Case study: we are the champions

6th August 2014


the environmentalist finds the workforce is key to driving down emissions at PHS group

PHS group has decades of experience in waste management and providing workplace services, and takes seriously its environmental responsibility. It is keen to cut its carbon footprint. But how best to do so when it runs a fleet of more than 3,000 vans, which are responsible for 76% of the business’s total emissions?

It is a challenge for Emma Wood, sustainability manager at PHS group. “Environmental responsibility is inherent in our business model, which by focusing on providing service and rental products allows us to control the entire product lifecycle from design to ongoing maintenance and end-of-life disposal,” says Wood.

She cites the example of the PHS washroom business, which each year recycles more than 50 tonnes of plastic sanitary bins and recovers around 28,500 product components for repair and reuse.

PHS has been measuring its own carbon footprint since 2008. Its first target, set in 2009, was to reduce scope 1 and 2 carbon intensity by 10% in three years. So far so good. But what about those vehicles and the 60% of staff who are on the road? Undoubtedly, there is a pressing need to reduce the primary source of emissions – the remainder is attributable to the gas and electricity used at its 140 UK sites – but reaching the individuals and engaging them is a trial in itself.

The answer lies in a network of environmental champions and “footsteps leaders” to encourage behaviour change and help reduce emissions on the part of every employee, which number more than 5,000.

Creating a network of leaders

Footsteps is the name with which PHS brands its efforts to become a more sustainable and environmentally focused organisation. It represents a campaign to reduce the company’s carbon footprint and covers employee communications and a diverse range of initiatives, many of which are inspired and “owned” by staff. The champions are integral to footsteps and bring PHS’s sustainability aims to life.

The network of 140 footsteps leaders comprises mainly PHS depot managers. Together with the champions, they monitor energy use and support improved energy efficiency. “It is line managers who have day-to-day contact with employees and so footsteps leaders are key to engaging staff in more energy-efficient ways of working,” says Wood. “They are also closest to the operational process and can have a real impact on saving energy by setting heating timers, switching off lights and motivating others to do the same.”

There are 12 “divisional environmental champions”, each responsible for one of PHS’s 12 business divisions. “The champions all work at a senior level in the organisation and are in a position to influence and make a significant difference to the environmental impact of PHS’s operations,” says Wood.

The firm’s aim in creating the champions network is to upskill this senior group of staff so that they have a good understanding of sustainability issues and can make more environmentally sound business decisions.

Ensuring that the champions and footsteps leaders have the right skills and expertise is seen as the first step in ensuring they are effective in their role, and all 152 individuals have undertaken an IEMA-certified environmental awareness course. Wood says that the practical content of the course was well received by participants. “We expected a certain level of cynicism from some, so used the initial stage to air people’s preconceptions about environmental issues,” says Wood. “The open debate helped to move the discussion on to how energy and fuel efficiency can support business efficiency, and the difference that practical environmental solutions can make to people’s day-to-day jobs. That focus struck a chord.”

The dozen environmental champions also attend regular workshops to help boost their knowledge and understanding of sustainability. These sessions have a strong focus on how to include environmental considerations when making major operational decisions and have been developed specifically for PHS in conjunction with the Carbon Trust in Wales (the company’s head office is in Caerphilly).

One workshop focused on employee engagement, an area that divisional champions found useful not only for helping them to secure staff buy-in on sustainability, but also for developing behaviour change across a range of organisational issues. Another workshop was dedicated to lighting, while a third, which dealt with building a business case for considering environmental impacts, was more generic but practical.

“Divisional champions deal with investment projects – upgrading major pieces of industrial equipment, for example – that have considerable implications for the environment,” explains Wood. “The champions found the business case workshop very useful for helping them to justify procurement and other operational decisions in terms of environmental considerations; it is about assessing the business need and that helps them in their day-to-day role.”

Considering the level of responsibility that divisional champions have for PHS operations and their diverse locations in the UK, taking them away from the business for a day to undergo training has to be justified. “If we want senior managers to come from as far away as Scotland to attend a sustainability workshop, it has to be worth their while,” says Wood. “Therefore, the training must be business-relevant and help this group of senior people to do their job.” The work of the champions is now extending through the establishment of “cluster groups”. Each comprises three or four champions who exchange experiences on specific environmental issues such as sustainable warehousing practices.

The sustainability team also undertakes an annual one-to-one meeting with the head of each division to review environmental progress. “Given the competing demands that division heads have to juggle, we try to tag this review on to a meeting that is already scheduled, or make use of the extensive investment we have made in video-conferencing equipment,” adds Wood.

Step by step

Wood says that, although it is early days since the training, she has already seen evidence of more sustainable projects coming into operation. She explains that opportunities to procure more energy-efficient machinery, such as the huge industrial washers at PHS depots, are infrequent because most equipment is replaced every 10 years. But the divisional champions are still making a difference to the environmental impact of the group’s operations through a range of projects and initiatives.

