How your staff could help cut your business emissions

8 Jan 2020
Kate Ferguson, SBC Climate Programme Manager

In September 2019, 170,000 people across New Zealand marched on the streets in support of urgent action on climate change.

According to the organisers, School Strike 4 Climate, that’s about 3.5 per cent of the population. No doubt, many of those protesting were the future employees of New Zealand businesses or the children of current staff. It’s clear the sense of urgency to tackle climate change is rising rapidly, and every sector and demographic in society is now being affected.

At SBC, we are seeing an increasing number of our members working with their employees to find new and innovative ways to reduce emissions not only in the business but also at home. SBC members collectively employ 158,000 full-time equivalent staff, and this represents a significant opportunity to influence action on climate change.

Imagine if all these people reduced their emissions not only at work but also in their personal lives as citizens? At a national level, I believe this big group of people could help change attitudes across the country and, ultimately, make a decent dent in New Zealand’s emissions profile.

Schemes to engage staff

Now that many businesses have measured their emissions and started to create emissions reduction plans, the next logical step is to talk to staff and tap into their creativity and know-how. I see a growing number of Kiwi businesses doing this in creative and various ways.

For example, at SkyCity, the team has launched a strategy to help employees measure and offset their families’ carbon footprints. Using the Toitū Envirocare carbon calculator tool, which is free online and simple to use, SkyCity has run multiple presentations for staff on how they can measure, reduce and offset their carbon footprints.

They have also created a financial incentive. For every dollar spent by its employees offsetting their emissions, the company puts one dollar towards a Green Fund, which finances emissions reduction projects around the business. Thirty staff have since gone carbon neutral.

Auckland Council has also started to work with its staff, as well as the wider public, to encourage climate action. In collaboration with Wellington City Council, the organisation has developed New Zealand’s first gamified carbon footprint calculator, called Future Fit (

The free online tool encourages its users to measure and then reduce their carbon footprint by choosing a range of easy-to-adopt lifestyle changes. Weekly emails or texts remind users to complete their chosen actions, such as a meat-free day or car-pooling trip. I encourage you to check it out.

When Auckland Council introduced Future Fit to its employees, 480 people saved an impressive 62 tonnes of carbon dioxide over three weeks alone. That’s the equivalent of driving from Auckland to Wellington 453 times.

Then there are the SBC businesses I meet that are encouraging their employees to work from home or adopt flexible working hours, which reduces traffic as well as carbon emissions. IAG and thinkstep actively encourage staff to work from home or come to work outside of business hours, when possible.

A recent global study from serviced office provider, Regus, suggested that an increase in flexible working practices within New Zealand could reduce levels of carbon dioxide by 900,000 tonnes per year by 2030, not to mention providing benefits to staff productivity and attitudes towards work, which come with flexible working arrangements.

Another remarkable example of a company working with its staff to reduce emissions across the business is at Christchurch International Airport. Its sustainability team has developed an online tool called P1 (Planet One), which sits on the company’s intranet page. It is designed to share stories with the team about all the different sustainability projects the airport is working on.

Users can click on the company’s sustainability pillars, which are carbon, waste, water, energy, noise and land, to see all the actions the business is taking and how they align with their targets. The airport says the project has invigorated its entire team and inspired a bunch of new projects. Remarkably, within four weeks of P1’s launch, 143 ideas had been lodged.

The airport has also set carbon budgets for each business unit, as a way of increasing awareness of the issue across the business. As soon as the company is invoiced for fuel, electricity and travel, the airport’s sustainability team calculates how much carbon has been used, who used it, and then reports that back to each business unit.

Lessons to be learnt

As the sense of urgency to act on climate change grows within the New Zealand business community, I’ve seen several companies launch into a project to engage staff without first taking the time to consider the different factors that lead to success.

First up, I’d suggest when your company starts working on a plan, take the time to understand who in  your business has the greatest stake or interest in climate change. You might find it’s your board or your youngest staff members, for instance. Take the time to understand who in your business has the greatest stake or interest in climate change.

Make sure you also clearly identify what the goals of your project are and what exactly you want your employees to do. Do you want them to come up with ideas to reduce the company’s carbon footprint or would you like them to look at their own emissions profile and make savings?

The private and not-for-profit sectors make up around 83 per cent of New Zealand’s jobs. If small, medium and large businesses work with their staff to reduce emissions, they will be helping citizens tackle an issue they care deeply about and make the changes necessary to transition to a low emissions economy.

Top tips to engage staff on climate change

  • Try the free and easy-to-use carbon calculators and tools online, like Future Fit and Toitū Envirocare.
  • Create a financial incentive or rewards system. Some companies have built momentum with spot prizes or green funds to finance projects.
  • Build in-house tools, resources and teams who can answer questions and offer innovative ideas.
  • Encourage flexible working hours or work-from-home arrangements, if practicable.

Originally published in Human Resources magazine.