Heroes of change: How Innocent Drinks is empowering its staff to drive sustainability

EXCLUSIVE: Innocent Drinks is on a mission to build a workforce of sustainability superheroes. Here, edie explores the innovative approaches the smoothie and fruit juice manufacturer is taking to put people at the heart of its new CSR strategy.

How do you overcome the challenge of staff feeling disengaged with your sustainability strategy? It’s an age-old question for sustainability teams, but one that must be answered correctly in order to drive a successful sustainability strategy.

Of course, this is no easy task. And while companies of all industry types and sizes are increasingly understanding the importance of staff behaviours, mastering the art of individual persuasion around sustainability and CSR is no easy task for any organisation.

Few have turned this challenge into an opportunity in such an effective way as Innocent Drinks. The London-based company is synonymous with health and wellbeing and so, to an extent, sustainability is built into its offering. But hidden behind the brand’s ‘super juices’ and ‘wonder greens’ is a core business strategy that has evolved in a way that encourages staff to live a life that matches up to the company’s progressive green ethos.

One of the key terms being used throughout the firm’s business strategy is “responsibility”. It is this word that underpins a new project launched by the group’s sustainability team in an effort to positively influence staff behaviours around sustainability.

“Our values are sufficiently broad, so people can interpret them in their own way,” explains the company’s group people and culture director Jane Marsh, who is speaking at edie’s Sustainability Leaders Forum this month (scroll down for details). “‘Responsible’ covers sustainability; it can be anything from picking paper up from the floor to helping the world’s hungry through our Foundation.

“It’s all encompassed and we want people to be consistent with who they are, at home and at work. We appreciate that people adopt behaviour change at different paces and through different influences. The holistic influence of working here rubs off on everyone after a while. It would be counterproductive to enforce it in a more negative way.”

Connecting with staff

Innocent Drinks, which began life selling drinks at a music festival in 1999, refocused its CSR strategy in 2016 following feedback from staff. Marsh noted that feeling among workers at Innocent Drinks’ BREEAM-rated Fruit Towers headquarters was previously one of “frustration” that they weren’t as involved in the company’s sustainability targets as they wanted to be – a great dilemma for any sustainability professional to be facing. 

Unsurprisingly, Innocent Drinks had already achieved several key milestones before its CSR refocus. All cartons are made from 100% Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified card, and the company has incorporated at least 25% recycled content in bottles since 2003. The rebrand has seen the company commit to ensuring that all bottles consist of at least 30% recycled plastic, and larger smoothie bottles currently utilise 50% recycled content. With discarded plastics emerging as one of the key environmental trends of 2018 – it accounts for 95% of the rubbish in our oceans – it’s fair to say the Innocent Drinks has been a pioneer in this area.

But staff still felt a disconnect between their work and the company’s sustainability targets and milestones. To bridge this gap, the company’s head of sustainability Louise Stevens began rebranding the sustainability strategy in a way that would capture the interests and willingness of staff members.

“This was a really interesting point for us,” notes Stevens. “The challenge we had was that we realised people actually wanted to do more in this area. So, rather than getting people to care in the first place, we were faced with a feeling of frustration that people didn’t feel like they were contributing to our sustainability work enough.

“A big part of the relaunch was finding a way that every single person could feel like they were genuinely contributing to it. This would have a two-fold benefit: we couldn’t deliver that strategy without getting more of our business involved – it is so much more ambitious – but we had to respond to anecdotal feedback that more people wanted to get involved. The two things came together very neatly.”

Indeed, the company has provided an enabling environment for its staff to champion sustainability. Every worker is provided with recycled notepads and reusable cutlery, and is encouraged to bike to work. FSC-certified desks and a vegetable patch on the office roof terrace both enhance staff involvement with sustainability, while the building has ditched photocopiers to save paper.

Fruit Towers heroes

The behaviour changes innovations don’t end there. The Fruit Towers headquarters has also been fitted with a “last leaver pulls” lever, which is fitted on each floor as a secondary circuit to shutdown all non-fundamental equipment at the end of the day, saving energy as a result. A green light system also tells staff when to open windows and prompts the air conditioning to cut out.

