9 SSE (Scottish and Southern Energy)
This study highlights how embedding sustainability principles within corporate values and commitment from the senior management team can provide clear signals about acceptable, sustainable behaviour. It also shows that individual engagement and face-to-face communication are also very important. This organisation took tough decisions to tackle behaviour change and found that understanding the reasons behind staff behaviour, timings of launches, and providing better or equal to existing options made a difference to the success of initiatives.
9.1 Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) is the UK's broadest-based energy company; its activities include the generation, transmission, distribution, and supply of electricity, and the storage, distribution, and supply of gas. It has also recently moved into providing new services relating to gas and electricity, along with telecoms networks and data storage. SSE is the 32nd largest company in the FTSE 100 with £11.9bn market capitalisation. It has grown rapidly from employing 16,500 staff three years ago to 20,250 people today.
9.2 Operating in such an energy intensive industry, carbon consumption is high, but the company's stance is interesting because although 95 per cent of its carbon footprint comes from the generation of electricity at its power stations, it still focuses on reducing the remaining five per cent from other sources.
9.3 Senior management commitment to tackling climate change is evident at the highest level as SSE's Chief Executive chairs the 2020 Climate Group and writes a blog on the company intranet often highlighting research into sustainable practices.
9.4 Low carbon management principles are embedded within SSE's six core values which were established in 2006. The values are; safety, service, efficiency, sustainability, excellence and teamwork. These are widely known and embedded through all areas of the business, and are introduced to staff during their company induction.
9.5 This case study illustrates how an organisation can take a tough stance on transport policies to tackle both commuting behaviour and travel at work. Although the organisation may initially meet resistance from staff, these policies can be important in tackling areas of behaviour where voluntary change is least likely, such as commuting methods.
Low Carbon Initiatives
9.6 SSE's low carbon initiatives are all intended to support the core value of sustainability. Activities are partly embedded within the company's ongoing communication systems and partly through independent projects or initiatives. Communication channels which have been used to embed the activities include the SSE intranet which has a dedicated 'Sustainability' area, newsletters, electronic briefs, induction training, workshops, and through schemes such as 'sustainability champions' (from 2008-09), and more recently 'Ecoinomy', a scheme through which employees are rewarded for sustainable behaviours in the form of donations to their chosen charity.
Travel at Work
9.7 For several years SSE has sought to reduce the carbon emissions resulting from staff travel. Four years ago a target was introduced which stated that for every four flights an individual took, they must take a rail journey, and this was implemented through SSE's Travel Desk which is an internally run travel booking service. An in-house team of seven staff monitor booking trends and can exert influence over how and when people travel. The Travel Desk collects information on modes of travel at the point of booking and reports this back to the SSE management team on a monthly basis. If the Travel Desk team believes that the journey could be made another way, with lower carbon emissions, then they will discuss this with the individual.
9.8 The company also introduced two no-fly months every year, in August and December, when all but essential flights are prohibited. When this initiative was initially launched, first class rail travel was permitted for journeys over four hours. More recently, a policy has been implemented to promote travel by rail rather than plane, along with a policy encouraging people to avoid travel completely if possible. Reducing business miles travelled, especially by air, is a key objective for the Travel Desk and while supporting the company's sustainability value is a key motivator for this, increasing fuel costs have provided an additional incentive to do this.
9.9 SSE has also trialled a 12 week 'no-fly period'. This had a more dramatic impact as the duration of the initiative meant staff were less likely to simply postpone travel until after it finished. Reaction to this trial was generally positive as managers found that it saved money and also meant that employees were more likely to try out the alternatives in this period than during a four week restriction on flying.
9.10 The travel team also promotes the use of telepresence which is a form of videoconferencing, introduced to SSE in 2009, following a suggestion from a member of staff. The state of the art equipment was installed in Perth, Reading, Horley, Edinburgh, Portsmouth and Dublin and has proved to be very popular, with estimates suggesting that telepresence has helped staff avoid approximately 847,500 miles of travel in the past year, based on journeys from Edinburgh to London alone.
Low Carbon Vehicle Policy
9.11 Although emissions from company vehicles represents a small proportion of SSE's total carbon footprint, improvements made in this area are highly visible and offer daily opportunities to help uphold the firm's value of sustainability.
