Pip Harley

3 July 2014 — About 90 people turned up to for an intriguingly named “café” event in Sydney – Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast.

Organiser was the City of Sydney’s CitySwitch, the sustainability engagement program steadily transforming the behaviour of tenants who might love being inside buildings that are 5 or 6 Star Green Star but whose ambition on sustainability from a personal point of view fails to match.

It’s one of the biggest challenge in the transformation of the built environment – human, intractable, behaviour.

This is where the work of CitySwitch and other change agents is heading and the biggest hurdle, they say, is to motivate people who are often working frantically to meet deadlines, balance demanding home lives and respond to the competition and urgency of the global economy, with the fear of the global financial crisis breathing down their necks.

Among speakers gathered for the café were Melissa Houghton, a co-director of consultants in this space, Sustainability at Work; Kerry Field, chief of talent at advertising agency MindShare; Kirsten Woodward, manager, environmental projects for the City of Sydney; and Emlyn Keane, head of property management and sustainable performance at AMP Capital Investors.

A new toolkit on behavior change was also launched at the event.

Melissa Houghton

According to Melissa Houghton, who’s had to grapple most directly with the challenge of helping to change organisational culture, there’s strong support for corporates to be more sustainable. A recent survey by her firm showed 74 per cent of people think their workplace ought to be green and clean.

So there’s no lack of will. In theory. But it’s much harder to get traction in behaviour change.

Her presentation focused on the need to stick to a plan.

“We went through the key steps of implementing behaviour change and talked about the range of programs and key steps that people can do to change behaviour in organisations,” she said.

The key message, Ms Houghton said, is the importance of communications and linking comms to the overall strategy. “Having a plan and a program in place, not just ad hoc activities.”

Her company, now doing training programs with clients such as David Jones, Mars Petcare and the Australian Taxation Office, looks at how sustainability can become embedded in the culture.

“Some of the work is around upskilling and knowledge, and building green teams champion networks so they can roll out programs that are effective.”

Kerry Field

Kerry Field spoke about the importance of retaining talent in an industry that regularly experiences more than 34 per cent churn in staff.

Among the ways her firm has devised to retain staff and increase engagement are gamification, competitions and peer recommendations, using web-based platforms and colleagues awarding points to each other for the tasks at hand.

Gamification was one method AMP has used to change behaviour. It’s “Floor Wars” game – naturally incorporating a Star Wars theme – was a virtual battle between staff on various levels to see who could outperform on energy, water and waste, Emlyn Keane told the audience.

Program manager for CitySwitch Pip Harley said it was all very well for the building owner to be fully engaged, but what happens with the tenants?

“It’s only half the battle,” Ms Harley said.

“What we’re trying to do is drive home the message to individual companies that they have a part to play in what we’re all trying to do.”

Emlyn Keane

A way to break through the barriers, Ms Harley said, was through collaboration.

“Collaboration can be a truly effective way to achieve outcomes that can be really difficult to achieve in isolation,” she said.

There was significant interest in programs that had a collaborative approach, such as a Green Champions network or establishing a virtual community that aimed to engage tenants across an entire building.

For now the City is working working with four buildings in the CBD as part of a two-year pilot on virtual communities.

Investa was one of the first adopters in this program for its building at 126 Philip Street, but it was still “early days”.

Harley said the café event was part of a quarterly series of similar events for signatories to the CitySwitch program open to those who were thinking to join.

Colleagues in the CitySwitch program around the country were working on similar programs, she said.