The power of communicate

To be a truly great environmental manager, you need to start communicating. And you begin by convincing your board of directors to buy into environmental management, says DHL Express's Nicola Stopps

I do wonder when I read environmental management books if anybody else thinks the same as me.

Am I the only one who skips the chapters on how to implement an effective audit system, how to monitor environmental performance or how to write a good procedure?

Of course, all these are essential to the good housekeeping of a company

but there must be more to environmental management than this.

I believe environmental management is constrained in a straightjacket of procedures, management systems and auditing. Surely we should be using our knowledge of environmental matters for more than this. For those of you struggling to light up the eyes of senior management with your revised environmental systems manual, I call on you to look up from your process flows, widen your horizons and become an environmental entrepreneur.

As a starting point, take a minute to do the following quick quiz.


Have you produced internal communications with a picture of the earth, a tree or a leaf on it?

  • Have used all of the images (1 point)
  • Have used one or more images (2 points)
  • Have never used any of the above images (3 points)

Have you ever formally suggested a new environmental product or service for your company?

  • All the time (3 points)
  • Once (2 points)
  • Never (1 point)

When you present on environmental management to internal staff, what is their response?

  • Very bored or asleep (1 point)
  • Some awake / some bored (2 points)
  • All very excited and ask a lot of questions (3 points)

How many other projects do you work on besides environmental management procedures, audits, monitoring and internal communications?

  • More than 3 different projects (3 points)
  • 1-3 other projects (2 points)
  • No other projects (1 point)


Now add up your scores to discover your own straightjacket rating.

Less than 6 points: You thought everyone dressed like this, You’re stuck in a rut of

traditional environmental management and do a good job within that role. However, you haven’t thought how you can help benefit you company in other ways and you are lacking senior management support for environmental management.

6-9 points: You have at least noticed the buckles

You would like to be an inspirational environmental manager but you are not sure if it’s really your job to be one. Your job description only mentioned audits, procedures and the odd presentation.

10-12 points: The jacket’s off

Congratulations you are an inspirational environmental manager. You are actively looking at ways in which you can truly contribute more to your company. You have no problem with senior management support as they can see the value environmental management brings to the company.

OK, let’s assume the smug 10-12 pointers have stopped reading and you’re still with me because you want to bump up your score for next time. What do you need to do differently? First and foremost, you need to get commercial. If you want your board of directors to see the benefit of improving the company’s environmental performance, you need to link it to the commercial reality.

Benefit the customer

Do you know who your top ten customers are? Do you know what your sales and business strategy is for this year? Now ask yourself how you can support the business plan and benefit the customer.

At DHL Express, it has been interesting to see how the sales and marketing team has responded to environmental opportunities. I have to admit, it has only been over time I have learnt how best to present these ideas. And as a rule of thumb, I have found it best to present them informally first and then to produce a well researched paper on the idea including current status and growth of market, demand from customers and a good description of what it is. We are currently developing two new environmental products – sorry, top secret at the moment – but keep an eye on the DHL Express UK website for their launch.

Secondly, to get people to take you seriously as an environmental entrepreneur, you’re going to have to sell your ideas. And to do this, you need to brush up your influencing skills. You need to be engaging, have a bit of spark and be convincing.

Try using the lift test. Imagine you have entered a lift with a manager. Could you convince them that environmental management is essential to their department by the time the doors open again and you both get off? This may seem silly but it sure does help focus your arguments and sharpen your powers of persuasion.

Thirdly, you need to be a great communicator and be able to market your own department. In the early years of my career, I was guilty of producing posters with the stereotypical pictures of trees and leaves. Iconic, I know, but can we really not think of something else? I’m very much in favour of the stop ‘n’ stare style of communication, which at the very least will create a reaction from staff.

In DHL Express, the communications department is attuned to this and has produced some thought-provoking posters and internal magazine articles. The Turn Off poster we used in our energy saving campaign (which featured a huge smiling set of teeth with a bit of spinach stuck in them – see picture) has become famous around DHL and helped us achieve a 1.8% reduction in energy use just through asking staff to turn off their computers and mobile phone chargers at night.

We have also found that communications which provide information to our staff on topics which relate to their home life as well as work seem to be the most successful. For example, for World Environment Day last year, DHL Express produced an interactive e-poster highlighting ways to save energy at home and at work. This provided a lot of information to our staff on the availability of grants and how much money they could save. We knew it was a success when staff emailed us to say thank you after they had received a grant to have their houses insulated.

Straightjacket of audits

In summary, if we want environmental management to have a great future within business, we need to wriggle free from the straightjacket of audits and procedures and use our expertise more creatively. Whatever size or type of organisation you’re in, and whatever sector, the smart application of good environmental practice can add real value to your company’s reputation, its product range, its ability to be a leader within its industry, and, ultimately, its long-term future.

Wouldn’t you mind taking the credit for all that?

Nicola Stopps is UK and Ireland environmental manager for DHL Express

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie