Companies reap the benefits of furthering eco-policy

Firms look to engage employees in bolstering their eco-friendly image as candidates become increasingly environmentally conscious

  • By Paul McMahon | Thursday, April 4th, 2013

Bicycles in front of the Walking Man statue outside Munich Re’s headquarters. The firm has introduced a number of eco-friendly initiatives

Until recently, few companies seemed aware of how important the green issue can be to employees and job candidates. Businesses adopted green policies to meet government-set targets or to use as an advertising strategy. Employees seemed to have been left out. But industries have woken up to the importance of including their workforce in their eco-initiatives.

A Ceridian survey of UK employees in 2007 found 69 percent believed it was highly important their employers were environmentally responsible. A further 40 percent said they would turn down a job with an eco-unfriendly company. They were in favour of ‘green’ company benefits, such as incentives to switch to a sustainable energy provider, discounts on environmentally friendly products and subsidised fares for public transport.

It appears they were listened to; the world over, companies are now reaping the benefits of adopting eco-business practices. They have seen a drop in day-to-day running costs complemented by a rise in productivity.

BT‘s energy saving campaign, launched in 2010, continues to be one of the company’s main priorities. The idea is to make staff more aware of efforts within the business to reduce carbon contribution through heating, lighting and equipment.

BT started by aiming the programme at individuals who had more influence within the business, such as heads of departments and engagement managers. The head chef and the auditorium manager were targeted to introduce more eco-friendly policies in their departments. Simple measures like reducing fridge-freezer usage and turning off unused projectors began to make a difference.

The company retrains its drivers through its fuel-efficiency scheme, Openreach. Drivers with the highest fuel usage and accident rates are retrained and taught about the new eco-friendly vehicles being brought in.

Energy Champions, selected from among the workforce, conduct energy audits and report faults. They encourage staff to be more eco-friendly by turning off unused hardware, lighting and recycling. The company also introduced Carbon Clubs to bring members of staff together to discuss green issues.

A recent employee survey found waste and energy savings were the main issues the staff felt should be addressed. As well as Carbon Club and Energy Champions, BT has brought in carpooling and cycle-to-work schemes. Over 10,000 of the 75,000-strong workforce have signed up for at least one of these programmes.

In 2009, SAP appointed Peter Graf as Chief Sustainability Officer and he came with a mission.  Not content to just make the company greener, he wanted to make sustainability part of the culture among the 60,000 employees. Through a basic questionnaire, he discovered the combined distance travelled to and from work by the staff every day was enough to travel to the moon, back to Earth and then to the moon again.

SAP’s engineers devised a system to share information about which colleagues were available for ride sharing. The programme matched people based on common interests. The carpooling in turn led to idea sharing and networking that helped drive innovation within the company. TwoGo, the software developed for the idea, is now available for purchase. It is common for the CEO to carpool, which Graf says leads to employees wearing their best suits and practising their conversation the night before the commute.

SAP also introduced a PIN-activated print system to prevent a build up of unclaimed documents. In the past four years, it has saved $250m by implementing a bout of eco-friendly technologies, all of which it has made for sale.

In 2008, internal surveys showed SAP had a very low rate of employee engagement in eco matters. But this interest has grown as people came to understand and see the benefits of Graf’s mantra that “sustainability is built into how the company creates value.” The adoption of sustainability policy at all levels of SAP has helped employee engagement rise to 91 percent. Graf hopes by the year 2020 to have reduced emissions to the level they were at in 2000, a cut of about 50 percent.

The world over, companies are now reaping the benefits of adopting eco-business practices

The National Australian Bank (NAB) runs a number of green schemes for employees to join, as well as offering eco-friendly perks. The Green Team Community is an internal voluntary programme for employees who wish to help the bank become more environmentally friendly. The company provides training for members to champion green causes and raise awareness in their local workplaces.

In its first four years, the community helped the company to become carbon neutral – and it was the first bank in Australia to do so. Gavin Slater, Group Executive for Group Business Services at NAB, praised the staff for their contribution. He said it was “[a] testament to the enthusiasm, commitment and activism of employees to make a difference and ensure their workplace is more environmentally sustainable.”

Having achieved this milestone, NAB then launched Beyond Carbon Neutral. The programme saw the introduction of recycled paper across the company, from printing paper to paper towels and cups. Shareholders have been given the option to receive their communication electronically. Some 109,000 have taken this option, which has seen a cut of 10.7 tonnes of equivalent carbon dioxide per annum.

Throughout the year, the bank holds a series of Green Speakers talks, where outside experts are invited to talk to staff about carbon, water and waste reduction. It runs various eco-benefits, such as Green Your Life, which provides access to discounts on a range of environmental products like water tanks and solar hot water panels sold by third parties. Employees are also encouraged to take advantage of interest-free loans to help them purchase annual public transport tickets and run a carpooling service.

Munich Re
Munich Re has embarked on a companywide environmental management system (EMS) to improve the environmental impact of services within the business. The EMS registers the effect of the company’s day-to-day operations on the environment and looks at ways to restrict any harmful actions. The programmeís goal is to reduce the consumption of paper, energy and water and minimise refuse and business travel.

Dr Ulf Mainzer, board member for Human Resources and General Services, said: “Our efforts range from modernising our office technology to sharing environmental tips with our employees.” The scheme was tested at a number of member companies before being introduced across the group in 2011. EMS has seen the introduction of data collection systems and so far 87 percent of its staffís activities fall under the project.

The company has introduced codes of conduct and communication initiatives to encourage its staff to consider the effect any action may have on the environment. Munich Re aims to achieve climate neutrality by 2015; a reduction from 4.90 tonnes in 2009.

Dr Astrid Zwick, Munich Reís Environmental Officer, says: “Wherever possible we try to bring our ecological activities into harmony with our financial objectives. Especially when staff members contribute their own ideas, it is possible to continually improve environmental management.”