How to get internal buy-in to support your zero waste goals
A waste management audit can turn up some surprising things – not least the discovery of green advocates that you didn’t know you had. That’s why it’s so important to understand what’s going on in your business, and to think about how you will encourage your teams to buy into your zero waste plans. Companies that fail to engage employees at every level of their business are setting themselves up for failure. Every single person in your organisation is a link in the cycle that can make or break your sustainability goals.
Are you talking to me?
The language you use is an important part of communications, so the buy-in you need to support your zero waste goals should be communicated in ways that resonate with all of your employees. The managers responsible for implementing these projects throughout an organisation are focused on meeting targets and maintaining a smooth operation. They want to see a carefully planned rollout that will ease transition and support goals in the most logical, natural way.
You also need to make sure that you’re speaking to people in a way that resonates with them. Demonstrate your progress by showing the positive impact your teams are having on the environment – don’t just send out spreadsheets full of numbers and information about current percentages.
Look at current processes first – there are often simple ways of improving things that can make a great deal of difference to the outcome. We worked with a company where the introduction of different-coloured sacks for different material streams dramatically increased recycling rates.
In other words, we persuaded middle management to implement a simple tool that had little impact on the current process but would deliver the results they were after. This small alteration to their day-to-day operations was announced with a fanfare and supported by posters, training and guidance for their outsourced cleaners. Everyone was aware of the change in process and why it was taking place – and that ensured a strong uptake on their new recycling methods.
Keep up the conversation
Good communications should operate throughout an organisation. As CSR (corporate social responsibility) programmes grow in importance, we can help customers weave the sustainability message into their internal and external communication strategies. We think beyond the initial launch, ensuring that the message is embedded over time.
When developing a communication strategy with our customers, we use terms and phrases they are familiar with in a channel that works for them. Our range of communication tools includes
- welcome packs and posters for use on the shop floor,
- top-pocket guides for quick reference when out and about,
- email or intranet messages for refreshers,
- face-to-face training for projects or improvement plans.
With each new project, we make sure everyone involved – our own teams, the customer’s teams and any service providers – understand what the goals are. This can involve visits to sites to assess levels of activity and engagement with waste management and recycling. Our welcome packs for employees often become part of the induction process for new starters. Customer employees are introduced to their counterparts in our contact centre. Those telephone relationships, enhanced by the regular face-to-face conversations we have on site, are crucial to the success of our customer’s zero waste goals.
But we don’t stand still. If the process needs refining, we adapt the communications to ensure that every instruction is up to date and communicated at every level across all the organisations involved, every time there’s a change that needs to be made.
Power to the people
Commitment tozero waste plans should permeate a whole organisation, from boardroom to site level. Every employee needs to be pulling in the same direction to achieve your sustainability goals. And if there’s one thing you should never underestimate, it’s the power of your people – so where you find enthusiasm for change, use it!
We conducted a review for a national restaurant chain, and when we visited the sites we found the restaurant workers were frustrated by the lack of opportunities for recycling. This made our job easy: as we knew that their young, dynamic work force would buy into the concept of streamlined waste management and increased recycling. As a result, we found really good levels of compliance across their estate. We harnessed the energy and enthusiasm from the people within the restaurants to propose more ambitious targets and projects to the company management – and it worked.
Measure for measure
Measuring progress is crucial to see how close an organisation is to meeting its zero waste goals. But measurements are more than status updates: they are a way of involving your teams, eliciting their feedback and promoting successes to elevate engagement and real involvement.
Zero waste goals should be set and measured in ways that are relevant to the people responsible for doing the recycling. For example, benchmarking by site or region will give you an idea of current levels of sustainable practice and let you compare like for like where possible.
Take this a step further – establish league tables and publish the results regularly. Tell your teams how their efforts have improved recycling targets, reduced CO2 or saved energy – find out the metrics that are important to your organisations overall goals. Everybody understands why those things are important, and putting them into tangible terms helps demonstrate the difference:
- how many trees didn’t need to be cut down,
- how many swimming pools could have been filled,
- how many hours of energy could have been saved.
People appreciate being told that they make a difference.
Getting your teams involved in your recycling message, as well as your methods, is the key to successful sustainability. Ambitious targets are great, but it’s your people’s engagement that will achieve them – and it’s up to you to empower them to make the difference.