Case study

Going greener at work

What motivates employees to make environmentally-positive choices in the workplace? We found many different drivers, which interventions to encourage positive behaviour need to take carefully into account.

Photo by Mihály Köles on Unsplash
Photo by Mihály Köles on Unsplash

The issue

When considering environmental impact, lots of research has focused on how people behave at home or as consumers. Behaviour in the workplace has been largely ignored. However, a UK full-time employee spends almost a quarter of their week in the workplace.

Workplaces can be very energy and resource intensive. Computers, printers, lifts, waste recycling, heating and air conditioning all consume energy and contribute to carbon emissions. People behave very differently in the workplace, where they don’t pay the bills and aren’t explicitly rewarded for pro-environmental behaviour.

The research

Addressing these issues has been the focus of research conducted by Professor Victoria Wells (University of York) and colleagues Professor Danae Manika (Brunel University) and Dr Diana Gregory-Smith (University of Newcastle), with support from Global Action Plan.

The team examined a range of organisations and interventions. They investigated how pro-environmental behaviours, and their antecedents and facilitators, differ across organisation types.

They studied how interventions to encourage positive behaviour were tailored to each individual workforce, from traditional communications such as posters and emails, to competitions between departments.

Their research highlighted how corporate social responsibility and the encouragement of pro-environmental behaviour can work alongside each other. It also revealed where interventions can go wrong, prompting negative reactions from employees. Finally, insights into the process of developing interventions helped to identify best practice for teams involved in this type of work.

The outcome

Using their findings, alongside a growing body of complementary research, the team has helped to develop social marketing interventions to encourage employees to act to reduce impacts on the environment.

The work has led to successful interventions in organisations as wide ranging as universities, heritage tourism, the NHS and beyond.

Additional information

Featured researcher

Victoria Wells

Victoria Wells is Professor of Sustainable and Ethical Management at the University of York's School for Business and Society. Her research falls in the general area of consumer behaviour. Her current work focuses on the behaviour of consumers in relation to the environment and in particular the behaviour of employees within organisations.

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