A few years back a good friend of mine fell in love with the country of Norway. In so doing she worked out she would need a way to make a crust and subsequently offered here unparalleled research capability to the Norwegian multi-national, DNV (or Det Norske Veritas for those with a phobia of acronyms). The wikipedia one-liner on DNV is that they are a classification society organised as a foundation, with the objective of "Safeguarding life, property, and the environment". Basically this puts them in the business of managing risk.

As clever risk managers they worked out a smart way to address the risk of the developed world's unsustainable resource consumption and waste production. Realising the best place to start was internally they have been addressing this through changing the habits of their workforce. The following interview with Jorgen Kadal explains the journey to date as seen through the eyes of the person responsible for getting it off the ground.
Q1 - Please provide a brief outline of the program

Below I have enclosed the original brochure for the scheme. I think this describes it quite well.

Editor's note: the brochure has been uploaded here but an excerpt is below.

What is WE do?

WE do is a global environmental project that helps 8,000 people working in DNV
limit their personal environmental footprint – which is estimated to be larger or at
least comparable to the footprint from DNV’s operations. To achieve this, DNV will partially finance personal environmental measures. The upper limit is NOK 10,000 (a Norwegian Kroner is approximately AUD 0.192 or USD 0.179 at time of writing) per person, per year, regardless of location. NOK 40 million is set aside to finance the project.

Q2 - How long did it take from the initial idea to implement the program and what were some of the critical steps along the way?

The idea was conceived during the autumn/winter 2006/2007, and the program was implemented in the spring of 2008.  (see also the interview in the DNV forum magavine uploaded here).

The idea was conceived by myself starting with my growing concern that new technology alone was not enough to reach the required targets for reduction of greenhouse gases, and my increasing disappointment with norwegian politicians who seemed not to be able to put practical measures into action. When DNV got a new CIO in early 2007, he set out to define new visions values and goals, and the synthesis of this was summed up in the statement ´Global impact for a safe and sustainable future´.

Upon reading thisI was inspired to think that perhaps my company could set an example that could inspire the world around us by showing that, through a small encouragement,DNV employees around the world would be willing to back the vision of the company by reducing their personal footprint. The next critical step for me personally was to build up the courage to approach him with this bold idea. His almost immediate response was, ´thank you, this was a great idea, we will do this´. From then on he took it and turned it into what is has become today.

A project manager was named, a project team set up and a WEdo committee consisting of one representative from each business area plus the human Resources/Safety, Health and Environment (HR/SHE) director and myself was established. The first hurdle was to get this through the board of directors.  Then came the process of conducting a global brainstorming session using a discussion forum on the intranet, and then screening the ideas based on their similarities and occurrence. Then the most popular were suggested more or less in their original form, to all the country managers for their approval. The element of local adaption of the eligible measures were included and a final list as you find in the  enclosed  brochure were distributed and a web application form was made available on the intranet. Parallel to this was an important discussion on how to administer the applications and the distribution of funding with the least possible disruption to business in the regions. This was resolved quite elegantly through using the ordinary regime for handling expense statements.

Then an initiative that was also mentioned in the original idea, to apply for tax exemption in Norway for this additional funding, was started. After a few rounds with the finance department, this was finally closed with a negative answer. This was a little disappointing, that an initiative that really showed that the private sector was highly motivated to support both Norwegian society and the global community at large, to reach the targets for reduction of greenhouse gases was seen as just another taxable benefit to the employees.

The final two critical steps where to get acceptance from the board of directors to carry on the programme over a full three year period. Acceptance for the second period was granted, and I am not sure whether acceptance for a third period has been given yet. Part of this process includes documenting the effect of the programme for the total reduction of greenhouse gases, for the satisfaction of the employees in terms of motivation to remain with the company, or be attracted to work there, and general strengthening of the brand.

Q3 - What is the % uptake by staff members and what is the cost to your organisation as a % of profit after tax?

In the initial brainstorming Over 500 ideas were posted, 50% of employees visited the discussion forum and 100% knew about it.

For the first round of applications in 2008, 50% of the employees (4100) people applied. The cost was about 5% of profit after tax.  

Norway and China were the big doers, and there was a big geographical variation.

For the second round,  3139 people applied, and the cost ratio is expected to be slightly less as the profits are expected to be higher this year.

Q4 - What are some of the resources employed during the development of the program? A list of key resources that I have put together for my readers can be found here.

Initially footprint calculators on the internet were used to trigger people's awareness. They were linked up from the resource pages on the intranet, and people were generally encouraged to go and try them out. Thenduring the first year, the top management distributed the book ´The hot topic´ to all employees worldwide. This was a very good and objective account for all the main factors and issues affecting climate change and the challenges we are facing to limit the effects of these.

Q5 - What is the most inspirational employment of the program that you have seen to date?

I think the two most inspirational employments of the programme I have seen is environmentally friendly water heating for a school in china, as is described on page 41 of our annual report, and this year, to see how many people that were very far from even thinking about cycling to work, have really taken on this task and have cycled much more than the required miles to qualify for the funding and are set to keep doing this also in the future.

I am also very inspired by the way this programme has been used in the annual report to illustrate the commitment of the employees of DNV.

Q6 - What are some of the benefits of this program to your organisation?

