Employees help British Columbia government reach ambitious green goal

Officials in BC pledged carbon neutrality so they asked employees for ideas.

Officials in BC pledged carbon neutrality so they asked employees for ideas

What’s an organization of 30,000 employees to do when it pledges carbon neutrality by 2010, yet lacks a clear strategy to reach that goal?

It asks employees for help. But don’t take our word for it, take Rueben Bronee’s.

Bronee coordinates employee engagement and communication for the province of British Columbia (or BC), which employs more than 30,000 people—more than any other company in the province. Last year, the province announced plans to be carbon neutral by 2010. That means it will drastically reduce its pollution, while offsetting what it cannot reduce by investing in “offset projects” like cleaner, more efficient energy and carbon sequestering. The sum of these efforts will equal zero carbon output.

There was a problem, though: BC was unsure how, exactly, it would reach that goal. So it looked for help internally.

“We tapped employees right away for ideas to help reduce greenhouse gas emission,” Bronee told Ragan.com . Through a series of employee communication initiatives, BC discovered how it would curb its carbon output—and maybe even boost engagement among its vast work force.

One initiative to reap green ideas

The best of Green Ideas Shine

  • Mountain bikes for field surveys: Geological survey staff have access to a fleet of mountain bikes for their field work, replacing gas guzzling helicopters as the preferred mode of travel. The bikes would also be available for use by staff to travel to and from meetings in the city.
  • Post-use direct billing transit passes: Every employee would be issued a transit pass and fares would be deducted from payroll, up to the regular monthly cost of a bus pass. This idea builds on current discounts for public transit.
  • Other ideas that came forward included having the annual provincial exams for grade four and seven students administered electronically; having the Ministry of Advanced Education offer a “green option” for students accessing student aid to receive all information and correspondence electronically; and a “green diplomacy” project to have environmental responsibility be a guiding policy for all our intergovernmental relations activities.

BC reached out to employees with a recognition program called “Green Ideas Shine.” It spun off the organization’s pre-existing “Ideas Shine” program, which asked employees for ideas to improve their own ministries. (Ministries are the same as departments, Bronee said.)

“Green Ideas Shine” was simple. BC asked employees to submit ideas for cutting the province’s carbon use. Every ministry solicited ideas from its people and then selected the top three.

“We had all kinds of people submitting from executives down to the most entry-level employees,” Bronee said.

Employees could submit ideas from September to December 2007, and communicators promoted the program through BC’s intranet, posters (on recycled paper) and an e-mail to all employees from the province’s deputy minister to the premier (protocol for any announcement, Bronee noted).

Some ministries received over 200 submissions, he said.

BC announced the winners of “Green Ideas Shine” at a gathering just before Christmas.

Green Teams

Green Ideas Shine was among several forums for BC officials to listen to employees’ suggestions about curbing greenhouse gases. “One of the first things that happened [in early 2007] was every government [department] put a concept paper together outlining opportunities from employees to cut greenhouse gas emissions,” Bronee explained.

Beyond the concept papers, he continued, each department established its own Green Team—groups of about 12 employees charged with not only looking at their operations but also studying policy areas and building on the concept papers.

There were no qualifications to join the Green Teams, Bronee said. “In most cases it was just, ‘Let’s find people who are really keen and enthusiastic about this.’”

The response to these green initiatives was “hugely positive,” Bronee said. “This hasn’t been something we had to go out and sell,” he explained. “In fact, we’re really just tapping into a great deal of energy and enthusiasm that’s already there.”

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Increased engagement … they hope

BC continues mining internally for carbon cutting ideas, and so far employees have generated a wealth of ideas. But BC also hopes—and anticipates—that this push toward carbon neutrality will strengthen the corporate culture with 30,000 employees working toward the same goal.

“Involving employees in what we’re trying to accomplish as a corporate entity [caused] a shift in corporate culture—employees feel like part of the bigger picture as opposed to just their ministry,” Bronee said. “This is a fairly common thing motivating people. Everyone can contribute. It isn’t just an executive directive. Everyone can be involved.”

He senses that a strengthened corporate culture is starting to take shape but admits that less than one year into the effort BC lacks concrete measurement data.

Oh yeah, one more thing: By tapping employees the province avoided hiring any high-priced consultants—all they needed to know was within their own ranks.

The province’s carbon neutral goal is part of aggressive new legislation forcing BC organizations public and private to cut greenhouse gas emissions by one-third by 2020. Bronee said BC government is leading by example.

Beyond listening

When officials in the Province of British Columbia aren’t listening to employees’ ideas for curbing greenhouse gas emissions, they are communicating ways for employees to be more environmentally conscious. Examples of this include:

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