How to engage staff in green initiatives

03 June 2011 by
How to engage staff in green initiatives

You can have all the sustainability policies in the world, but without getting your staff to buy into them, they are worthless. Emily Manson looks at the best ways to get your staff engaged in your green dream

Having a corporate social responsibility (CSR) policy is the norm these days, but how many of these policies get shoved in a binder never to see the light of day again?

Clearly, it's not enough to just have the policy. Without getting your staff to buy into the concept of working in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way, the targets are not worth the paper they're written on.

Engaging your employees can also be key to the success of your business, especially in these cash-strapped times. In fact, Dominic Burbridge, the Carbon Trust's senior adviser, estimates that about 5-10% of a business's outgoings can be saved through good energy management at little or no cost - so it really does make good business sense to get your employees proactively involved.

But what are the best ways to get your staff on board?

Green Teams
Green teams are crucial to the success of any CSR policy. But they can't just involve senior management issuing dictates from above. Ideally green teams should encompass all levels and departments of the business: front and back of house, as well as senior management and entry-level employees. The qualification for joining a green team should be enthusiasm.

Alex Murray, proprietor of Bordeaux Quay in Bristol, says: "Everyone's opinion is important because they all look at different parts of the business. From the kitchen porter to the general manager, we always listen to suggestions from everyone."

Philip Newman-Hall, director and general manager of Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, adds that green team members should meet regularly to ensure continuity and momentum. He encourages an open-door policy so that any member of staff can feel free to put forward ideas. "We have a monthly meeting and an action plan for the year. Some things are very specific, some are just natural ideas that arise as the year progresses. It's often the new person who comes in and asks ‘why are you doing this like that?' who sees an opportunity," he adds. "For the people who are in it all the time, it's harder to spot things."

Starting Out
Burbridge suggests going for the low-hanging fruit first. "Aim to get simple behavioural changes initially. Pick your top three to five things that you want to change and focus on them."

But he adds that these targets should change every few months to prevent complacency and a slippage back into old wasteful habits.

Maintaining momentum
One of the most fundamental challenges for the hospitality industry is how to keep up the momentum of a CSR policy when staff turnover can be up to 25% in any one year.

Some businesses turn to outside companies to help with this (see right). Malcolm Scovil, founder of LeapCR, provides an IT platform which links businesses with more than 600 charity partners to enable staff to pick events and causes they want to support.

Scovil explains: "Whether it's a solo activity or a group event on a weekday or weekend, the site has a vast range of fundraising events from gardening and river clean-ups to Santa Claus fun runs. Staff can also use the platform as a social network, inviting co-workers to join in their activity."

But the bottom line is that the more staff see that sustainability is an integral part of an operation's culture, the more it will become second nature. Alvaro Rey, general manager at the InterContinental London Park Lane, says: "To make a genuine impact, everyone at the hotel needs to feel they have the potential to be involved."

Put it in Writing
Sometimes a softly softly approach isn't enough. Some argue that if CSR really is at the core of your business ethos, then it should be measured and reported on. Vanessa Scott, director of Strattons hotel and restaurant in Swaffham in Norfolk, advises this.

"Chefs still come out of catering colleges without any sense of their part in reducing energy and waste," she says. "Engage them by installing an energy meter in the kitchen and make them responsible for recording consumption of energy weekly. Waste food, compost and energy use should be included as part of the head chef's weekly reporting to directors."

Chris Penn, hotel manager at the Cavendish London, agrees. He advises incorporating the environment into the heart of your business model. "We created a new value: ‘We care about our environment and our community'. This, along with four other core values, set expectations to all staff about our commitments and how they should conduct themselves to achieve a successful balanced scorecard," he says.

Converting the Doubters
There will always be some that are harder to convince than others. Newman-Hall has found that the passion of others is the best weapon to use when trying to get sceptics to become engaged.

"There's an infectious enthusiasm that comes out from our committee and as doubters see little ideas work, and realise it's a win win, they're more likely to buy into the next one and even start thinking of ideas themselves," he says.

With energy costs increasing across the board, Burbridge also suggests employers can develop staff enthusiasm by showing them how certain actions can help them make savings in their own homes.

He says: "One effective means of changing people's mindsets is to appeal to how staff live at home. If they can save money too, the ideas resonate more and it closes the gap between behaviour at work and at home."

A casual approach and constant discussons create buy-in
Bordeaux Quay in Bristol is an independent restaurant with a plethora of green awards and it's the UK's first eco restaurant to achieve the Soil Association's gold rating for sustainable catering. As a result, proprietor Alex Murray finds that many staff who come to work for the business already care about the environment.

His approach to getting staff engaged on green issues is mainly informal, although all staff go through an induction where they are told about the building, its renovation, buying policies and new technologies.

"We get them to discuss what we're doing and ask questions," says Murray. "Once they're educated, they seem really sympathetic as they understand the reasons and motivations behind our procedures. Most importantly they then feel part of the process and are more willing to get involved and stuck in."

The rest of the engagement process is deliberately casual in its nature. Because Murray and his other senior management team do regular shifts on the floor and in the kitchen, he ensures that they always keep the issue at the forefront of the teams' mind.

He explains: "Initially we had a sustainability manager who put systems in place, but now we just have constant discussions. I don't believe in preaching to people. We value everyone's opinion and talk to them all on the same level so they feel they can make contributions. Everyone in the building can be as creative as us, sometimes it's easy to end up with a one-track mind."

Engage staff through social networking
Jumeirah Carlton Tower promotes CSR throughout the year. Hotel manager Gerard Denneny says that historically CSR events and projects were done on a case-by-case basis but recently the hotel has needed a more structured approach. The hotel now uses an outsourced hub, Leap CR, to help engage employees.

He explains: "LeapCR is a platform which is based on social networking. It creates an interest with our colleagues to know each other and engage in activities which support the giving-back culture."

LeapCR provides a variety of activities to choose from and includes more than 600 non-profit partners. Jumeirah is also able to include its internal initiatives on the site. Denneny has found that this makes it easier to achieve the group's CSR goals and that this in turn has helped improve employee retention as well as their efficiency at meeting CSR targets.

Staff have recently taken part in a number of ways including Hospitality Action's 10k run and the London to Brighton Bike Ride.

10 tips for staff engagement

â- Go for low-hanging fruit and change these targets seasonally.
â- Look at how impacts can be measured and reported.
â- Link targets with performance evaluation.
â- Incentivise staff through competitions and rewards.
â- Shout about your results. This will encourage other ideas to come forward.
â- Use third-party sites to help inspiration and participation.
â- Keep CSR strategies global but initiatives, targets and rewards local.
â- Explain issues to your staff. Once they understand, they're more likely to buy in.
â- Be creative and use humour. This can be fun, too.

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