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4th August 2016


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Mike Robey

Paul Suff reports on how the environment and sustainability practitioners at Royal Mail Group have come together to drive improvement

For Dr Shaun Davis the ideal sustainability practitioner is multi-skilled and thrives in an integrated safety, health and environment team. As director of safety, health, wellbeing and sustainability at Royal Mail Group (RMG), Davis is putting in place the systems, tools and support mechanisms to support such model professionals.

It is an approach that is also geared towards ensuring the business realises its ambition to be recognised as the best delivery company in Europe, to show it in a responsible and sustainable way, and achieve its corporate responsibility (CR) targets. The vision is supported by five CR priorities, including managing the environmental impacts of business operations and handling its transformation responsibly.

A team game

Davis says his focus since joining RMG in September 2012 has been on integration and creating an effective central CR function. This has entailed bringing together the separate health and safety, quality and environment teams and their activities, a trend he has observed in industry for some time and one he believes is accelerating. ‘I think there is more call for safety, health, environment and even quality roles because there’s tremendous crossover,’ he says.

‘We do safety and environment inspections and I don’t see why they should be separate. It’s much more efficient to have a multi-discipline team and combine the inspections. Why do two or three site visits looking at different things when you can do them all in one visit?’

Davis believes that combining audits is less disruptive for those being inspected and potentially more fulfilling for assessors. He says that, aside from technical knowledge, the core skills set is similar: ‘It’s about being able to assess, audit, coach and challenge effectively. So there’s a natural fit.’

To improve technical competence, there are opportunities for staff to upskill by, for example, gaining environmental (IEMA) or safety (NEBOSH) qualifications. Davis is also keen for practitioners to develop ‘softer’ skills, such as communication, negotiation, persuasion and influencing, and management competence, particularly on how to build a compelling business case. ‘I think as a profession we expect others to understand our world,’ he says. ‘It is all well and good knowing what the Environment Protection Act or the Health and Safety at Work Act says, but you need to translate it for others, whether they are in finance or HR or wherever. I think that’s missing from formal qualifications. As sustainability practitioners we need to be understood so must resist resorting to jargon and acronyms.’

Ensuring practitioners are effective communicators is important because involving and engaging staff are key to RMG achieving its CR ambitions. It employs 139,000 people, who handle 15.5 billion letters and one billion parcels a year. The role of the central CR team is focused firmly on supporting frontline employees.

Ron Symonds, group head of environment at RMG, says communication needs to be clear: ‘You need to engage staff with language they understand.’ Drawing on his background in property and safety, Symonds is part of the central safety, health, environment (SHE) team, which sets standards, develops strategy and advises other functions. To illustrate how this works in practice, he refers to RMG’s approach to communicating the topic of waste, which he believes has made it easier for staff to recycle and help the business to move towards its goal of diverting all waste from landfill (see panel, right). ‘Since we introduced recycling, different types and colours of bins have been used but that has been confusing,’ he says. ‘Now the posters and bins focus on the importance of segregating waste onsite. The bins are transparent and the posters are crystal clear on what waste goes where.’

In 2015-16, 86% of waste was diverted and 60% of sites were no longer sending waste to landfill.

Creating a strong central CR team has helped to ensure the company’s messages resonate, and strategies and actions are visible across the business, says environment programmes manager Ato Nimoh-Brema. When he joined about 12 months ago, he points out, the SHE function was fragmented: ‘‘Most departments had an environment function attached to it in one way or the other. Moreover, all large sites had an environmental lead, but it was hard to get a good oversight of what was going on. Having a central SHE function gives it visibility and helps prioritise what is important.’

Practitioners have also been encouraged to make more use of existing IT systems, such as team collaboration tools like SharePoint. Symonds says: ‘We had SharePoint but it was not widely used, so now we get people to upload information to it and to share data.’

A systems approach

As well as upskilling, integrating and improving the efficacy of the CR team, RMG employs frameworks and tools to embed corporate responsibility. These include a corporate balanced scorecard, which is divided into people, customer, efficiency and financial segments, and its World Class Mail (WCM) system to drive continuous improvement. WCM has its origins in world-class manufacturing, a process-driven approach adopted from Toyota and other automobile, and electronic and steel companies, to create lean, efficient, cost-effective and flexible operations. Techniques include high employee involvement, cross-functional teams and multi-skilled employees.

‘The ten pillars of WCM at RMG cover all operational activity, including safety, people development and environment. It works by involving staff in finding ways to reduce waste and losses,’ says Symonds.

Davis describes WCM as crucial to embedding management of environmental impacts across the business. The WCM performance framework is used to prioritise reductions in energy and water consumption and waste. There are environment pillar leads at processing sites and large delivery offices. They can access best practice information online through the WCM good practice section on SharePoint.

Nimoh-Brema says WCM has made a massive difference in recent years to how RMG works: ‘Frontline staff are champions of change. They contribute ideas to improve environmental performance. Engagement is key to get people to pursue green initiatives.’

