My professional background is in environmental management, where I spent 11 years in the corporate world working as an environmental manager. Most of my experience is in mining, where I learnt very early in the piece that there are a lot of people in the workforce who do not really care about the welfare of the environment, let alone want to protect it.
Feeling like most of my peers didn’t care about the beautiful and wondrous natural world around us did not do much to inspire me on the job. On the contrary, it made me feel deflated and hopeless. To keep motivated, I had to change the way I thought about other peoples’ perceptions of the environment.
I thought that perhaps a better way to phrase ‘people not caring about the environment’ would be to say that people don’t ‘prioritise’ the environment as much as they do other things in the organisation. Productivity and safety were definite priorities, for example, but not environment. So then my mission became making environment a priority for everyone in the workforce.
The methods that worked for me were:
1. Understand which systems are already effectively utilised by the organisation for other disciplines and to tap into them with environmental tasks.
Perhaps it’s monthly safety audits that are conducted by supervisors and are always completed on time. Environment could just be included as another section on the audit checklist. It could be an existing reporting system that everyone uses, or maybe start of shift formal discussions. Anything that is already being done well and an environmental component could be included.
There’s no point re-inventing the wheel to get people respecting the environment. Tapping into existing systems or processes will help your environmental endeavours to become immediately ingrained in the organisation without much resistance.
2. Communicate the main causes of environmental harm at your operations and what the consequences of that harm are.
If people don’t know that their actions are harming something, they can’t do much to lessen their impact. The more people understand, the more likely they are to act responsibly. Some employees might not realise that their operations can be shut down over environmental issues, or that they can lose their job by not doing the right thing.
It’s imperative that all employees understand the implications of their actions if they are going to be conducting work onsite. Otherwise they could be working unlawfully without even knowing.
3. Set a clear target and ensure everyone is aiming for the same thing.
Not some airy-fairy ‘we aim to be environmentally responsible’ target. Real targets! For example: ‘We aim to rehabilitate as much area as we disturb each year’, or ‘We aim to reduce our waste volumes in each consecutive year’, or ‘We aim to reduce our risk of environmental damage each year in our annual environmental risk assessment’.
The workforce needs to know what they are aiming for if they are to reach the target. There’s no point setting a target that people either don’t understand, or don’t know exists.
4. Measure and report regularly
Develop a few simple key performance indicators (KPIs) around your targets and monitor them regularly. Everywhere there is a safety statistic on performance, include an environmental statistic as well. Let the workforce know that you are serious about environmental performance and that it is being carefully monitored.
Make the results clearly visible for the entire workforce so that they know how they are tracking. Put them up on notice boards, in lunch rooms and on monitors around the operations. When people can see their performance, they become aware of whether they need to improve or they have done a good job.
5. Do not accept poor performance
If the operations are not meeting their KPIs, they need to be questioned. Every level of the organisation needs to question the performance too. If people at the top are not querying poor environmental performance, the rest of the organisation will soon stop as well.
At the last organisation I worked in, we had completed all the steps above and were recording our environmental statistics well. The operations were not performing well against their KPIs but most members of senior management either didn’t take any notice of the results, or didn’t care enough (okay, didn’t see them as an issue of priority) to take any action. As soon as the workforce cottoned on to this, they also stopped caring about their performance and the standards diminished.
People act on what they know they will be held accountable for. Have consequences for poor performance and make those consequences certain and immediate, so that the workforce understands how serious the matter of environmental management is taken in the business. If consequences are not immediate and certain, they do not act as good motivators.
Have you managed to get people caring about the environment in your organisation? How did you do it?