I was at an event today which focused on an interesting issue. Rather than look at the environmental aspects of a businesses from the perspective of the business itself, we were challenged to look at it from the perspective of the people who work there.
To give some background to this, every single employed person in the UK has some responsibility to their place of work. This means, for example, we don’t write rude messages on the toilet walls; we don’t burp loudly in meetings; we don’t spend our days surfing for humorous videos of animals on the Internet; we don’t steal Jenny’s peach yoghurt from the communal fridge and so on. These are pretty much a given. However there are many other ways in which management can try to engage further with staff to benefit the business even more. For example we might be asked to wear smart clothes; we might be sent on a course to learn about effective presentations; we might well be trained in a wide range of effective working habits.
Of course these things benefit the business. They make it more likely to succeed because, by having capable people working for it, it becomes easier to get the work done effectively and generate more business as a result. However there are other reasons why most businesses support their staff in this way. One of the main ones is staff empowerment. For example, if I’ve been on a training course called making effective presentations then the next time I’m asked to make a presentation to an external client I’m less likely to come out in a cold sweat and rush to environmentjob.co.uk to find something I feel more comfortable doing (like cleaning fish tanks for example).
By empowering staff, businesses get rewarded through easier recruitment and better retention. They get more engaged employees who work harder at the tasks given to them to carry out. So productivity rises. They get motivated staff who actually want to come to work in the morning. So absenteeism falls. It really is a win-win … er win … situation.
But what, I hear you cry, does this have to do with the environment?
Well it’s pretty straightforward. We live in an age where the environment, whether we like it or not, is suffering because of the actions we have taken and continue to take. Businesses will not survive without the people that run them accepting the responsibility that they have to drive down the impact their business has on the environment. There are lots of different elements to this, from waste and energy to water and pollution, and they all have to be looked at to make a real difference.
We had three fantastically knowledgeable, motivated and intelligent speakers today. I won’t go into the background of each but I found Rosie Lewis from the training company Carbon Halo particularly insightful. She looked at the issues we have to address in a very practical, yet sympathetic way. She discussed the stages of changing staff behaviour including Enable, Engage, Exemplify and Encourage. I couldn’t even begin to outline everything I learned today (and I would probably be in breach of copyright if I tried) but I wanted to write about my interpretation of the things we looked at in case others find it useful.
One of the things we considered was that it is no longer enough to have a Green Team consisting of the four or five people who work for you who can be bothered to look at these issues seriously and try to find ways to address them. Instead, what we have to see is strong leadership from management downwards showing true commitment to the cause, which will benefit the business (saving energy, waste and water reduces costs) and the environment. In other words, you can’t expect people to car-share or cycle to work if you still turn up in your Jag.
Unless everybody in the business knows what is expected of them and how they can play their part in improving the environmental impact of their daily activities then the management team may as well whistle into the wind.
So, as always, communication is key. Management have to take ownership of the agenda, work out how the business processes can be improved and engage staff (just as they do when it comes to issues like dress code) to explain and outline the new processes in order to embed them into a business.
It’s no longer sufficient to say “we have a green policy”. The changes have to become a part of the fabric of the business, just like the more obvious policies about things like bullying. It’s time to see that these issues are no longer at the fringes of society. The vast majority of us recycle at home, yet how many of us can say that our business recycles its waste? Most of us switch off lights when we leave a room in our flat or house yet how many of us can say that our business lights are switched off at night? Most of us are careful to print only what we need at home because we know the costs of printer ink and paper. Yet how many of us will print a 25 page email attachment just to read a couple of pages?
Today was really about saying to business managers and the people that work in business (i.e. most of us) that now is the time to start inspiring others to make changes to their lives. And if we have to take the message to our boss and say “we’re not doing enough” then that’s just what we have to do, whether they want to hear it or not. After all, it’s one thing for us to fear that our actions will never be enough to really do anything, and quite another for us to do nothing.