Changing for the better

We look at how London’s Science Museum designed a programme to make corporate social responsibility an engaging issue for its employees

An increasing number of companies of all sizes are finding that there are real business benefits from being socially responsible. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become a core issue for many large businesses. About 80 per cent of FTSE 100 companies now provide information about their environmental performance, social impact, or both.

This isn’t happening by accident. There is a sound business case for social involvement: factors such as gaining a better reputation, a stronger brand and standing and greater competitiveness in a demanding market need to be taken into account.

As the CSR agenda is increasingly appearing on companies’ radar screens as an issue that needs to be addressed, how does the HR department make CSR a reality for everyone within the organisation at all levels? How do we achieve significant and sustained behavioural change in areas such as carbon emissions and recycling, that we will soon be required to change by law, benefiting individuals, organisations and the global environment?

This was my challenge when I started working in training and development with the HR department at London’s Science Museum. It is part of a family of museums, falling under the umbrella organisation known as NMSI (National Museum of Science and Industry) and employing approximately 1,000 staff.

NMSI includes the National Railway Museum in York, the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television at Bradford, and is currently in the early stages of planning a long-term project to create an international centre for sustainable development museum, whose working title is Creative Planet.

NMSI believes that as custodian of the industrial revolution, displaying objects from Stevenson’s rocket to the Apollo 10 command module, the Science Museum should also reflect and encourage the next industrial revolution – one that we believe will be in the shape of sustainable development.

We asked ourselves what sustainable development means to the average member of staff on the museum floor, guiding and engaging visitors in this national collection of science and technology. We looked for the link to CSR and a programme of behavioural change and asked what message we should be delivering to our visitors?

The thinking goes that as a science and technology museum at the cutting edge of the making and recording of the world as we know it today, and with a strong brand for educating and entertaining our visitors, we have a responsibility to champion any future science and technology revolutions.

The biggest of those is meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own, or, as the Government states: ‘social progress, protection of the environment, prudent use of the natural resources and economic growth – now and for generations to come’.

To truly champion this movement, staff also needed to understand what it was, how it would impact on their roles and what they could be doing differently to support the museum’s aims. This is where the training and development team came in. How could we convert a core value of the organisation – to become one of the leading world institutions championing sustainable development by 2010 – into reality?

We decided to design our own programme. After all, we have a huge bank of knowledge on this within the museum, so why go outside?

Change programme

As with any change programme, we wanted to involve staff as soon as possible – getting them familiar with the terminology and ways of working differently. So, in designing an awareness-raising intervention, we quizzed staff about what was important to them, what they knew already and where their interests lay. We even got them to evaluate and give feedback on an externally-provided programme that we looked at.

We made sure there was a session in the programme that explained why the Science Museum wanted to champion sustainable development, and what the benefits of this change were to the individuals.

We found that facts and figures worked well. For example, in the past year, the Science Museum threw away 296 tonnes of rubbish – paper, cardboard, tickets, films, exhibition sets – which is the weight of 100 elephants.

Staff could start to see what impact they were having on the local environment, just through doing their job.

We identified ‘informal leaders’ among the staff (individuals with charisma who had the ear of colleagues around them), and influential people who could help to energise this intervention and raise its profile. We called on the help of the sustainable development co-ordinator, who implements, monitors and evaluates all things sustainable across NMSI. Again, what we wanted to do was reinforce the importance of sustainable development, and show that we were using the right people to drive the programme forward.

In designing the programme (phase one being a half-day workshop for all staff and managers), we also ensured we had sessions that invited and answered questions. We didn’t want any surprises, so we were open and honest with staff from the start.

We knew there would be some resistance – some of the museum’s technical experts were sceptical of the benefits of operating more sustainably. One commented: “Science is about advancement. How can we advance if we have ‘tree-huggers’ standing in our way?” (although this was the crudest reaction I heard).

We had to allow for the withdrawal and subsequent return of people who were temporarily resistant to what we were trying to achieve.

As the workshop started to take shape we realised we had to encourage people to think and act creatively within the session. We had to give things such as switching off printers, photocopiers and lights, to more substantial changes, such as influencing the organisation to re-roof a building with solar panels rather than conventional roofing.

In creating this impetus to change, we were clear that it wasn’t about being ‘bad’ or ‘good’ with respect to how many energy-efficient light bulbs they had in their homes, for example, but rather highlighting that we all have choices to make in what we decide to do, or not to do, and we have a responsibility to be aware of the choices we are making.

To encourage creative thinking, we gave the staff a blank sheet of paper to visualise how they thought the museum would look in six months, two and 10 years time in terms of sustainable development. This allowed for debate, new ideas and a real engagement in the aims of the museum.


Perhaps most importantly, we introduced a toolkit for working more sustainably to support the change – a selection of tried and tested methods, contacts and support to help individuals and teams make sustainable development a reality. For example, we included a simply-designed process of helping staff to identify what impact they were having on the community, environment and economy, and what opportunities they had to change it. We designed a tool similar to a risk assessment that guided them through this process.

Finally, we kept asking ourselves: Is this change working the way we want it to? Are we heading in the right direction? And we still ask ourselves these same questions.

We have key performance indicators, such as contributing to a 5 per cent energy reduction target, a 10 per cent reduction target in waste output, a target of recycling 25 per cent of our total waste, and softer measures, such as increased staff satisfaction and staff involvement. This helped maintain our alignment to the organisational objectives.

Equally important is the feedback we receive, such as: “This is the best training course I have ever been on. It has made me think about several aspects of my life, at home and at work, and has spurred me to take some real action.”

Top tips towards successful CSR

  • Involve staff as soon as possible in the process use opportunities to involve informal leaders and influential people
  • Allow for the withdrawal and return of people who are resistant
  • Invite and answer questions – this will allow you to avoid surprises, so be open and honest from the start
  • Look for an opportunity created by the change
  • Encourage people to think and act creatively
  • Keep asking whether the change is working to achieve your objectives in a way you would like

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