9.12 A new company car scheme was launched in January 2010 when the fleet contract was renewed. Over 1,800 staff currently participate in the blended company car scheme. The new scheme offers more attractive cars over a longer period of four years or 88,000 miles and places a cap of 150g of CO2 per km on vehicles that can be chosen. This cap of 150g was selected after a benchmarking exercise against other company car schemes, and a deliberate choice to adopt a lower cap than the one commonly found of 160g/km. The company would like to reduce the cap at some point in the future to 140g following further engagement with staff.
9.13 SSE also operates a fleet of commercial vehicles. The commercial fleet has a target of running with no more than 180g of CO2 per km which SSE is seeking to lower to 150g by 2016. It is also implementing other measures to reduce the impact of the commercial fleet including reducing fuel consumption, fleet size, and annual mileage profiles, while also trialling the use of electric vehicles. For example, the 'black boxes' in vehicles used to monitor speed for safety reasons have a dual function in that they can also be used to assess fuel efficiency and monitor fuel efficient driving techniques. SSE gives its staff fuel saving driving tips, and provides drivers with Sat Nav systems, programmed with the location of pylons and poles so that they can be located quicker. SSE has also stopped replacing pool cars in order to reduce the number of them on each site, and has supported this move by introducing a minibus for travel between some sites.
Travel to Work
9.14 SSE operates many different initiatives under the banner of 'employee commuting'. These include: lift sharing, car parking schemes, private and public bus schemes, cycle to work schemes, public transport season tickets, walking groups, the Big Green Commuter Challenge, and a Sustainable Travel Summit.
9.15 Restricting car parking - SSE has reduced the number of car parking spaces on some of its sites relative to the number of employees working at them. For example, on one site there are over 2,000 employees and only 857 car parking spaces. SSE originally tried to restrict car parking by emphasising the safety risks of overcrowded car parks but this failed to make an impact. It was then decided with the support of the Chief Executive to promote the environmental benefits of reducing parking availability.
9.16 The company analysed the home postcodes of staff working at the location and found that as 62 per cent live within five miles of the site, they should be able to access viable alternatives to driving. The scheme which was introduced permits staff to park their car on only four out of five days a week, effectively reducing the number of cars being parked by 300 each day. Car-sharers are permitted to park every day and have preferential spaces.
9.17 Lift Share - Nearly a quarter of staff car share, something which SSE encourages and enables by providing access to a lift sharing website, where staff can find other commuters with whom they can car share.
9.18 Local buses - At one location, SSE collaborated with another large company to make a proposal to the local bus company for an additional public bus route for their staff. Both organisations postcode-plotted their employees' homes and worked out a suitable route, contributing £20,000 each, which along with £20,000 from the bus company funded the provision of the desired service.
9.19 SSE negotiated amended bus route times to enable staff to get to work in time for their shift patterns and also negotiated access for staff on the early shift to the first bus of the day which is normally reserved bus drivers themselves getting to work.
9.20 Big Green Commuter Challenge - This is an annual competition which seeks to encourage staff to try alternative forms of travel for one week. A cash prize of £250, which goes towards a sustainable project, is awarded to the location with the highest participation rate among its staff, while several individual prizes such as IPods are also awarded randomly to participants. The purpose of the scheme is to help break habits, as one manager explained: 'the hope is that when staff try it they think, actually it's quite easy to get the bus.'
9.21 Travel Survey - At one site SSE sent a survey to every member of the local Chamber of Commerce, with the aim of understanding the issues that staff at other local businesses faced in relation to commuting and to present a united front when approaching bus companies to lobby for change. Four hundred and seventy-three responses were received, most of which came from SSE staff. The results showed that 56 per cent of people lived less than five miles from their workplace. Sixty per cent of people had tried an alternative means of travelling to work in the past and staff reported that the main reason for choice of travel mode was 'convenience'. SSE has learned from this that in order to help persuade staff to try sustainable alternatives, they will need to be made convenient for people. The team wants to continue its research and find out why many staff do not maintain sustainable travel methods.
9.22 SSE aims to reduce CO2 emissions resulting from energy consumption at its Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) qualifying buildings by two per cent in 2011-12. In the last year Automatic Meter Readers (AMRs) have been installed to monitor energy usage at over 200 sites meaning that 99 per cent of total energy consumption is now recorded in half hourly format.
