Persuade staff to toe the green line at work and tackle climate change: that's the challenge issued to the business community by researchers at Leeds University Business School.
Matt Davis, a researcher from Leeds' Centre for Organisational Strategy, Learning and Change (COSLAC), says: "Despite an abundance of literature advising us on how to transform our personal lifestyles and make our homes more environmentally friendly, we have discovered a distinct lack of studies relating to greening the workplace.
"According to recent government statistics, the carbon output of the non-domestic sector is significantly higher than that of residential consumers. Industry and commerce also produce around three times the amount of waste as households do.
"Our research shows that whilst companies are beginning to adopt high level corporate sustainability policies, there has not been a big push on encouraging individual employees to make their working practices more sustainable. So, for example, whilst separate waste bins may be provided, there is no real incentive for workers to use them in the correct way."
The research indicates that the problems associated with promoting greener ways of working could be solved using techniques that organisational psychologists have used successfully in the past to tackle other behavioural issues in the workplace.
For example, the paper suggests that firms should encourage employees to voice their concerns about processes and systems that are wasteful and, ultimately, to make suggestions for change. Working in this way has previously been successful because employees are directly involved with the process of change and therefore more willing to implement it. Other suggestions include amending staff appraisal systems to include environmental targets and giving key individuals special responsibilities with rewards for meeting green goals. These are all low-cost measures.
Co-researcher Rose Challenger says: "As organisational psychologists we already know that workers generally respond positively to new measures when they are introduced in such a way that increases their own empowerment and in a sensitive and integrated manner. It's now vital that we find ways of incentivising greener working practices.
"We strongly believe that climate change is a problem that we could and should devote our skills to, and we are certain that with further research and practice we could make a tangible difference in this area. Any changes made would not only be environmentally beneficial but would also develop a profitable and highly worthwhile business area."
Those involved are now working with Arup, an internationally-renowned engineering and consulting firm, to explore further opportunities to develop these theories and test some practical interventions and incentives.
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Tackling Climate Change: Time for psychologists to step up to the challenge is being presented today (Friday 16th January) at the British Psychological Society's (BPS) Division of Occupational Psychology Conference, being held in Blackpool. It is also being published in the latest edition of The Psychologist, the monthly journal of the BPS.
Matthew Davis is a doctoral candidate at the Centre for Organisational Strategy, Learning and Change, Leeds University Business School.
Rose Challenger is a research assistant at the Centre for Organisational Strategy, Learning and Change, Leeds University Business School.
The Centre for Organisational Strategy, Learning and Change (COSLAC) was formed in 2006. Its specialised research activities endeavour to understand the processes and outcomes of strategy, learning and change within organisations. Collaborating with colleagues from other disciplines within and beyond the University of Leeds, including architects, physical and social scientists, computer engineers, economists and psychologists, COSLAC's expertise enables it to offer a uniquely wide-ranging research and consultancy service to commercial clients and partners. These include Rolls-Royce, Network Rail, John Lewis and Jaguar.
The University of Leeds is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK with more than 30,000 students from 130 countries. With an annual research income of more than £91m, Leeds is one of the top ten research universities in the UK, and a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. It was recently placed 80th in the Times Higher Educational Supplement's world universities league table and the University's vision is to secure a place among the world's top 50 by 2015.