We all know a picture is worth a thousand words, but according to Amy Sims of practical environmental charity Global Action Plan visual displays can be worth even more to your firm's environmental strategy.
A bold visual representation of people's unsustainable habits can pack a powerful punch. Like nutrition-guru Gillian McKeith's televised tactic of filling a table with all the fatty foods one has gorged on in a week; showing people how wasteful they can be in their daily lives has wow factor (with possible exception of one woman who, to McKeith's chagrin, found the heaving mountain of chips and curry before her simply 'delicious').
It is a lesson Global Action Plan has certainly learnt in its work helping businesses change behaviours and limit their environmental impacts. One of our most popular tools for accomplishing this is the Carbon Gym. Preaching to people about changing their behaviour for the greener good can be as effective as telling a teenager to keep their room clean but this gym is a workout for the brain and body. The gym is comprised of our Energy Bike, Carbon Rower and Carbon Weights with each piece of equipment designed to physically engage the user in a way that emphasises the scale of some of their environmental impacts.
Yes you know that you should switch to energy efficient lightbulbs and that a polar bear will be granted the gift of ice once you do. But even with the furry fellow tugging at your conscious and some jumbled energy saving figures tucked into the memory, it remains on a to-do list. People who ride our Energy Bike pedal to power a series of everyday appliances, the more power they use; the harder it is to pedal. Riders can easily illuminate an energy efficient bulb but when the current is diverted to power an old-fashioned bulb instead - sha-zam, the connection is made - it requires much more muscle. They see the light, feel the difference, and they remember. Feedback has been fabulous, for example we've had employees who've ridden the bike tell us they always turn their monitors off at lunch now because they remember the feeling of powering it.
The Carbon Rower and Carbon Weights teach people about the differences in carbon emissions through resistance. The weights illustrate the different levels of carbon created through various lifestyle choices. People feel the weight of CO2 that is produced by different forms of travel; by different types of house insulation; and by food travelling from different locations. They are challenged to lift the weight of carbon their choices produce. The rowing machine is specially adapted so when in use it inflates three columns representing the amount of CO2 emitted travelling 2kms by air, car and train. This enables rowers to visualise the amount of CO2 produced by their travel choices.
Similarly, many businesses who participate in our workplace programmes develop creative displays to impact a sustainable message on everyone in the building.
Paper use in workplaces is so extraordinary you'd think staff had shares in the timber industry. The average UK office worker uses up to 100 sheets of paper every day, working through a phone book worth of paper, or more, every week. But fortunately some companies are conjuring up striking displays to encourage staff to turn over a new leaf. Investec built an 8-storey tower of printer paper boxes in its atrium to show staff how much paper they were using every week.
A tourism management company in London created a veritable paper aquarium, with everyone pitching in to fill the tank. All waste bins were removed from the office and staff were asked to toss all waste paper into a spare glass fronted office in the main area. Employees just chucked in all of their paper waste in the room for two weeks, and as it filled up all passer-bys saw paper level rise day after day. The exercise of carrying paper waste to a designated spot and seeing the accumulation got everyone talking about the display. As an awareness raising tool this display scored.
But you have to make sure that whatever environmental display you choose it suits its target audience. At John Brown Citrus Publishing staff at the publishing company created posters with environmentally-friendly tips on them and it clicked that some of the cleaning staff primarily spoke Portuguese so posters were made bilingual.
Recognising the needs of the people in a workplace and tweaking displays so they have as wide an impact as possible is a simple yet powerful way to create change. From an 8-foot tower of paper boxes to a small adjustment in signage, displays have the power to move people in a more sustainable direction.
Amy Sims is Communications Manager at Global Action Plan.
Created in 1993, Global Action Plan is a practical environmental charity that has worked with thousands of people and organisations to help them make positive changes to reduce their environmental impact at home and at work.
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