every little bit counts towards the bigger picture'.


Email: Jonathan Waite