9.23 SSE has an ongoing investment plan to improve energy efficiency in its buildings through improvements to building fabric, lighting and heating. Low energy, motion sensitive lighting, new air conditioning systems, and energy saving Dyson Airblade hand dryers have been installed in recent years. These measures reduce energy consumption but also encourage behaviour change as employees can visibly see the company's commitment to 'putting it's money where its mouth is' in terms of energy efficiency.
9.24 SSE provides training for staff, such as facilities managers, who have control over building energy consumption, in order to improve their understanding of why it is necessary to reduce energy use and how they can make changes to achieve savings. SSE also emphasises that infrastructure improvements need to be supported by staff behaviour changes and believes that the cumulative impact of small behavioural changes are valuable in themselves:
'We've got low energy flat screen monitors and computers, but there's still an element of behavioural impact which remains; simple things like switching the monitors off… it's a very simple message, but because there's such a large number of people, if everyone does the small things, it'll make a big difference.'
9.25 The company encourages changes in staff behaviour through a variety of means including the provision of energy data, league tables comparing consumption across a range of sites, and financial incentives linked with energy savings.
9.26 For the past five years SSE has conducted an annual sustainability survey and last year received 4,560 responses, which represents 23 per cent of the total workforce, and over 50 per cent of those who have regular access to a computer. The survey explores staff understanding of sustainability and gauges both their attitudes and level of activity in relation to it. The findings show that:
SSE employees' rate their understanding of sustainability as good (with an average score of 7.5 out of 10)
- between 40-60 per cent of employees travel to work in a sustainable way
- between 56-70 per cent say they always switch off equipment when it's not in use and
- between 56-70 per cent of staff say they always segregate waste.
Process of implementation
9.27 Sustainability became a core value when SSE's values were launched in 2006. New employees find out about SSE's commitment to sustainability and its low carbon initiatives through an interactive Sustainability presentation in the company's induction process and a Sustainability e-learning package which focuses on both global and SSE-specific sustainability issues.
9.28 Existing staff can gain information on many of the initiatives from the intranet and notice boards. For example, a 'Frequently Asked Questions' document was provided for the low carbon vehicle policy.
9.29 Some of the low carbon travel to work initiatives have also been publicised through promotional stands in reception areas, from which staff were able to obtain factsheets, personalised bus timetables detailing all the different buses to the site, maps and ticket offers. Prior to the roll out of car parking restrictions, staff were sent a letter signed by a senior manager to emphasise the importance of the scheme.
9.30 In relation to energy usage, AMR data, analysed and presented in graphical form, is provided to facilities managers and site managers of SSE's depots and retail shops. This enables staff who are in a position to make a difference to analyse consumption patterns and think about what they can do to reduce their energy usage.
9.31 Staff are also made aware of new policies through email and meetings within their teams but SSE recognises that there is still more work to be done on informing staff of schemes.
9.32 Staff reaction to the introduction of sustainability as a core value has been generally positive, although some of the measures to embed the core value have prompted varied responses from staff.
9.33 For example, the recycling scheme was difficult to implement at first, as some staff believed that the recycling contractor mixed the waste together again when they collected it, while others reported that they would like more information about what ultimately happens to the recycled materials. As one member of staff indicated:
'The recycled bottles are ultimately converted into new bottles or school uniforms, trousers, jumpers or fleeces … it would be useful to have a conversation with staff, asking them if they realise that they're throwing into general waste what could be recycled into a pair of trousers, just to get the conversation going.'
9.34 There have been variations in the level of response to initiatives from different departments. For example a relatively high proportion of staff in Customer Services, compared to other business areas, take part in the annual Big Green Commuter Challenge and Sustainability Survey. This is perhaps due to the departmental culture of encouraging staff to participate and contribute whenever possible.
9.35 Travel at work - Some staff have responded very well; one employee, previously in the top five of the list of most frequent fliers in SSE has now gone 11 months without flying and travels by train instead. Being able to travel first class and do work on the train initially convinced the individual to change from flying everywhere.
'The company gets the environmental benefit of shifting from plane to train and I get the benefit of being able to do more work on the train than on a flight, so from that perspective it's a double benefit.'
