Engaging staff

There is no “one size fits all” answer to engaging on issues of social, environmental, and financial sustainability – differences in organisational approaches will determine when and where sustainability can be addressed.

However, case studies from a 2017 SDU research project looking at staff engagement (full report at the bottom of the page) highlighted key themes of good practice: 

Framing the vision

– Importance of making a shared values-based case:

  • Focus on health - frame the problem of sustainability as a health and care-related problem, first and foremost, which can be resolved through environmentally-minded actions (environment-health-co-benefits). Seeing environmental sustainability in healthcare-related terms is an essential step in achieving fundamental change in health and care staff behaviour.
  • Understand your staff & link sustainability to shared values - identify what matters the most to your colleagues. Understanding the motivation behind our collective actions is crucial in ensuring that staff are engaged with the message that resonates with their values. Notably, this principle has been demonstrated by the Operation TLC case study. (LINK)
  • Support your communities & link sustainability to corporate social responsibility - look for the added value of acting on environmental sustainability. For example, demonstrate the evidence and rationale of how the environment benefits health and general wellbeing and creates social value. Incorporate your local community. For example, the NHS Forest programme opened up NHS land for community involvement, and brought staff, patients and volunteers closer together with their natural surroundings. 
  • Support your colleagues - find opportunities to support your colleagues in developing themselves as champions for environmentally sustainable healthcare. 


– Working with others to spread improvements throughout the system:
  • Work within existing structures - develop partnerships within your organisation to help you achieve your sustainability goals. 
  • Network widely - exchange and develop contacts who are working in sustainability in own workplace, conferences, and other sustainability events. This will expose you to potential solutions, help you identify local and external allies and it will give encouragement to continue your good work.
  • Look for synergies - see how you can work together with other organising with a similar mission. 


– Practical actions to support creating change:

  • Take simple steps - start by focusing on straightforward “quick wins” actions. Many individuals already have an understanding and willingness to contribute towards sustainability; enable them to make a difference by providing a pathway towards more complex goals. Providing specific actions staff can take in order to move from being “side-line supporters” of sustainability to “concerned consumers” who are more proactive. 
  • Formalise your efforts - if you identify a gap or have achieved a success, take this forward with your professional body or your organisation. For example, publish your learning outcomes and have a performance reporting system to update on sustainability action plans. 
  • Monitor, evaluate, disseminate - ensure that you monitor and evaluate your efforts. 

Good engagement practice case studies 

Operation TLC (Understand your staff; Monitor, evaluate, disseminate) 
Barts Health NHS Trust and Global Action Plan developed an energy improvement programme which took into account staff preferences, patient needs and cost efficiencies for their Trust. Three focused actions of “Turn off equipment”, “Lights out”, and “Control temperatures” across six sites resulted in 33% fewer sleep disruptions for patients; £500,000 in energy savings; and 2200 tonnes of carbon saved each year. This project led to more empowered staff who were able to make changes to their surrounds; more familiarity with buildings and control systems; and the decommissioning or replacement of out of date (and carbon intensive) equipment. Audits showed that all three aspects of the triple bottom line were being successfully addressed, with a return on investment within one year on measured energy savings alone.

For further detail and useful downloadable material (including, info sheets and posters), visit our dedicated Operation TLC page.

Green Impact (Focus on health; Take simple steps)
The National Union of Students runs a behaviour change and engagement programme, applying a toolkit which breaks down the vast topic of sustainability into straightforward, “doable” actions for frontline clinical staff. Actions include: clear labelling of waste disposal options; default setting of double-sided printing; to more complex goals such as changing the organisation’s procurement practices. In the 2015 academic year, Green Impact reached 37,000 university staff and 4,000 healthcare staff. A project in six GP surgeries in Bristol reached 200 staff; 60,000 patients; and led to 252 sustainability actions being performed. Approximate savings of £18,491 and 114 tonnes of carbon per year were calculated as a result of just five out of hundreds of actions contained in the toolkit.

For more information and bringing Green Impact to your organisation, visit Green Impact. 

NHS Forest (Support your communities; Focus on health)
The NHS Forest program has planted over 40,000 trees across 124 sites, opened up NHS land for community involvement, and brought staff, patients and volunteers closer together with their natural surroundings. Engaging healthcare staff and community members with green spaces on NHS sites directly links the environment to health. There is evidence now to show the positive impacts this has on health and wellbeing, and it contributes to Trusts’ corporate social responsibility. The woodlands have been utilised for art, food crops, exercise spaces, to encourage biodiversity and support social prescribing. These social benefits can be hard to quantify, but a national roll-out could achieve nationwide benefits as the NHS owns approximately 6.9 million hectares of land (equivalent of the land area of Republic of Ireland!).

 For more information and getting involved, visit NHS Forest

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