CUTTING RESOURCE use can save vital cash for recession-hit companies but it can't be done without engaging workers. Industry figures explain how they've gone about it.
Resource efficiency is the name of the game for recession-hit businesses. Whether it’s energy, water or waste, cutting resource use is now a commercial priority rather than an environmental ambition. Myriad campaigns have extolled the benefits of the “simple things” consumers and businesses can do to save resources and, critically, money. A report by the Carbon Trust and Ricardo-AEA last summer concluded that contract caterers could save more than £35m a year through “behavioural changes” in kitchens. Meanwhile, the Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA) estimates that a small foodservice outlet could save £19 a day with basic changes in staff behaviour. “It won’t make you a millionaire, but encouraging your staff to make some changes will save you money,” says the SRA managing director, Mark Linehan.
The Carbon Trust has researched energy use in more than 2,000 pubs and restaurants; it found that costs were between 3% and 7% of sales, or 5% on average.
“That means that if you cut energy costs by 20% [through behaviour change], you are reducing the cost of sales by 1%, which is the same as increasing your profit margin by 1%,” explains Dominic Burbridge, who leads the trust’s work with the hospitality and leisure sectors. “Front of house you’re talking about 5% or 10% on average, whereas in the kitchen the savings can be up to 40%,” he adds.
Burbridge is convinced the sector can do more to cut resource use through low-cost staff engagement programmes. But it will take time and effort. The sector has a largely transient workforce, so simple behaviour changes are difficult to maintain. “The Holy Grail is to create something that is rewarding for the business, engaging or fun for employees and measurable,” he says. So how can those in the profit sector do that?
Costa Coffee has started making efforts to “excite” its employees about sustainability. Having spent heavily on energy-efficient equipment as part of its owner, Whitbread’s, Good Together project, it has turned its attention to staff. “We realised that good employee engagement [on green issues and how best to use the new equipment] can achieve between 5% and 20% reductions in carbon emissions,” says its energy and environment manager, Oliver Rosevear. “You can make all the changes [with new equipment and so on] but unless your staff are on board then you won’t get the results you expected.” The key is to excite them: “Sustainability might be fascinating to a geek like me, but is that the case for a barista?” Actually, after a number of discussions with staff, Rosevear was pleasantly surprised by their desire to improve, and they were well-educated on the issues. What they lacked was information on what they could do and the difference it would make. “So we’re introducing energy reporting for stores, where they can see the changes in energy use year by year and the difference they’ve made. We’re also bringing together a network of passionate people that can help get their teams behind the process and make the information more personal.”
The concept of “energy champions” works for some businesses but not others. A soon-to-be published study looking at the best triggers for changing behaviour has concluded that peer-to-peer interaction can be more successful than financial rewards – even among hard-up students. Lorraine Whitmarsh, an expert in the psychological and social dimensions of sustainability issues from Cardiff University, has been involved in the research.
“We found that giving students a rebate for cutting back on energy worked to some extent, but it’s the social approaches like using eco-champions and running inter- floor energy saving competitions that came out on top,” she says. “We did have some students nipping downstairs and turning their competitors’ lights on, but generally the idea of co-operation towards a shared goal worked well.”
Whitmarsh says the findings are relevant to the workplace: like students, staff don’t often see an energy bill or pay it. Some companies are already using site-based competitions to encourage savings: Mitchells & Butlers uses submetering to analyse energy use across some of its sites, which allows restaurant managers to compete against one another. “This all helps to raise awareness,” says the Carbon Trust’s Burbridge, “and that’s the start of the journey.”
Repetition is key. Many businesses fall into the trap of running an awareness campaign for a few months in the hope that it will spark long-term change. But the drop-off rate is very short. “Unless you constantly reinvigorate your activity the drop-off can be six or seven months,” says Burbridge.
It’s perhaps not surprising that information campaigns didn’t work at all for the students. People who are already partly engaged in the issues will take the time to read a leaflet or poster, but these “greens” are still in the minority.
As a rule of thumb, 20% of people are “deep green” or “green”. At the opposite end of the scale are the “unpersuadables” (20%). The remaining 60% tend to sit in between: they will do the “green thing” so long as they are not inconvenienced and it costs nothing. “This means that if you’re going to appeal to an entire workforce, you’re going to have to press different buttons,” says Burbridge. “Just saying that it’s good for the environment isn’t enough.”
Care also needs to be taken not to dress up any activity as a purely cost-saving exercise. Staff can be cynical, so there needs to be good communication about the importance of cutting energy: when asked, staff are likely to want to cut their energy use rather than have their number reduced.
Improvement and engagement can also take time. Accor has 3,600 staff in 92 countries whom it needs to engage to help achieve the environmental targets set out in its Planet 21 programme. “Some of the staff have been doing the same things for years, and we’re trying to change what they do ... that will take time,” explains Sophie Flak, the hotel group’s executive VP for sustainable development. “Our chambermaids need to know that their job isn’t just about cleaning, and we need to show them the difference they are making.”
Flak says there are already “extraordinary things” happening in some hotels thanks to better staff engagement, while others are “so backward”. A new e-learning programme is expected to help, as well as overcome some of the language barriers.
Technology could play a critical role in behaviour change. CESA, the Catering Equipment Suppliers Association, has been using QR codes to enable kitchen staff to download best practice videos for some equipment. But the most successful measures aren’t always the most technical. “Premier Inn has saved loads of energy by putting three simple changes on the fob keys used by housekeepers,” says Burbridge. “The key, as it were, is simplicity.”
Clarity. Explain why staff need to change the way they work
Consistency. Drop-off can be quick, so a short campaign won’t produce lasting change
Evolution. Workers like to run with the pack and will want to blend in, so the trick is to make the sustainability initiative the new normal
Measurement. It’s not always easy to measure change, but it’s an excellent way to engage staff and highlight the fruits of their labour
Enrichment. Reward staff, and not necessarily with financial incentives
Sources: Carbon Trust, DNV Two Tomorrows, Ricardo-AEA