How employee engagement drives energy efficiency for leading corporates

Embedding new smart technologies and systems is a viable way for companies to improve energy efficiency measures, but improvements to technology must be matched by employee development that engages staff to champion energy management.

That was the key talking point from Smart Energy GB’s greener workforce event, held in London on Tuesday (19 September), where speakers from BT and the Energy Institute (EI) highlighted how engaging and evolving behaviour change platforms for staff helped embed energy strategies.

BT’s principle sustainability consultant Steven Moore informed delegates from companies including Unilever, Tesco and Hilton Hotels, that ambitious climate targets were being championed by more than 10,000 staff members.

The tech firm recently set a science-based target to reduce emissions by 87% by 2030 against a 2016/17 baseline, aligning itself with the “best-case scenario” of limiting global warming to 1.5C under the Paris Agreement. Moore claimed that the ambitious target had created proof of top-level support for climate commitments, which was reinforcing actions of other staff members.

“We’ve got very public environmental targets, even the 3:1 ratio, it’s very complex, its clever, but it includes everything we do,” Moore said. “We recently aligned the business to 1.5C target – the best scenario we can get out of the Paris Agreement. It got mainstream attention and it’s something that your employees can see, and they can see that our chief executive supports this, which is powerful.”

BT’s annual energy usage is almost 1% of the UK total and energy and carbon are the company’s biggest environmental impact. The company set its first carbon reduction target in 1992, and has increased ambitions since.

Notably, the tech company set a 100% renewable energy target in 2012, and expanded that across global operations, with a 2020 deadline in place. While BT has complemented these targets with the rollout of more than 80,000 smart meters, Moore noted that employee engagement had been “critical” to performance.

BT has created around 10,000 “environmental champions” across the business that are promoting best practice techniques for staff to improve energy efficiency. These champions are motivated through online hubs and forums that allow them to discuss energy saving at work, and even a dedicated hub for energy savings at home. BT is using these avenues to encourage workers to eat less meat and use lower-emitting forms of transport.

However, it is the free training that BT offers staff that has garnered the best results. Through these hubs, staff can be accredited Bronze, Silver or Gold certifications for energy performance, with the different levels used to motivate staff to better their engagement with the programme. Overall BT has saved £200m on energy costs in five years, by combining technologies like smart meters with the dedicated behaviour change training.

No silver bullets

Also speaking at the event was EI’s lead energy management trainer James Brittain, who claimed that there was no “silver bullet” to energy management, but that some companies would be better off by viewing the role as “energy leadership”.

Brittain, a former energy manager at Heathrow Airport, worked extensively to deliver “exceptional” energy efficiency performance during the expansion of Terminal Two. Heathrow planned to add 186 retail stores across the terminal and a network of like-minded energy champions were just as important in generating energy savings as the technology that was fitted, according to Brittain.

“There’s no silver bullet here, but for me this is about energy leadership as much as energy management,” Brittain said. “It’s about empowering people towards the goals, it’s about win-win solutions.

“I find what works well is when there is some sort of training or skills development in it. People need to know what to do and when to do it, but it needs to be quick and intuitive. Originally, we focus on awareness and communications, but actually it needs more than that. Sometimes development is the most productive way of delivering change, you develop green sparks and momentum, which is key.”

As part of the Terminal Two expansion, Brittain worked with 46 retailers through the dedicated engagement network. It resulted in energy consumption that was 24% lower than the best-performing retailers operating in the Terminal.

Brittain also suggested that companies could create new performance indicators that motivate staff to continue to engage with energy efficiency programmes. Even setting a KPI for ideas produced would act as a viable way to measure the success of the behaviour change programmes, Brittain added.

ISO 15001 was also identified at the event as a key driver for energy standards, as it also placed an emphasis on staff engagement. Many companies have turned to these types of standard to drive efficiency and experienced a more motivated workforce as a result. One such example is at Edinburgh Zoo where implementation of ISO 14001 led to staff forming internal environment teams to drive efficiencies across various parts of the organisation.

Last year, BT’s head of energy and environment sat alongside delegates from Land Sec, M&S and Covestro to discuss how advances in technology still needed to be effectively translated to the boardroom and staff.

Matt Mace

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