Today's competitive edge is tomorrow's survival - involving employees in energy reduction programmes reduces costs, boosts morale and helps save our planet, says Steve Crabb

Employers in the grocery sector who aim to engage their workforce could be missing a trick by failing to connect energy-saving initiatives with employment strategies, claims new research out this month.
The study, by The Carbon Trust, found that more than 75% of UK employees feel it is important to work for an organisation committed to reducing its greenhouse emissions, suggesting that advertising "carbon-neutrality" could prove a powerful tool in the talent war.
However, environmentally-aware employees keen to save energy at home seem to lose their green compasses at work. A quarter of staff surveyed considered that their company was not doing enough to cut its carbon emissions, while over 80% said their company lacked energy-efficiency programmes involving employees.
Dr Garry Felgate, director of business delivery and external relations at The Carbon Trust, says: "Most UK employees want to become more environmentally friendly, but many don't know where to start.
"One in four workers fails to switch off lights in unused rooms at work, but 94% say they remember at home. Simply by encouraging employees to bring good energy habits into the workplace, businesses could reduce lighting bills by around 19% a year, while significantly lowering carbon emissions." So there's an immediate impact on the bottom line, as well as a positive influence on recruitment and morale. Smart employers are already enjoying benefits: for example, Northern Foods aims to curb its environmental impact through a long-term War On Waste initiative, driving efficiencies and reducing energy use and waste.
Hilary Baker, director of communications at Northern Foods, says: "We will focus heavily on the War on Waste agenda in 2006, generating great ideas by engaging employees in programmes. Already, their contribution has been considerable."
Tesco - with a brilliant track record of employee engagement - uses a wide range of energy-saving and environment-friendly programmes. Between 1997 and 2005, Tesco reduced energy consumption by 35% by combining initiatives such as light-collecting cells, rain harvesters and a cold air retrieval system which extracts air from refrigeration units and recycles it across the store. "Our staff take great pride in environmental matters," a Tesco spokesman says.
The big challenge, of course, is communicating to small companies with responsibility for up to 50% of the UK's carbon emissions but who often miss out on best practice information. This is where the major grocery companies can have a significant impact.
As Northern Foods' Baker says: "Our food supply chain has a large environmental footprint. We are very aware of the need to manage environmental impact at every stage by working closely with suppliers and retailers. Our corporate social responsibility agenda needs to align with business strategy:environmentally friendly activity has a positive impact on operational perfor-mance and reducing environ-mental impact offsets bills against spiralling costs."
Growing consumer awareness holds a key to the future by demanding inclusion of carbon footprint data on food packaging. Today's competitive edge means survival for tomorrow's business and our planet.
* The Carbon Trust helps companies plan workplace energy campaigns: contact www. or 0800 085 2005
¦ Steve Crabb is editor of People Management.