Leadership and Management

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Social enterprising: eco-friendly work culture

Engaging staff in eco-friendly policies can make a huge difference to a business, including to your bottom line.

Last updated: 20 Jun 2019 6 min read

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When a company has any number of computers and lights running at one time, it can be hard for employees to see the impact their behaviour around the office can have on energy costs. It’s important for staff to understand the policies and targets in place within the business for it to be most effective.

A recent survey of 1,118 workers, carried out by YouGov on behalf of British Gas, found that 68% cared about energy efficiency in the workplace and 62% said their workplaces were dedicated to saving energy. However, only 43% of workers said their company ensured all computers and lights were switched off when not in use, while 26% said their office had a paperless policy in place. And only 18% said their employer conducted a regular energy audit.

The research shows employees are interested in being energy efficient but there’s still a disconnect between how committed staff believe their employers to be and what businesses are actually doing. This needs to be addressed so employees can be involved in helping to boost the business's eco credentials.

“If employers are passionate about it then it’ll rub off on others in the workplace”Amy Smith, communications manager, MVF

However, businesses that want to reduce energy consumption and do their bit for the environment need to do more than just write it down in policies and hope that employees read it.

According to the Carbon Trust, the companies it works with through its Empower programme are advised to carry out surveys and set up focus groups among staff to identify any barriers to behaving more sustainably. The picture built can then be used to establish personalised action plans, set benchmarks against which employee behaviours can be monitored, and provide regular feedback.

Here are some other steps that can be taken to get employees to improve your business’s green credentials and, in some cases, its bottom line.

Hold discussions, spark debates

Heidy Rehman, a former financier and founder of women’s workwear brand Rose & Willard, believes it’s vital to have open discussions on the subject, even if it sparks debates.

“No one is allowed to print without my approval. It’s not that I take a draconian approach – I just want my staff to pause and think. If they need to print, that’s fine, but I want them to think about it first,” she says. “With previous employees, I found that they’d print without care. I asked them if they thought recycling was important and all said yes. I then asked what they thought about not creating waste in the first place. The question threw most of them.”

Lively debate on environmental issues can be healthy for business, Rehman says, especially if employees see it’s being initiated by the boss. It can also ensure that the issue, which is often out of sight, isn’t out of mind.

“Recycling is synonymous with doing a good deed. In contrast, not creating waste seems more of an intangible and abstract concept. Because the benefits are less easy to see and measure, people generally don’t feel as good about it. That’s why we regularly talk about it in our studio,” she says.

Take sustainability home

It’s good to encourage staff to practice outside the office what’s preached at work, says James Brueton, CEO at EnviroBuild, a sustainable building supplies distributor.

“Our team often take [office] recycling home. It may seem minimal, but something like this can have a big impact, particularly if the office space has no facilities to deal with waste,” he says. “Landlords can choose not to pay the local authority for individual collections so recycling isn’t upheld.”

Brueton adds that when his staff take chores like this home with them, it’s all part of his company’s overall commitment to sustainability. If employees see evidence that their employer is being sustainable across the board, they’re more likely to buy into it from the outset.

Be passionate and inspire

Employers can actively encourage staff to do their bit by being creative, perhaps by introducing cycle-to-work and ride-sharing schemes, says Amy Smith, communications manager at digital marketing and tech firm MVF.

“Employees might not be able see the direct impact these small actions have on energy savings, but if they’re aware the goal is to become as green an office as possible, they’ll support it and work together to reduce the company’s carbon footprint. If employers are passionate about it, it will rub off on others in the workplace.”

At EnviroBuild, Brueton has found that, even though energy use and cost savings may be hard for employees to measure, they can be inspired to act if they see how money is being spent. And so the company donates 10% of its profits to ecological projects.

Make it something to be proud of

While it’s important to have commitments written down in policies, they should also be communicated internally, says Rehman.

“It needs to be kept at the forefront of our minds,” she says. “I’ve found that if employees are reminded about this, they quickly adopt [to changing their behaviour] and that it drives creativity. Reducing waste and saving energy becomes a source of pride and a habit.”

Five steps to make being green easy for your staff:

  • Bring the boss (or manager) on board: they need to be setting an example and leading from the front.
  • Have a green champion: appoint an employee who can make sure lights are switched off when necessary and monitors printing use without being overzealous.
  • Gamify behaviour: create a team leaderboard and score employees based on their behaviours to highlight bad habits, like boiling the kettle multiple times in a day or leaving computers on standby.
  • Reward the most efficient: incentivise employees to change their behaviour with recognition of their efforts. For example, once a month the employee who cycled to work the most could receive a bonus.
  • Be open and avoid jargon: employees will switch off if they hear loaded words and business patter, so be casual in conversation and be open, where possible, about the company’s energy use and green goals.
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