OPINION: Ahead of the upcoming September 19 webinar discussing ‘The impact of changing consumer behaviour and the importance of effective engagement’ Reconomy’s head of sustainability and social value, Diane Crowe, looks at how heightened awareness is changing the resource management landscape and the importance of engagement in bringing about significant change.
The Blue Planet effect, media coverage resulting from direct action by groups like Extinction Rebellion, and the work of high-profile campaigners such as Greta Thunberg, Al Gore and David Attenborough have had a huge impact on our collective psychology when it comes to the environment.
As consumers we are now paying far more attention to what we buy and the associated environmental impacts of our purchases.
Whether you operate in a consumer or business to business market, customers now expect to see immediate action to offset any environmental impacts that have been identified. Simply paying lip service to these issues is no longer enough and any action must be seen to be genuine and capable of delivering real change without financial compromise.
As a result, businesses are now having to think far more carefully when considering the consequences of their commercial decisions. People very rarely make decisions that they know will have a negative impact. But by considering all decisions in an environmental, economic and social context you significantly reduce the potential for ‘own goals’ when trying to do the right thing.
Motivation for change
Increasingly, as a resource management business, Reconomy are working with its customers to help identify drivers and motivation for change. These often include improved cost/value, the creation of competitive advantage and reputational benefits but increasingly we are seeing an appetite to simply ‘do the right thing’ driven by a genuine and authentic social and environmental conscience.
Customer expectations for resource and waste management are very high. We therefore need to be able to support them in reaching their environmental objectives and quantifying the positive impact this is having on climate change and resource availability. We also need to bear in mind that whilst doing the right thing and cost reduction both have strong arguments one may be more persuasive than the other depending on the audience and situation.
Customer expectations for resource management are very high. We therefore need to be able to support them in reaching their environmental objectives and quantifying the positive impact this is having on climate change and resource availability.
Improvements in environmental performance and sustainability don’t come without their challenges. Just putting segregation systems in place isn’t enough. To ensure the system is used in the intended way you need people to understand why their actions are important. In Reconomy’s offices we employ several communications channels including posters, Yammer and a sustainability champion ‘Ask Alasdair’ who is always available to advise on ‘recycling dilemmas’ and holds short ‘what to recycle’ sessions across the business. As well as maintaining the ‘how to recycle’ message this also enables us to let people know how their actions are translating into improvements in recycling performance and helps people to feel more engaged.
It sounds obvious but to change behaviour you often have to change the culture. Changing culture isn’t easy and to be effective you really need to understand what matters to your employees, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders. This is not a one-size-fits-all process. To be effective you first need to map your stakeholders and prioritise the key ones. You can then plan how best to engage different groups who will often need different communications techniques.
Understanding your stakeholders will enable you to develop a policy, objectives and measurable strategy that will hold them and the business to account. As we know, most people don’t really like change so it’s important to get them involved and make them feel part of something positive. We find that running a survey and acting on the output often works well – you said – we did.
It is also important to maintain the momentum and for engagement to continue after a new system is launched. This can include appointing champions in each area, getting network sessions in place to learn from each other’s experiences, using newsletters, Yammer, intranets or company reports to let people know what is going on and how you plan to continue improving. Only by implementing a well-researched and resourced engagement programme can you increase segregation rates and reduce contamination levels to realise a real step change in the availability and quality of these valuable secondary resources that we are all responsible for managing.