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Employee engagement lessons from some of the UK’s most sustainable businesses

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14th Jul 2014
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Around a quarter of UK SMEs are prioritising energy saving management in 2014 after research has shown  that, on average, a typical business wastes around 20% of the energy it uses.

Whilst government initiatives, such as the Green Deal, have been put in place to ensure that both businesses and home owners UK-wide do more to preserve energy, recent research by the CDP suggests that the most effective form of carbon reduction projects are actually those that are built around behaviour change.

Just a few minor changes to the way employees work within the business can help to bring down the energy bill quite significantly. And not only can your business benefit financially, but staff satisfaction can also be increased.

How can being energy efficient help your business?

Many companies who have already put measures in place have seen a surge in staff engagement, interaction and, in turn, job satisfaction. We’ve drawn out key take-aways from three businesses that have seen an influx in brand positivity as a result of their sustainability drives.

The Co-operative

The Co-operative Group has cut their energy use by 41% since 2006, saving £50m a year through educating its staff on sustainability.

Its new online training module teaches staff how their collective efforts can help save energy. Regional competitions reward the best performers and those who have worked hard to make a positive change.

Since 2006, Co-operative Food has cut its electricity and gas consumption by 35% and 38%, resulting in a 41% reduction in total.

Nandos

Along with the cost of food and employees’ wages, energy is one of the biggest overheads for the restaurant chain and, as such, minimising consumption and spend wherever possible is a top priority.

The energy management team at Nando’s looked at a wide range of technologies that might help reduce energy use across the group, but eventually decided that there were bigger savings to be made by engaging employees.

As a large part of energy consumption is controlled by staff at shop-floor level, increasing efficiency depends largely on implementing behavioural change. Individual restaurant managers – or patrãos– have also been given financial responsibility for energy usage to ensure all consumption is monitored in detail and the data has been made available to managers.

As a result, Nandos has achieved a 9% reduction in average energy costs across its restaurants in the UK.

BAM Nuttall

Construction and civil engineering giant BAM Nuttall delivers some equally insightful take-aways for energy-conscious SME businesses through its employee engagement scheme ‘Beyond Zero’. This specially designed training programme was initially launched to improve health and safety, but has since embraced environmental training and sustainability too.

Initially, a series of workshops were delivered by specially trained colleagues to educate staff members on the importance of sustainability. Over time, staff members have been encouraged to conduct their own workshops to inform and engage their peers in new ways.

As a result, the team has devised a number of scalable sustainability drives, including reviewing delivery options with their main supplier, Aggregate Industries, to distribute aggregates by sea and take 3,500 lorries off the road. 

Almost 85% of the company’s waste now avoids being placed in landfill - a 24% improvement from 2010 – and the company is producing 41% less construction waste since 2009.

B&Q

B&Q is another business working to improve their carbon footprint. Its new initiative, One Planet Home, has inspired 33,000 employees to get involved in bettering their sustainability.

From a fundraising bike ride to France to the launch of an eco-newspaper, One Planet Times, and even the transformation of a Victorian house into a home that is eco-friendly, staff have been engaged in the scheme on a number of levels.

B&Q has made a commitment to improve their sustainability in certain areas, including: waste, carbon, water and timber. The business has cut its absolute carbon emissions by 29% and CO2 emissions from waste to landfill by 80% since 2006, and only buys timber that is proved to be responsibly sourced.

So, how can you engage employees to improve energy efficiency?

Reducing the energy usage within your business doesn’t have to be difficult. Things like turning off computers, monitors, printers and lights at the end of the day, reducing paper consumption and replacing old equipment with new, energy efficient alternatives can make a real difference.

However, it’s difficult to overstate how effective staff engagement can be. For best results, try the following tips:

1.       Make sure that everyone knows what they can do to contribute

Many businesses now employ a funnel system for educating employees via ‘energy champions’. Like BAM Nuttall’s workshops, specially trained members of staff take responsibility for increasing awareness of energy efficiency around the business.

These champions can drill in the importance of things like turning lights off, switching off PCs and monitors rather than leaving them on standby, and being conservative with the heating (within reason) during the working day.

Your energy champions can also make sure that other members of staff are kept informed about the things that the business achieves by publishing progress and achievements on staff noticeboards, the website and social media. To feel truly engaged with your initiative, it really helps for employees to see what their efforts are doing.

2.       Make it fun and incentivise staff

While some small scale changes can be made within the workplace, large challenges like the B&Q bike ride can bolster employees and be great for getting your team noticed.

Like the Co-op, reward employees who go the extra mile to save energy and money. You’ll probably find that giving your team targets to reach will spur them on to reach the company’s goals.

3.       Don’t get predictable

When it comes to training your employees, don’t stick with the same methods all the time. The occasional workshop can be beneficial, and the odd training day here and there can be a welcome break from the usual office routine, but they can get boring over time. Plan projects every few months and set challenges to add variety. Encourage your team to submit their ideas too, so that everyone feels involved.

Making your company energy efficient can feel like an uphill struggle at first and it can of course be difficult to find the time when you are running your own business. But it can really pay off when you start to save money, build staff morale, and raise awareness of your brand.

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