One initiative concerns a lighting upgrade at the group’s Curdworth site in the West Midlands. Ian Cairns, the site’s environmental champion, led a project to install LED lamps and cut lighting costs by more than 50%. The branch is one of the group’s biggest energy users, so the switch to LED has significantly reduced overall consumption at the site and for the firm generally. The project used a new type of LED fitting that can be retrofitted relatively quickly and cheaply.

Andrew Patterson, the environmental champion responsible for Greenleaf, the commercial landscaping division at PHS, managed another energy-saving scheme. When one site’s lease was due for renewal recently, Patterson was keen to find energy savings and make the warehouses more comfortable for staff. With support from the sustainability team, the site has undergone some dramatic improvements. All the warehouse lights have been upgraded to LEDs and more switches installed to provide better control.

Meanwhile, installation of a lightweight partition to split the building in half has cut heating costs. It has separated warehouse storage activities from the production area, consequently reducing the number of heaters required and retaining the warmth where it is needed. Wood says that these measures will pay for themselves within two years, demonstrating a clear return on investment.

Smart meters

Footsteps leaders have also been actively contributing to PHS’s goal to reduce energy usage through a further initiative. More than 50 leaders have taken part in training to use a new smart-metering tool called “Oneview”. PHS has spent the past two years investing £150,000 installing meters at more than 60 sites and Oneview is the online platform to monitor and manage the metering.

After one training session on the tool, leaders focused on finding overnight energy wastage and identified examples, ranging from thermostats that turn on equipment to boilers that heat unused pipework in the early hours. The initiative resulted in leaders across the organisation collectively saving enough energy in five weeks to power a house for a year – the sort of comparison that motivates employees to instigate further energy savings, says Wood.

The six footsteps leaders based at the PHS head office in Caerphilly have taken part in a project run by Business in the Community to encourage organisations to be more conscious of their energy use. Based on the idea that small changes can make a difference, the team at PHS has been encouraging staff to switch off their computers and monitors that would otherwise be standing idle. By communicating the cost of this wasted electricity, highlighting potential carbon savings and rewarding with chocolates those who did switch off, the initiative achieved a 35% reduction in the number of computers left on overnight.

Energy-saving campaigns at PHS are supported by a range of branded literature targeted at employees, including booklets, posters and a quarterly newsletter called Footsteps. All of the material is designed and produced by a local social enterprise, further contributing to the company’s corporate social responsibility agenda.

The double-sided A4 newsletter is attractive and accessible, says Wood, and keeps employees informed about sustainability achievements so that they can appreciate the value PHS places on reducing its carbon footprint. As well as news items on local environmental initiatives implemented across the workforce, each edition includes key facts and progress reports. There is a “who’s who” for new appointments of footsteps leaders and a Q&A section featuring queries from employees on environmental issues – with a £25 retail voucher for every question printed.

Drive well

PHS is acutely aware that fuel-related carbon emissions remain its most significant environment impact and is therefore a critical element of the group’s carbon reduction strategy.

Engaging employees in reducing the emissions from its extensive vehicle fleet – ranging from small vans to articulated lorries and specialist waste collection vehicles – is integral to the PHS strategy. “Every single one of our 3,000 drivers needs to understand the importance of fuel efficiency and share our aim of reducing our fuel use,” says Wood.

To achieve this, PHS has launched a “Drive well” training programme to promote professional driving skills and best practice fleet management processes. “The Energy Trust has identified that that there can be up to a 40% difference in fuel consumption between the best and worst driving; educating drivers on the most fuel-efficient ways of driving can therefore make a significant impact on our carbon emissions and costs,” says Wood.

Drive well is supported by a range of bright green branded literature, including a key ring for every driver and a pledge postcard to sign up for the campaign. The sustainability team spent considerable time recruiting two driving instructors, or “coaches”, to train PHS drivers in a sustainable driving course originally developed by Balfour Beatty in partnership with Cranfield University.

“We knew that it was important that the driving coaches had the right competences to deliver the course, particularly the behavioural element because it is understandable that some of our drivers could be quite sensitive to receiving instruction in an area where they consider themselves to be experienced and proficient,” explains Wood.

Although launched only a few months ago, the course has been well received by PHS drivers and the group aims to achieve a 10% reduction in its fuel-related carbon emissions in the long term. A one-day workshop for depot managers was staged to launch the course and to help promote the training intervention throughout the group.

Managing expectations

Wood says that launching an employee engagement programme on sustainability has resulted in tangible efficiency improvements, but has also proved to be a learning curve. “Initially I thought we would enthuse the workforce to be passionate about environmental issues. Some are, but you have to be realistic about how you reach a diverse workforce spread across a wide geographical base,” she says.

Many PHS employees have competing work demands, Wood continues, and in some cases what works best is to follow a compliance approach rather than a behaviour change one.

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