While the infrastructure has been provided for staff to increase involvement with the CSR strategy, it is the internal engagement frameworks that are ultimately fostering the staff desire to act on the strategy.

This is where the firm’s behaviour change story gets really interesting. As part of its CSR refocus, Innocent has been asking all of its staff to add a sustainability ‘role’ to their job description in an attempt to create a workforce of “Fruit Towers heroes”.

Staff can choose to be an ‘agitator’, ‘activator’, ‘ambassador’ or ‘protector’. The majority of board members act as protectors; directly supporting the sustainability strategy and holding teams accountable for actions. The ambassadors, meanwhile, are tasked with inspiring and sharing the strategy and ambitions with others, while the activators actually have to deliver the sustainability strategy. More than half of Innocent’s staff members have adopted the agitator role. Agitators are more grassroots in their involvement, but are asked to come up with and implement ideas that can improve sustainability both at home and at work.

“We don’t set them anything that they have to do,” explains Marsh. “They define the actions and then make it specific. It’s quite a competitive company, so using visual statistics on paper usage and calling out teams using the most is quite effective as a way to get people to compete and reduce, for example.

“It was just a natural thing for us to do. We don’t track them to within an inch of their lives, we leave it to the ordinary performance process between manager and person. This strong sense of responsibility, which is one of our core values, actually drives us to deliver on this without it just being delivered because it was tracked.

“I understand that certain things need to be measured, but from a sustainability perspective here, it’s not really needed. That’s not the way we culturally run it.”

Measuring success

So, what success has this project driven? Behaviour change can be notoriously difficult to measure and, while Innocent Drinks currently has no way of tracking how staff are interacting and defining their sustainability roles, both Marsh and Stevens said that “tangible results” have been seen in some areas, such as paper use.

One of the metrics the company is using to gauge the success of the new job roles is a recently-launched ‘Sustainability Ideas Council”. The council gives staff across the entire company, ranging from supply chain and sustainability to marketing and finance, a platform to kickstart new ideas. Innocent Drinks’ target of becoming a paperless company by 2020 was actually borne through the council. Other success stories from the council include switching to environmentally-friendly cleaning products, and replacing polystyrene packaging with sheep’s wool when sending parcels.

Since all of these changes were introduced, Innocent Drinks has also examined staff engagement through a ‘Company Pride’ measurement. Staff pride in working for the company is currently tracking at 98%, whereas similar results from previous annual surveys (albeit using different metrics) sat in the low 90s.

Innocent Drinks is set to release its first sustainability report since the relaunch of its CSR strategy in the coming months, hence the current lack of data availability related to the improvements that have been made so far. While the Fruit Towers heroes initiative is still being rolled out across the company, Stevens is already excited about possibly strengthening staff involvement with the sustainability strategy even further.

“I’m pleased with the journey we’ve been on and the opportunities that we’ve given others to understand our strategy and take it on,” Stevens adds. “We invested a lot of time with people, but it will be interesting to explore whether it does eventually become a more formal part of the objective setting process.

“I don’t know if that’s the route we’ll go down, but an option we can explore is whether people are assessed against it as part of bi-annual reviews – this brings financial motivations into it. We’ll likely assess it at the end of this year.”

Jane Marsh at the edie Sustainability Leaders Forum

Innocent Drinks’ group people and culture director Jane Marsh is one of the expert speakers that will appear on stage at edie’s Sustainability Leaders Forum later this month.

Taking place on 24-25 January, the Sustainability Leaders Forum will bring together more than 600 ambitious professionals moving beyond environmental objectives to deliver transformational change and create brand value every year.

The two-day event, which runs alongside the Sustainability Leaders Awards, will feature interactive workshops and enhanced networking to give you the most comprehensive and immersive experience on the day.

For more information and to book your place at the Forum, click here.

Matt Mace

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