He also says Royal Mail’s 14001 certified environment management system (EMS) reinforces the WCM approach. ‘The environment pillar [of WCM] includes seven steps to implementing good environmental management. That’s about going further than compliance and being proactive. The EMS identifies when something is not working, so we look to find out why and ways to improve.’

The seven steps to good environmental management include developing a biodiversity action plan. Medway mail centre in Rochester, Kent, was one the first RMG sites to produce a biodiversity action plan. It includes surveying an area 4.8 km around the 15,400 cu m site and creating natural habitats for species found.

There is also a SHE management system comprising 19 safety, health, wellbeing and environmental elements. Symonds is responsible for the environment ones. A SHE calendar contains key tasks for managers at RMG sites.

Davis heads RMG’s environment governance board, which is responsible for developing strategies, targets and performance improvements. Members come from functions, such as fleet and facilities management, that are accountable for material environmental issues. The board is leading work on streamlining RMG’s approach to environmental management, which should be completed in 2017. One of the objectives is to integrate it with the WCM philosophy and the SHE management system at site level.

What is material?

Material environmental, social and governance issues are determined through annual assessments, involving internal and external stakeholders.

The latest assessment identified five key issues including, in the environment sphere, the large footprint and visible presence of RMG’s 47,000 vehicles. These and other means of transport account for 68% of the organisation’s carbon footprint, while buildings contribute 32%. The business is aiming to reduce emissions by 20% by 2020 compared with 2004–05 levels. Symonds says that, due to the scale of its fleet, RMG has the potential to be an environmental leader in fleet management.

He says reducing vehicle emissions is challenging, particularly because items for delivery are becoming heavier and bulkier: ‘Parcels are a growing part of our business,’ says Symonds. ‘But they weigh more and take up more space than letters, which increases the demand on vehicles and fuel consumption.’

RMG aims to finalise a new fleet environment management strategy next year. Meanwhile, 91% of its 7.5-tonne HGVs and 38% of its overall fleet have been fitted with telemetry monitoring and control systems to help reduce fuel consumption by alerting drivers when ‘moderate’ or ‘harsh’ handling occurs, such as strong acceleration. RMG is also testing vehicles that are more fuel-efficient or run on alternative technologies, such as electricity. Better fleet maintenance can also bring down emissions. Re-treading 789 tyres in 2015–16 for reuse saved 213 tonnes of CO2 equivalent.

RMG’s buildings too are being subjected to environmental scrutiny and improvement as work continues on reducing their energy use and emissions. Given rising energy prices and climate legislation, RMG says this is a commercial imperative (see box, below). Half of its mail centre estate has installed LED lighting and the benefits are clear. Replacing fluorescent lighting at Tyneside has reduced the mail centre’s energy consumption by 32%, for example. Symonds says complying with the energy savings opportunity scheme (ESOS) provided a window for making further improvements in energy management: ‘ESOS gave energy greater visibility among senior management, helping us to make the business case for investment in SMART building systems, which is important when you’re competing for money with other parts of the business.’

A better position

The changes to how the CR function at Royal Mail operates are continuing. Davis says he wants to move to a position where the team is not seen by the rest of the business as solely responsible for policing legal compliance, whether that is for health and safety, environment or wellbeing, or delivering improvements. He wants everyone in RMG to be involved and a fully integrated, multi-skilled CR team to be on hand to help.

One tip Davis would offer other environment and sustainability practitioners working in large organisations is to remember that they are part of a wider business. ‘You need to understand your contribution and how it fits in with what the business is trying to achieve. If you can do that, you’ll be much better placed to progress the environment and sustainability agenda.’

This belief stems from his view of the role of sustainability in businesses. ‘I believe it’s about making a positive contribution to the success of the business while protecting the people who work for it and the environment we all share.’

Targets and performance

Royal Mail Group (RMG) has five corporate responsibility priorities, including managing the environmental impacts of business operations and delivering its transformation responsibly. Goals and performance related to these two priorities include:

  • reducing CO2 equivalent emissions by 20% by 2020-21 compared with 2004-05 levels – a 16.8% reduction was recorded in 2015-16;
  • diverting all waste from landfill – 86% of waste was diverted in 2015-16 and 60% of sites no longer send any waste to landfill;
  • reducing water consumption – 1,474.4 mega litres in 2015-16, a 2% reduction from 2014-15 levels; and
  • ensuring new suppliers adhere to RMG’s responsible procurement code – 100% compliance in 2015-16.

Risks and opportunities

Royal Mail Group’s (RMG) principal environmental risks are:

  • price rises due to resource scarcity;
  • increased landfill taxes;
  • increased carbon taxes and compliance and operational costs due to climate change; and
  • reputational risks associated with not addressing and managing resource use effectively.

It says these risks are balanced against opportunities derived from effective management. These include:

  • reduced running costs and increased efficiency;
  • lower waste disposal costs;
  • opportunities for revenue generation through recycling as well as through new product and service developments; and
  • reputational benefits that engage customers, employees and other stakeholders in recognising RMG as a responsible business.
Source: Royal Mail Group Corporate Responsibility Report 2015-16.

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