Cutting carbon emissions: engaging employees in the crusade

The unanimous agreement that climate change must be tackled has been widely acclaimed as the biggest achievement of  G8 summit which ended on 8 June 2007.

But it is not just the elite of the world’s leaders who see cutting carbon emissions as a pressing issue. Increasingly employees across the UK are also demanding their organisations develop policies in this area.

This trend was borne out by research released in April by the Carbon Trust, an independent government body. It found that more than three-quarters of UK employees now consider it important to work for a company that has an active policy to reduce its carbon emissions.

However, the same report found that one in four employees feel their company is not doing enough.

“The majority of UK employees want to become more environmentally friendly at work, but many don’t know where to start,” said Garry Felgate, director of business delivery at the Carbon Trust.

One company that seems to want to ensure its people are actively engaged in this field is HSBC. 

Earlier this month the high street banking firm pledged $100m over the next five years to a variety of projects aimed at tackling climate change.

“We recognise that in our role as adviser, lender and investor we can play an important role in encouraging the companies and projects we finance to manage climate change ,” said HSBC’s deputy head of group sustainable development, Francis Sullivan.

And according to Tom Burstow, head of the HSBC climate change programme at Earthwatch, a scientific pressure group which is working with HSBC on many of these projects, the bank’s transition to a more environmentally friendly business model stands a real chance of succeeding because, crucially, it is also assigning its people, and not just money, to the cause.

All HSBC employees will have access to an e-learning module that talks about how they can work in a more environmentally-friendly way. Workers who want to get further involved will be allowed time off to take part in local volunteering projects. Those that show a real passion for the issue will be made champions of HSBC’s work, visiting sponsored projects and working with their colleagues to constantly improve the business’s carbon footprint.

Burstow says this three-tier approach with a focus very much on employee involvement should ensure real changes actually happen at the heart of the business.

He said: “It’s about encouraging employees to take responsibility themselves for becoming good corporate citizens.”

Getting a corporate responsibility strategy out of the boardroom and making it come alive in the workplace is the preoccupation of Dr Steve Downing, an associate professor of strategy at Henley Management College. 

He agrees that any employer sincere about seriously taking steps to tackle climate change must get staff involved at all levels, including asking employees for input into any policy.

“If it is to work, a corporate responsibility strategy must start with a dialogue with all stakeholders,” he said.

“If it comes soley from the top it just looks like another management initiative and employees won’t be engaged.”

Downing suggests holding a meeting where all employees are invited along. If possible the event should be chaired by an independent facilitator to give it credibility. From this meeting an agreed agenda can be drawn up, one that staff feel they have some ownership of from the start.

Also vital if a culture of corporate responsibility is to really get into the fabric of an organisation is to build it into any performance indicators and reviews. From here businesses must decide what environmental targets and measures they are going to set their staff and how this will be rewarded.

According to Downing, this measuring of environmental targets is happening more and more – at least on a corporate level. He says about 70% of FTSE 100 companies now post end-of-year environmental and social reports alongside the tradition financial figures.

“Once you have measures, you can start to manage them and refine them into a process,” he said.

And while pressure to tackle climate change may be coming from below, businesses stand to gain a lot from adopting a low carbon business model.

“There are huge benefits in terms of your reputation as a company – an employer people want to work for and a company people want to do businesses with,” Downing said.

“Environmental ways of doing business – cutting down on transport, holding virtual meetings, flexible working – could also bring huge savings,” he added.

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