Top tips: 5 ways to create an effective behaviour change programme

Three-quarters of energy managers surveyed in a recent edie report claimed that employee engagement and behaviour change was a top priority this year. But they also listed it as one of the biggest barriers to getting their energy efficiency schemes off the ground...

Implementing behaviour change programmes is evidentally still fraught with difficulty for managers whose backgrounds are more likely to be in energy and environment matters, rather than psychology.

This is where Dr Phillipa Coan comes in. Coan is a business psychologist and environmental behaviour change consultant who works with international corporations to help them achieve that elusive goal – a successful behaviour change programme. 

Coan has shared her insights exclusively with edie – from the most common mistakes made by companies, to the type of incentives that can keep employees engaged.

According to the Carbon Trust, spending 2% of your utility bill on employee engagement can generate savings of 10%.

“There is a growing awareness that behaviour change presents a relatively low cost option for energy saving compared to introducing more capital-intensive technology,” she told edie.

Here are her top tips for implementing a successful behaviour change programme.

1) Introduce a behaviour change scheme as part of a company-wide sustainability effort

“The best programmes are those carried out in organisations that consider behaviour change as one part of a broader organisational challenge to improve environmental performance rather than an isolated awareness campaign”, says Coan.

As an example of best practice, Coan pointed to a global manufacturing company that introduced a holistic sustainability scheme. Employees were rewarded with eco-points for good environmental behaviour, with improving non-monetary prizes available as employees earned more points.

This scheme was introduced alongside green technologies such as solar panels, along with new production techniques to minimise waste and the development of a new nature reserve to enhance site biodiversity.

“The people side is one aspect but the other factors lock in the fact that this is a new organisational strategy and employees know they have to take it seriously,” says Coan.

2)  It’s not about the money…

Incentives are vital to a good behaviour change scheme, says Coan.

“Its important to engage with employees to work out what they want. What are their motivators and their barriers?

“Typically it is likely to be non-monetary rewards. The problem with using money is that when that financial reward is gone, the behaviour changes stops as well.

“So working out what the incentives should be is vital – whether that’s praise, league tables, discussing how it improves health and wellbeing, linking it to job performance or fun prizes.

Coan also pointed out that environmental behaviours can often be driven by non-environmental drivers. For example, employees could be encouraged to cycle to work if they understood the health and financial benefits.

3) Measuring results can help expand the programme

One of the most common problems with a behaviour change programme is quantifying its success. Has energy consumption fallen in the office because employees are turning off computer screens, for example?

Coan suggests using one floor or department in an office as the ‘control’ and then measuring the success of the scheme on another floor.

“Demonstrating tangible success like this is also a good way to get mandate to go and deliver the initiative more broadly,” she says.

4) Get the ‘cool kids’ on board

One of the biggest mistakes that companies make, according to Coan, is having a behaviour change initiative led only by an energy manager or someone from the environmental team.

“While these people play an important role, they are already engaged, and the rest of the organisation is perhaps less likely to follow their lead,” she says. 

“Its key to work out who is well-connected and influential across the organisation and get them involved. These are the kind of people who can engage various groups and subcultures across a business.

“Employees need to be involved in the process. They’re the ones who are going to know where most energy is wasted and have ideas for how that can be improved. Without employees, involved any scheme is unlikely to be successful.

5) Try and make an impact at home

Coan adds: “One thing I’m particularly passionate about is changing behaviour outside the workplace. Because if employees are going home and have bad habits there, they’re going to spill back over into the workplace, so what really we should be trying to do is change their behaviour in all social contexts.

This type of programme often focuses on education around saving water, energy and waste.

“That brings a bigger challenge in measuring that impact of course,” says Coan, “but that should be the long term goal.”

Five of the best behaviour change programmes covered on edie: –

Dr Phillipa Coan at edie’s Sustainability Skills Workshop

Phillipa Coan is among the expert speakers at edie’s inaugural Sustainability Skills Workshop, which takes place in London on 26 January 2016.

Coan will be leading a workshop entitled: The skills needed to drive behaviour 
change in your organisation.

Find out more about the Workshop and register to attend here.

Brad Allen

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