9.36 Another employee has tried to stop business travel all together, preferring to use the telepresence facility for internal meetings with staff from other SSE sites. Other organisations are becoming more open to this idea too, but few companies have telepresence facilities as yet, so its use is limited for external meetings.
9.37 Energy Reduction - Providing SSE's Retail Shops with energy usage data collected through AMRs has already started to have an impact and managers reported that staff have welcomed the information so that they can think about how they can reduce their energy consumption.
'When the shop manager received the report, there were a few things that she couldn't understand and so she actually got all of the staff together to go through and look at the consumption patterns to work out why usage would be higher at certain times. So it seems to have been a fairly effective means of bringing energy consumption to the forefront of people's minds, which is the starting point on the road to behaviour change.'
9.38 Restriction of Car Parking - The car parking initiative restricting parking to four days per week was introduced during November 2009. The timing of this change meant that people were reluctant to try alternative modes of travel and give up using their cars in the winter. Car parking permits are monitored on entry to the site to ensure that staff comply with the scheme, but it has been described as a constant battle to get people to comply with the policy. Some staff continue to drive on their restricted day and park off-site. In the summer months staff seem happier to give up using their cars and try alternative means of commuting to work, such as walking or cycling.
9.39 Low Carbon Vehicle Policy - Company cars are an emotive subject and SSE found that people are passionate about their car entitlement. Managers have found that staff have responded well to being given information about why changes were being made, and the policy was made palatable to staff due to the fact that there is a wide range of cars to choose from under the 150g cap. Staff were also pleased that the newer cars were less expensive to run.
9.40 Staff have the opportunity to give both formal and informal feedback on changes that have been introduced. SSE operates an employee suggestion scheme called 'Licence to Innovate' which allows any member of staff to submit ideas and receive rewards if the idea is implemented. This has generated useful suggestions like the introduction of telepresence, and types of vehicles that could be included in the company car scheme.
9.41 One of the key challenges for reducing air travel and promoting rail travel is to combat staff assumptions about the relative costs and time associated with different methods of travel. SSE has calculated that on some routes it is quicker to travel door-to-door by train and that travelling by rail can be more productive than by air. For business travel, SSE believes that cost should not be the main determining factor in travel choices, although they do try to reduce the cost of rail by choosing ticket types carefully, researching offers and working with the travel companies to get better deals. For example, the company has been able to make use of the Scottish Executive Package on the East Coast Mainline.
'We've said that the cost aspect is an internal thing for us at the Travel Desk to address. So cost shouldn't be the determining factor for the travellers when they come to book their travel; for them it should be the sustainability aspect.'
9.42 The Travel Desk team have engaged with a number of staff on a one-to-one basis regarding the pros and cons of various types of travel. A particularly important challenge is to break habits by persuading staff to try a new travel method for the first time. Once employees have successfully used an alternative, they are more likely to use it again, as has often proved to be the case with employees using the rail sleeper service to London. One way the company aims to influence staff is by making workers who are willing to try out new modes of transport unofficial 'ambassadors' for it, encouraging them to share their positive experiences with others. This is done on an informal basis by asking departmental managers to share their experiences with their teams and signposting staff to these 'pioneers' to share their experience.
9.43 This tactic of using informal champions has been adopted across various low carbon initiatives. The company has made use of people who are passionate about green issues and sustainability to reinvigorate the restricted car parking scheme and tackle staff who dropped out of using alternative transport methods and were ignoring the scheme due to the time of year. Staff who are passionate about cycling talked to colleagues during the Big Green Commuter Challenge and set up a cycle surgery which provided free bike checks and repairs.
9.44 While SSE is able to control individual behaviour at work, staff are often more resistant to change if it affects the amount of time they have at home such as travelling overnight for work or leaving the house earlier in the morning in order to catch a bus.
'At work we can say to employees, "you must put that bottle in that bin". They follow suit because they're at work and they're paid to do it. It's obviously more difficult to change their lifestyle, and their habits in their own time though. For example, someone may say, "If I walk to work I have to get up ten minutes earlier". To some people ten minutes is a lot of time in the morning!'
9.45 SSE also found that it is more difficult to implement car parking restriction in winter months; when mornings and evenings are dark and the weather is bad. In the winter of 2011, SSE amended its tactics to promote car sharing more heavily than other alternative means of transport, as people are less willing to walk and take public transport in these months.
9.46 Some of the measures introduced by SSE such as restricted car parking were perceived by some at first as being 'heavy-handed', so the company is now trying to educate people and make the alternative more attractive. This includes highlighting the benefits to be gained outside of work, such as being able to use weekly bus passes for travel at weekends, and reducing energy bills at home through developing a habit of turning appliances off.
9.47 One challenge which SSE are still trying to tackle at one site is staff parking in surrounding streets on days when they are not permitted to use the car park. By reinvigorating campaigns, and improving them based on learning from experience, managers hope that this issue will be solved eventually.
'In the summer, with this car parking scheme, everyone's happy to do it because it's sunny and they're happy to get the bus or walk because they can meet up with friends on the way. However as soon as the winter darkness comes people just want to be in their cars.'
9.48 SSE also recognises the challenge of matching low carbon emission cars to staff preferences, therefore the company has also included a tolerance measure of five per cent of their target for senior executives who may request cars with additional features.
9.49 SSE ran a Sustainability Champions programme in 2008-09. Difficulties were encountered as volunteers often did not have enough time to commit to their duties as champions whilst also carrying out their normal roles. There are still a small number of unofficial Sustainability Champions in the Customer Services department, but generally the scheme has now wound down. Instead, SSE is trying to build sustainability into all aspects of daily working life so that it is not seen as an optional 'extra'.
9.50 Sustaining interest and engagement is also a challenge, described by one interviewee as a 'constant battle'. SSE has found that it needs to renew campaigns, altering the emphasis of them every few months to maintain staff attention. For example, in order to promote alternative commuting methods, SSE now promotes walking and buses in the summer, but focuses on car sharing in the winter. The company also recognises that in addition to ensuring people comply with organisational policies, it needs to win hearts and minds by tackling beliefs and values.
'We've got to get smarter at selling the message, presenting the facts to people and getting them to sign on to it and really challenging those that don't believe in it.'
9.51 One lesson that SSE have learned is that effective implementation of low carbon measures should follow a sequential process; involving staff at the beginning of the process of changing policies, then during policy change to make refinements, while providing feedback.
Evidence of impact
9.52 SSE has been able to quantify much of the impact that low carbon initiatives have had. The lift share scheme has 1,489 members, of whom 1,381 have registered journeys, while 1,267 employees participated in the Big Green Commuter Challenge in 2011.
9.53 Table 2 provides a summary of available evidence on the impact of SSE's low carbon initiatives.
Table 2: Impact of low carbon initiatives
|Name of scheme||Aim||Achievement|
|Travel at work||Reduce the number of business flights to 0.5 per employee and reduce travel miles overall.||Avoided 847,500 miles of travel in 2010|
|Low carbon vehicles||150g CO2/km cap for company car fleet in 2011, 120g/km to be achieved by 2016 150g CO2/km by 2016 for commercial fleet|| Currently at 146g for company car fleet |
Currently at 180g for commercial fleet
|Lift Share||Reduce the demand on car parking spaces||Since Jan 2009 members have saved £918,908 in costs of parking provision, saved 3,455,313 miles of travel and 1,136.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide|
|Big Green Commuter Challenge||Reduce the demand on car parking spaces by encouraging other means of travel||Participants saved a total of 96,281 miles in 2010|
|Energy reduction||In 2011-12 reduce energy consumption at SSE buildings by two per cent||CO2 emissions produced from energy consumption have decreased by around 3 per cent over the past year|
|Ecoinomy||Money saved from sustainable behaviours is given to charity||Staff have so far saved £12,000|
Source: IES interviews with staff
Critical Success Factors
9.54 Interviewees felt that multiple factors have made the schemes successful and they would not have succeeded without 'hitting it from all angles'.
9.55 The critical success factors for the low carbon initiatives implemented at SSE include:
9.56 Linking individual projects to well known corporate values can help staff make connections between a diverse range of separate initiatives and an overall common purpose.
9.57 Using senior managers as role models, for example, when restrictions to car parking were introduced this was supported at the highest level.
9.58 Using real examples, and real people as ambassadors for sustainable behaviour to challenge habitual behaviours through changing perceptions of behavioural norms.
