UK firms could save £300m a year by engaging staff in sustainability

UK workplaces are missing out on more than £300m a year in savings that could be achieved by engaging employees in energy efficiency and waste reduction, according to new research.

Released today by the Carbon Trust, the research highlights how fewer than half of UK employees are concerned about the cost of energy for their employer, while less than a quarter have been asked to help save energy at work.

The research also shows a significant disconnect between employee behaviour at home and at work. Increases in energy prices are seeing 92% of workers concerned about the cost of energy at home, but the figure drops to 47% when it comes to the cost of energy for their employer.

Despite this, little is being done by employers to improve this situation, according to the Carbon Trust. Only 23% of employees have been asked to help save energy at work by their manager, and just 13% claim that they are rewarded by their employers for saving energy.

Carbon Trust managing director of programmes Richard Rugg said: “Employees are the greatest asset of UK business, but when most of us enter the office, we take far less care to save energy and use resources efficiently than we do at home”.

Rugg added that understanding how employees act in the workplace will allow businesses to unlock significant bottom line savings. However, he also said that behavioural psychology shows that just telling employees what to do is not enough.

“Employers need to understand what motivates or blocks good behaviour to really unlock cost, waste and carbon savings. For example using negative messages can lead to unpredictable results, including the potential for backlash,” said Rugg.

The study also found that praise is almost as effective as money in motivating staff with 60% saying they are more likely to take action if financially rewarded, and 58% more likely if to do it if their actions were recognised.

However, only 22% of employees are confident that they know what actions to take to save energy at work, and just 16% are sure that they have the authority to do it.

Using techniques from behavioural psychology to encourage staff to take simple actions on workplace energy consumption, travel and waste, employers can help deliver significant reductions in operational costs and carbon emissions.

For example reducing the energy used for lighting by 10% – something readily achievable by many organisations – equates to total annual savings across the UK of more than £55m.

Adopting these environmental behaviours, alongside changes in commuting to and from the workplace, could also result in cutting the UK’s annual emissions by more than six million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Some of the UK’s leading companies are already engaging employees in the war on workplace waste.

Nationwide’s sustainability manager Lynn Forrester, said: “Our employees’ support is vital for us to achieve our environmental targets and environmental sustainability must be embedded into the hearts and minds of everyone within the organisation for our strategy to be truly successful.”

Richard Rugg added: “A small but growing number of organisations are starting to recognise the opportunity in engaging their workforce in low carbon behaviour.

“But even when they have the best intentions, many organisations struggle to engage employee power. It takes more than just an occasional nagging email or a “switch me off” sticker to tap into the opportunity. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, it is important to understand the workplace and the people in it. It takes time to turn actions into habits,” said Rugg.

Leigh Stringer

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