One of the main benefits has been referred to as motivation of the employees (implicitly contributing to retention rates and attracting competent people). Many people report back that this programme makes them proud to work in DNV.

Another has been that of motivating employees to align with the vision and goals for DNV to have global impact for a sustainable future through the way they deliver and contribute to further develop our services.

And yet another has been to strengthen DNV's brand as we are trying to position ourselves in the many business opportunities that open as the world tries to tackle climate change issues.

Q7 - What advice do you have for organisations considering implementing similar programs?

It was definitely a success criteria to involve the whole organisation in the forming of the programme. This created a unique ownership among the employees and helped take down a lot of discussions that could well have strained the management organisation during implementation.

Another success criteria has been to make the administration of the programme as lean as possible so that it is not seen as another large overhead to the organisation.

Another piece of advice that we wish we had established earlier, is to implement measures and calculators for the organisation to measure the effect of the programme along the way. A lot of good energy and motivation (for example to choose to cycle to work) can be created from measuring achievements over time. 

Finally, a strong foundation of committment from the top has been a key element to the success of our programme. 

Thank you Jorgen for a wonderful insight into DNV's WE do program. Any readers who have experiences they would like to share about their own organisation's sustainability programs feel free to leave a comment.

Human endeavour is an inspirational thing. I recently interviewed a very brave guy who struck out on his own to start a business that closely aligned with his value set. A few years down the track that one man show has expanded considerably both in employee numbers, client base and positive impact.

This blog post is the first in what will become a regular feature on this site and profiles the achievements of Terence Jeyaretnam, founder of Net Balance Management Group. If you are wondering how I found out about Terence then you probably haven't read the Engineers Australia magazine in a while. As an engineer and a member of the Society of Sustainability and Environmental Engineering (SSEE) I have been reading Terence's articles on sustainability for about five years now, in fact, it is pretty much all I read in that mag. This is not a comment on the quality of the magazine, simply an indication of my priorities when it comes to reading the rest of it. The following is an excerpt from the Net Balance website:

Welcome to Net Balance

Net Balance is a different kind of company.

The Net Balance team is made up of energetic, passionate individuals who see sustainability as core business, presenting exciting opportunities for innovation, industry leadership, risk management, and cost reduction. That’s why Net Balance has become one of the leading providers of sustainability advice and assurance in Australia.

I asked Terence a number of questions to find out what inspired his work to create this company and what he thinks can inspire other sustainability practitioners.

Q1 - Why did you decide to launch Net Balance?

Because the company I was with at the time, URS, decided to step away globally from providing assurance to sustainability reports due to litigation fears. This was, and has been, my area of passion for the past 15 years, and I needed an entity to house my interests. Besides, it presented an opportunity for a unique experiment in setting up a company – one that measures, offsets and reports its sustainability performance, has a strong focus on non-profit work and is based on a strong set of values. The experiment has been a phenomenal success so far, proving that there is indeed much room for sustainable business models.

Q2 - What are the key resources you employ in the conduct of your work (an example of some that I have listed for readers is located here)?

Editor’s note: As a time management guru, Terence typed up his reply to my questions while in the air between Sydney and Melbourne so he lacked the capacity to check the list of resources I provided in a recent post.

Jud, again, as I’m in the middle of the air, I can’t see your list, but my key resource (and to an extent the only resource) is my brain. I find that one of the fundamental issues (even with sustainability) is that we do not use our brains as much as we could. Lazy brains lead to lazy people and a lazy planet – I’m not saying that my brain is not lazy – it is, and it does try very hard to coast, but I keep challenging the possibilities!

Editor’s note: Wow. Insights like this are exactly why I started this blog. That was not what I was getting at with my question but it provides a great wake up call. What is your first point of call when you have a hard decision to make or a complex problem to solve? Do you make a conscious effort to extend yourself and make the most of your own mind? Consider the sheer volume of information you can access. It quickly becomes clear that it is your discerning mind that will actually make sense of it all and turn it into a useful resource. Thanks Terence, excellent point.

Q3 - What inspires you to work in the field of sustainability?

The possibility that we may leave this planet to our kids just the way we found it.  When I was a child (which by the way was not that long ago!), there was very little waste, very little pollution and much more time in the day. I would like to give the place back the way I found it – and the reason my work continues to get me out of bed very early every morning is that it has the potential to change large institutions and create much more change than I could ever achieve on my own.

Q4 - What are some examples of work you have been involved in that you think may be inspirational to other sustainability practitioners?

Two things.  Most companies that I have worked with have improved their performance each year and have gone from strength to strength.  This makes me proud.  Secondly, I’m proud of what Net Balance has done as a company – ticked most boxes in a sustainability journey from day one.  Hopefully, it will inspire other sustainability and engineering companies to practice what they believe is good for business and reap the rewards.

Editor’s note: The impressive list of clients that Net Balance has managed to support along their sustainability journey can be found here. Some high profile clients include Fosters Group, Bunnings Warehouse and BHP Billiton.

The next sustainability practitioner to be profiled will be freelance writer Leon Gettler of Fairfax, G Magazine and Sox First fame. Do you have anyone you would recommend I try to profile on this blog? If so please feel free to add a comment below.