Energy conservation and environmental responsibility are important topics to building owners and managers, yet the challenge of getting occupants to buy-in to your initiatives and actually change their behaviours remains difficult.
Increasingly, individuals are seeing the messages in the media and making changes at home, yet they often have a difficult time linking it with things they can do at work.
The only way to get most people to change the way they behave is to show them how it impacts them personally. At home, it’s easy to do – conserve energy and pay a less. At work, these incentives don’t carry much weight, since the occupant is not affected by the costs of operating the buildings they work in.
This means the message and the communication methods must be directed to things that matter to your audience. Since the occupant isn’t affected by costs, the environmental impacts provide the best motivation for change.
One of the best ways to communicate the environmental impact is to give statistics and comparisons that the everyday person can relate to.
A recent advertisement by a major city about their blue box recycling program went beyond costs and identified how many trees are saved, the reduction in the number of trucks hauling waste to dumps and the reduction in landfills. For energy, air emissions provide the best impact, relating energy consumption to power plants and their emissions from burning fuel.
All communications have to be built on both a message and the medium. The message is what you are trying to convince your occupants to do, designed in a way to interest the listener. The medium is the tool you use to convey the message, whether it be a newsletter, meeting, posters or other method.
Use the mediums that work for your organization and the target audience. These include newsletters, memos, email notices, posters, information sessions and open houses. The message should be repeated frequently. In advertising, repetition of the same message is considered important to get the message across – use the same concept and provide multiple communications.
Your communication about environmental initiatives, whether for a commercial property or corporate facilities, must be directed at two different key targets, with different messages.
The first target should be decision makers, those who approve or support your initiatives. For commercial buildings, this is the key tenant representative, preferably the ones accountable for the rent they pay. In Corporate facilities, this audience is the executive and department managers.
By communicating to these people first, you can get buy-in to the actual implementation, both financially and operationally. With implementation supported from above, you can then turn your attention to the occupants and design your communication to get their cooperation.
Implementation may require investment and will certainly require buy-in from the occupants to get their passive or active participation, so you need support from the decision makers before you proceed.
The decision makers may be within your own organization, or within your tenant or client organization. Either way, their support improves the likelihood of success for your initiative.
Focus you communication with this group on the benefits they care about. Almost certainly this will be financial, however it may also be the ability to present the organization as a green organization and as a leader in environmental initiatives. You need to know the audience and emphasize the aspects that will be most important to them. Of course, if the decision rests on payback calculations, put them front and centre, but never exclude the other benefits, providing icing on the cake.
Formal communications are usually necessary, including a business case and presentation. Don’t rely just on formal channels, however. Take time to speak one-on-one with the decision makers in an informal setting first. You can gain buy-in and address any issues they may raise before the formal presentation.
Once you get buy-in, be sure to communicate your progress and if possible, send them copies of any communications you use with the occupants. If issues with implementation or acceptance arise, communicate your solution to them first, before anyone else can raise the issue.
Since the decision makers can help you with resistance to your initiative, it is important to maintain communications and the relationship so you can use their influence effectively.
Communicating successfully with occupants when implementing initiatives should be done in all phases of your initiative, not just during implementation. The typical phases include Planning and Design, Implementation and Steady-State. Each requires a different communication mechanism.
If you are armed with support from the decision makers, you may be tempted to force implementation on the occupants, however acceptance of the initiative will be short lived, and you will quickly see a degradation in their behaviour. The best way to use senior level support is as a launching point and to build buy-in directly through communication, persuasion and good implementation.
Planning and Design
Once you have support, the first step is to communicate to the occupants during the planning stage in order to build buy-in and to help work the bugs out of your implementation, ensuring it is workable and easy to accept by occupants.
In some situations, communication during this phase will need to go through tenant or department representatives, however where possible, go directly to the occupant to ensure the message gets through.
At this point, using a newsletter – even a single page format – is an effective mechanism for communicating broadly, however personal letters directed to key managers, union representatives, committees or similar stakeholders should be part of your communication plan.
Open houses or information sessions should also be used for the occupants. With an open invitation, you attract both supporters and detractors. By identifying these people early, you can use them to your advantage. The supporters will help convey your message, and the detractors are a good litmus test for your initiative, and give you a chance to identify the best way to gain buy-in.
Set up a committee to review and recommend the implementation mechanisms, including the communication and education tools you need for the next phases. Communicate the results, particularly when you change your implementation design based on occupant feedback – this tells everyone you are listening to their concerns.
Successful start-up of a new initiative such as a new recycling process or a lighting control system relies on effective communication as much as a good design. There are many different communication tools, and the more you use, the better.
Continue with newsletters and memo’s, supplemented with emails, tent cards, instruction cards, and posters. If the initiative is somewhat complex, such as a new recycling system that requires the occupant to separate their garbage, simple instructions, graphics and other means that are readily accessed and referenced are critical.
Information sessions and even demonstrations with typical garbage items will improve the occupant’s ability to understand the system.
For implementations such as telephone based lighting controls, instruction cards or stickers that can be put on phones will ensure the occupants can actually use the system when they need it. Posters or floor plans in the elevator lobby with instructions are also useful.
Once you have implemented your initiative, you have to continue communicating in order to maintain interest and participation. This communication should include how successful the programs are and clarifications where necessary. For instance, if you find that certain recyclables are still commonly not sorted properly, re-communicate about those items specifically.
Don’t neglect the new tenants or employees, who should be given the appropriate communication when they arrive.
Communicating the success of the program should focus on the original messages that mattered to the occupant, reinforcing the issue and congratulating the occupants for making a difference. To maintain interest, you can even try some competitions within the building or between buildings, using waste diversion rates or consumption reductions as the measurements.