9.59 Building and using external networks of organisations has been an important factor in changing public transport services through negotiation with local bus companies and getting the best deal in working with the rail and airline companies.
Equipment and infrastructure
9.60 Providing equipment and facilities can enable behavioural change. This includes, for example, making sure there are bike shelters, changing rooms and hairdryers for people cycling to work. Other examples include a minibus to transport people between sites, installing charging stations on sites for electric vehicles and the investment in telepresence facilities as an alternative to travel.
9.61 Focusing effort where it will make the most impact, in terms of carbon savings, through targeting high users of business travel can be an important first step.
9.62 Providing real evidence about comparative costs and times of different transport options can appeal to individual perceptions of mode of travel.
Perception of the Schemes
9.63 Making alternative choices attractive is important, such as in the case of changing company car options.
9.64 Minimising perceived inconvenience has shaped how the company promotes alternatives to car use according to seasonal climate variations.
9.65 SSE intends to continue to build on the initiatives it has already started. It will soon implement changes to the travel booking system so that staff can make their own choices and book their travel themselves. The system will display the carbon impact of different modes of travel and will filter options to give prominence to the mode of transport with the least carbon impact. The aim is to use 'visual guilt' to persuade people to change their travel behaviour.
'We want to be able to say to staff, "these are your two options" and clearly show to them the carbon impact of both, allowing them to make the final decision. If they choose the less sustainable option they will have to justify why they've done so.'
9.66 The system will also record the reasons people give for choosing the mode of transport which will give SSE information to help develop low carbon initiatives and make them more self-sustaining. There may be plans to change the 'no-fly' months to different times in the year so that there is a bigger impact as they currently take place in August and December which are traditionally months when there is less business travel.
9.67 SSE would like to make further reductions in the C02 emissions cap for their commercial and company car fleet. The goal is to eventually have company cars which emit less than 120g/km by 2016 as opposed to the current average of 146g.
9.68 SSE plans to continue with the restrictions on car parking by promoting alternative means of transport appropriate to the time of year. SSE is also working towards a national award to become recognised as a cycle-friendly employer.
9.69 Plans are in place within SSE's retail shops to trial different methods for encouraging behaviour change in relation to energy reduction, including competitions, financial incentives and information provision. Energy reports produced using data collected from AMR meters at each shop will be shared with staff who can influence energy consumption there. The project will generate findings which will be used in planning the next carbon reduction campaign for staff in other sections of the company.
Key learning points
- Embedding sustainability principles within corporate values and linking environmental sustainability with workforce sustainability can help justify change.
- Changing corporate policies and making the impact on staff unavoidable can be helpful in providing strong signals about acceptable behaviours. Taking tough decisions which may initially meet resistance from staff can be important in tackling areas of behaviour where voluntary change is least likely, such as commuting methods.
- Individual engagement targeting staff with carbon-intensive travel behaviours can make significant impacts.
- Timing of launches; any low carbon initiative which can be influenced by weather conditions requires careful consideration.
- Face-to-face communication through managers and peer examples can be as important in motivating and sustaining change as formal written communication of corporate policies. Ongoing but refreshed and varied communications campaigns can help to sustain staff interest.
- Using data to dismantle myths about costs and benefits, ease and convenience of different transport options can be powerful, especially if these can demonstrate time savings to staff. Peer feedback from early adopters of new behaviours can be helpful in persuading more reluctant staff to try out new travel methods.
- Generating enthusiasm for voluntary behavioural change can be challenging if employee engagement has normally relied on compliance with corporate policies. Ensuring that staff are educated about the processes and consequences that follow their actions may be helpful in stimulating behavioural change.
- Providing substitutes which are equal to or better than existing options can reduce individual resistance to change, as in the case of company car options or the use of telepresence facilities as an alternative to travelling to meetings.
- Understanding staff commuting patterns and assessing the feasibility and likely use of different travel options is helpful in negotiating public transport service provision. Building alliances with other local organisations to enhance negotiating power can be very effective.
- Commitment from the senior management team is important to demonstrate leadership, and to show belief in the messages being promoted in relation to change.
- Embedding change takes time but new behaviours can be embedded through natural turnover of staff as new workers have no memory of former routines.
Email: Jonathan Waite