As climate change scales the business and political agenda, organisations are under increasing pressure to reduce the environmental impact of all their functions - including training. Dawn Smith looks at ways to deliver greener training.
2007 is the year when UK businesses will have to bite the bullet and take action on carbon emissions, according to the Carbon Trust. At this year’s May Day Business Summit on Climate Change, more than 1,000 businesses pledged to do just that - each making an average of five firm commitments to take action to reduce their carbon emissions. As well as doing their bit to slow global warming - which will enhance their reputation with customers and employees - they will of course improve their bottom line. The Carbon Trust estimates that a 20% reduction in energy use is equivalent to a 5% increase in sales.
Holding back the miles
Although training is not a particularly big energy guzzler in the great scheme of things, the function can be ‘greened up’ quite a bit with a little thought. The biggest culprit, of course, is travel. Providing green travel options for trainers and attendees will make the greatest difference to the carbon emissions of a training company or L&D department, says Chris Large, an Environment Champions Programme Manager for Global Action Plan - a charity which helps organisations measure and reduce their environmental impact.
Providing green travel options might start with carefully choosing the training venue, says Mark Yoxon, who specialises in environmental training, and is managing partner of INFORM Training & Communication. “I’ve been to a lot of events where the venue is at a motorway interchange, and it’s really not convenient to get there by public transport,” he says. Choosing a city centre venue is the greener option.
Delegates and trainers can be encouraged to use public transport by helping them out with their luggage, adds Yoxon. “I worked with a company called Rapport which ran a blue box system,” he says. “All the equipment and materials for an event was sent to the venue by train, so that the people could also go on the train. If a company also organises things so that everyone’s personal luggage goes by train, there is less reason for anyone to take their car.”
Where public transport really isn’t an option, encouraging delegates to car share can have surprisingly good results. In the past we have circulated people’s email addresses - after asking their permission first - so that people could organise their own car sharing. When we’ve done this, around two thirds of the people who came did so in cars with two or three people in them.”
When providing in-house training, it makes sense to use local trainers where possible. Environmental training company JPD takes just that approach. “We try to use local presenters near the client rather than sending someone from the other end of the country,” says Nicola Scott, head of JPD. “Our environmental trainers take the train rather than driving nine times out of ten.”
At e-learning specialists SkillSoft, which recently launched a green training campaign, Head of Marketing Kay Baldwin-Evans says that the company holds virtual meetings where the company personnel are not working in the same building, to cut down on travel.
But cutting down on physical car miles is not the only green travel tactic. As discussed previously on TrainingZone, choosing fleet cars which are more economical, and which run on greener fuels, is another approach to cutting down carbon emissions on the travel front. Mark Yoxon adds that maintenance of the fleet also has an impact, as does the driving style of the person behind the wheel. “We ask all our staff to drive in a more environmentally friendly way - i.e. not hammering it down the motorway,” he says.
Managing the training room
Organisations can make the same kind of changes in the training room that businesses are being encouraged to make across the board, to cut energy consumption and waste. Paper use is an obvious biggie. Global Action Plan reckons that training materials is the second most important area for training functions to tackle, after travel.
Global Action Plan’s tips for cutting down on paper use include not printing everything out for each attendee (such as PowerPoint presentations) but providing copies of notes on the company intranet instead. Mark Yoxon points out that simply by printing training materials on both sides, paper use is halved. Using recycled paper also helps, of course. According to Global Action plan, recycling a tonne of paper saves 4200kWh of electricity as well as 17 trees, 2.3 cubic metres of landfill space, 32,000 litres of water, and 27kg of air pollutants.
Common sense measures such as turning off lights and equipment when they’re not being used are just as applicable to the training room as to any other office environment, but when using outside premises it may be necessary to influence venues to do their bit, says Mark Yoxon. “I’m often shocked that all the lights and the projector are on when I get to the training room, because the people who set up the room have left them on,” he says. “Venues don’t always train their staff to be aware of these things.”
Another common carbon waster at training venues is poor temperature control. “I get frustrated at having to open windows because the heating can’t be controlled,” adds Yoxon. “I once went to a venue where the air conditioning couldn’t be controlled in the rooms, so the venue had supplied heaters.”
Measuring direct and indirect emissions
Putting pressure on venues to change their errant ways is all part of supply chain management - an approach to carbon emissions reduction that is sometimes overlooked, but is increasingly recognised as important. These so-called indirect emissions may be difficult to quantify, but carbon footprint auditing - as offered by several specialist consultancies - can pin them down, as well as providing a snapshot of all the carbon emissions produced by an organisation.
Consultants Best Foot Forward go a step further (excuse the pun), providing total ecological footprinting. The company also runs training courses on footprinting for companies that want to accurately measure their own ecological impacts.
If employing a footprinting consultant seems excessive for measuring the impacts of a modest training function, one of the online footprinting tools provided by several different sources could be a good starting point. “We used the online tool provided by Climate Care to look at our own carbon footprint, and it helped us to focus on where our emissions are coming from,” says Kay Baldwin-Evans at SkillSoft
E-learning can mean eco-learning?
SkillSoft launched its green training campaign at the end of April to highlight e-learning as an “environmentally friendly way to train staff”. The company is offering medium and large size organisations a free trial of up to five online training courses, for up to five employees for a period of 30 days.
“The idea behind the campaign is that e-learning is a possible way for organisations to cut down on sending people off site for training,” says Kay Baldwin-Evans. “It saves on travel, it saves heating another classroom or building when there is already a warm office available, and it cuts down on manuals and printed paper.”
In the first few weeks of the campaign, SkillSoft contacted around 9,000 organisations, of which 17% signed up for the free day trial. “We’re thinking of extending the campaign for another couple of weeks, because of the response,” says Baldwin-Evans.
Changing hearts and minds
While some forms of training may arguably be greener than others, there is one practice in the training room that could arguably do more than anything else to cut carbon emissions - and that is using the opportunity to raise delegates’ awareness of environmental issues, in addition to delivering the training message itself.
“I put a few facts and figures on display about recycling and saving water for example, to try to get delegates to think about these things,” says Mark Yoxon. “I have also done some carbon offsetting on behalf of the group, to offset the impact of the training,” he adds. “Sometimes I plant trees, but on another occasion I handed everyone a low energy light bulb.”
While carbon offsetting is no substitute for reducing an organisation’s own carbon emissions, it’s probably the only practical way for most training functions to become ‘carbon neutral’ - that is, to neutralise the net carbon emissions it produces. In an ideal world, every organisation would have solar panels and wind turbines, to feed back into the National Grid the net equivalent of any carbon-based energy it uses. But in this real world, the carbon offsetting organisations approved by the DTI can offset business emissions - usually by investing in projects such as renewable energy schemes in developing countries.
Individual staff members and delegates can also do their bit, by offsetting their personal travel emissions, or even offsetting the carbon emissions from their home through the Environmental Transport Association’s climate-neutral home insurance package.
Best Foot Forward: www.bestfootforward.com
Carbon Trust: www.carbontrust.co.uk
Global Action Plan: www.globalactionplan.org.uk
INFORM Training & Communication: www.inform-global.com
SkillSoft green training campaign: www.skillsoft.com/whatsstoppingyou
Carbon emissions calculators
DTI recommended offsetting companies: www.defra.gov.uk/environment/climatechange/uk/carbonoffset/links.htm
Environmental Transport Association: www.eta.co.uk