While growing numbers of companies are now investing in initiatives to reduce the carbon footprint of their staff while they are at work, far fewer have deemed it their responsibility to try and reduce the emissions of their employees once they turn off their PCs and leave the office each night.
And yet with people spending an increasing amount of their time at work, their employers have perhaps the greatest ability to shape their opinions and encourage environmentally sustainable behaviour.
It is an opportunity not lost on global insurance giant Swiss Re, which last year launched an innovative new scheme called CO You2 Reduce and Gain, designed to offer financial support to those staff who commit to reducing their own personal carbon footprint.
"In 2003 we launched a major programme to reduce our company emissions and become carbon neutral by 2013," explains Britta Rendlen, sustainability advisor at Swiss Re and programme leader for the CO You2 initiative. "But our CEO, Jacques Aigrain, thought it was too internal focused and that we hadn't done enough to change employees' behaviour."
Thus the CO You2 programme was born and officially launched at the start of this year.
Under the scheme, staff who have been with the company for over two years are eligible for a subsidy of up to CNF5,000 (£2,060) if they make an investment in a CO2 reducing technology. The subsidy, which has to cover no more than half of the cost of the overall investment, is available until 2011.
Rendlen says that the investments eligible for the subsidy vary by geography to ensure staff can install the types of technology that best suit their locality. "For example, in Switzerland hybrid cars, annual public transport passes, ground source heat pumps and solar heat pumps all qualify for the subsidy," she say. "But we have asked the local environmental managers what investments would suit their location, so in the US, the UK or Asia the set of eligible investments are different."
She adds that in each geography the aim has been to deliver a range of investments to suit all staff. "If you are a home owner there are options, like solar panels or heat pumps," she explains. "But if you are renting there are also measures you can get subsidies for, like hybrid cars or public transport passes."
Since the launch of the scheme a series of energy fairs and lunches have promoted the perk and according to the company take up has been impressive with one percent of eligible staff, or 100 employees, having already received pay outs.
The company said interest in the scheme was continuing with staff typically using the subsidy to go towards new hybrid cars, home energy audits, heat pumps, double glazed windows and more energy efficient air conditioning systems or white goods.
Other companies are experimenting with similar schemes, with both Google and Bank of America offering rebates to staff who buy hybrid cars, but Swiss Re claims it is unaware of any initiative as far reaching as its programme.
And Rendlen is confident that besides providing a perk for employees the scheme can also form a key plank in Swiss Re's environmental strategy. "For the reinsurance industry climate change is a key issue," she argues. "It costs us a lot when a storm hits, so if increased storms are going to be a big part of climate change then it is going to have a major impact on our business. As a result we started to engage with the issue very early compared with many sectors, but you can't be telling everyone about the need to combat climate change if you yourself aren't trying to tackle it."
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