Hearts and Minds: For a Firm to Succeed with Its Environmental Initiatives, It Has to Win Its Employees over to New Ways of Thinking and Acting, Anne Petrie Hears from Four Blue-Chip Firms That Have Worked Hard to Engage Their People

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Having a detailed plan for cutting your organisation's carbon emissions is all very well, but even the best-laid plans will go adrift without the full backing of your workforce. And this support is worth hard cash. UK businesses could save nearly 2.5bn [pounds sterling] over the next year by implementing cost-effective energy-efficiency measures, according to research by the Carbon Trust.

"In the current economic climate it's never been more important for businesses of all sizes to act on climate change. With savings of up to 20 per cent to be made on energy bills through no-cost or cost-effective measures, it makes perfect business sense to empower employees to do their bit at work and at home," explains Hugh Jones, director of solutions at the Carbon Trust.

"You can put in an energy-efficient boiler or install low-energy light bulbs and those will make a difference, but many of the measures that have the biggest impact and achieve the greatest savings require buy-in across your workforce."

Jones suggests that all firms can encourage teams to think twice before printing documents, to turn off PCs and lights at the end of the day, to recycle and to consider the carbon footprints of the method of travel they use and the products they source.

And those at the top should lead by example, according to Alan Charnley, managing director of Xerox for the UK and Ireland. "I shouldn't expect my people to do what I'm not prepared to do myself," he says.

Stressing the financial benefits of going green can also pay dividends and highlighting savings that employees can make at home--on domestic fuel bills, for example--will help, too.

"Even if you have employees who aren't that interested in the planet, you can get them engaged in green initiatives by allocating resources or driving business efficiencies," says Richard Gillies, director of Marks and Spencer's "Plan A" sustainability programme. "It's important not to get too preachy about some of the green issues when you can get stakeholders on board simply by applying good business practice."

Ernst & Young

"Given the nature of our business, there are lots of policies and processes we can have in place that make a difference, but there's also a real reliance on people to engage with them and do things differently," says Nicky Major, director of corporate responsibility at Ernst & Young. "It's got to be a combination of the two."

The areas in which E&Y has the biggest environmental impact are waste generation, staff travel and energy consumption. It holds three "environment weeks" a year, during which employees are encouraged to concentrate on one of these aspects.

"Waste week", for example, concerns simple issues such as printing, where costs can really mount up. "If you can change attitudes about something little, then you naturally get people to start thinking on a wider level," Major says. More than 90 per cent of E&Y's office waste is now reused or recycled.

She adds that, when it comes to reducing E&Y's carbon footprint through business travel, "we consider ways to avoid travelling altogether and then, if it is really necessary, how it can be done in a more environmentally friendly way".

To encourage energy efficiency, the firm highlights the benefits that employees can gain at home. "We can say to people: 'You can save a lot of money by reducing your energy consumption--particularly now, when the cost of energy is going up so much. If you turn your thermostat down by one degree at home, you can save ten per cent on your heating costs.' If they save some money and really start thinking about it, that has knock-on effects elsewhere."

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Encouraging staff to switch off lights and electrical equipment, combined with the introduction of more movement-activated lighting, helped E&Y to reduce its annual energy consumption by nine per cent in 2006-07. …