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Three ways to engage your staff in saving energy and reducing waste at work


We’ve all seen faded posters asking staff politely to turn off the lights and stickers on photocopiers ‘off’ buttons that never get pressed. So why do so many energy and waste saving campaigns fail? Often the campaigns that come down from above make staff feel like they’re being imposed upon and staff can’t see the answer to the question ‘What’s in it for me?’


What does make energy and waste reduction campaigns work? Firstly you need to find out more about your audience and tailor your communication to suit them. Each business has its own culture and what works for one business will fail miserably for the next. For example, in one security organisation where there is a high volume of ex-army staff, direct orders and clear instructions are well received and followed. However, try taking that approach in a creative design company and you will soon ruin any positive intention in employees!


To help you think about how to understand your own business culture, try comparing it to one of the following metaphors and then tailor your communications to suit:


Machines: these types of businesses have highly visible structures, levels and routines. Some people describe them as bureaucracies. These types of businesses provide continuity, form and security.


Organisms: such businesses will be adaptable and flexible. It can change to the environment around it and tends to be dynamic. These types of organisations may look very different within relatively short periods of time depending on how quickly the environment around them changes.


Brains: not only are these businesses resilient and flexible, but they are inventive and rational. Capable of change, these types of businesses are ‘learning organisations’ where enquiry and self-criticism is essential to their processes.


Essential to all businesses is the fact that they are made up of values, principles, attitudes and ways of viewing and relating to the world – and importantly, each business has its own unique way. Once you fully understand your business’s culture then you will more able to tune into it to communicate more effectively with the individuals in it.


Once you have worked out the best way to communicate with your staff, you need to work out what to communicate to them. Ensure the suggestions you make are credible and achievable. Talk to staff and find out what changes can be made. For example asking all departments to turn off their computers at the end of the day won’t apply to departments who work night shifts, and so you will need to refer to the end of their shift. Many departments or sections of the organisation will have specific requirements to get their work done. There’s no point asking fire fighters to save water when putting a fire out, but they can put hippos in the toilet cisterns!


Understanding the work requirements of teams and units can be done by looking at job descriptions and mission statements, but usually the best way is to talk to the teams face-to-face; ideally holding workshops so that they are able to generate their own solutions to the energy and waste challenges your business is facing. After all, who is better placed to know what steps can be taken than the job holders themselves? Your work in workshops is to act as a facilitator to generate the ideas and then empower staff to follow through on these suggestions by providing follow-up support and resources where necessary.


The third step to take is to celebrate the successes of your campaign so that individuals, teams and departments don’t loose motivation. Goal setting is a very useful process to help and you can use the workshop to help determine what realistic and achievable goals are. Once a goal has been reached (you will need to ensure there is a specific way of measuring this) then you can celebrate!


There are a variety of ways to celebrate, and you will find that different people respond to different rewards. Some will prefer extrinsic awards such as a bottle of champagne, and others will prefer more intrinsic awards such as pure recognition of their work: for example the most creative solution which has saved five reams of paper a week.


Changing behaviour is not necessarily a simple straight forward process; you need to consider what motivates people and how to change attitudes. It is unlikely to happen overnight; and sometimes having an external change agent can help facilitate the process and provide an objective perspective that is easy to loose sight of when working in the heart of an organisation.


Anna Kane is a Chartered Occupational Psychologist and director of Ampleo. Ampleo applies psychology to help businesses and organisations drive their environmental policy through their most valued asset: their people. For further advice on your business or organisation, contact Anna by email: or pick up the phone! 020 8643 8879


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