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Engaging employees in sustainable use of ICT

No one can deny that environmental and sustainability issues are hot topics. From growing awareness of plastic waste to global warming and Extinction Rebellion, there’s more often than not an environmental story making the headlines. Ordinary people are responding by making changes at work and home.

And yet when I started producing internal communications about sustainable ICT (information and communication technology) use, the level of engagement with these from our staff was surprising low.

Ensuring that our people are on board with sustainability issues is extremely important. The potential of technology will only be realised if we all participate. New ways of working like environmentally-friendly printing options and alternatives to travel can only be effective if staff actively embrace them.

I knew that Defra group’s 20,000+ staff were passionate about environmental and sustainability issues, so I started gathering insight and evaluation data to understand why some communications worked and others didn’t. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

What does it mean for me?

It was clear that although our staff placed high value on sustainability, they were most engaged when they could see a direct link between corporate messages and their day-to-day experiences at work.

They were less concerned about the cross-government strategies and reports we were leading on and more interested in what these meant within our own organisation. Every communication needed to link big overarching messages to local and practical concerns by answering their question “What does this mean for me?”

For example, information about our ‘zero to landfill’ waste targets was more meaningful to people when we related it to things like the mushroom packaging their new laptops would come in and what would happen to their old devices.

Include guidance and support

Colleagues responded well to practical advice – online user guides, help sheets and ‘how to videos’ about using new ICT to work more sustainably all helped to increase awareness and confidence about new tools.

It’s important that your most senior and influential staff lead by example so make extra efforts to support them in adopting new technology and then help them promote their experiences to others.

Let your people tell the story

We found that involving people in discussions by inviting their ideas about more sustainable working practices was very effective. One of the biggest challenges when introducing new ICT can be changing expectations about how we do things. Often people are put off by initial challenges they encounter – we found our Yammer group was most lively and engaged when people were sharing their own tips and solutions (so make sure staff have a platform for doing so).

Use figures to make it real

Putting the impact of our ICT usage into context helps to convince staff that change is necessary. Rather than talking about saving paper – how many trees could we save by changing our behaviours?

Follow best practice in internal communications

It goes without saying that the best practice principles for effective internal communications apply regardless of the subject area. Useful general guidance is available from The IC Space. Although aimed primarily at Internal Communication professionals across government, the advice and case studies will also be helpful to professional communicators from other sectors.

Communicating sustainable ICT to a wide audience will always be challenging and ongoing evaluation is important to keep refining and improving the approach. It would be great to hear your experiences and tips on engaging staff in this subject, so please do share your thoughts below.

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