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Community leisure club saves £41k thanks to staff engagement and behaviour change

Edinburgh Leisure has shown that sustained reductions in resource use can be achieved by setting a clear plan for implementing resource efficiency improvements and incentivising staff to take part.

Edinburgh Leisure is a not-for-profit organisation and the biggest sports and leisure provider in Edinburgh. It manages and develops sports and leisure services on behalf of the City of Edinburgh Council across 58 sites including leisure centres, swim centres, golf courses, tennis courts, bowling greens and outdoor football pitches. The organisation has over 800 employees and its venues welcome over 4.8 million customer visits a year.

In 2011 the Edinburgh Leisure sustainability team developed a set of realistic but challenging objectives – to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 5% each year and divert 80% of waste from landfill by 2016. The Green Plan showed how these targets would be delivered.

Key achievements

  • 10% of staff at all sites are part of a Green Team
  • Recycling rate increased from 26% to 67% within three years
  • Energy use at one site reduced by 13%
  • Several sites achieved recycling rates of around 80%
  • 4% reduction in CO2 emissions year on year

The importance of getting buy-in from the full organisation

Achieving buy-in from senior management was identified as a crucial first step in order to establish sustainability as an organisational priority. Senior management sent a clear demonstration of their commitment to resource efficiency by investing in an extra full-time staff member on the sustainability team and providing funding for resource efficiency projects. There is no doub that this paved the way for engaging with other staff.

Build a team of ‘champions’ and give them ownership

Having passionate, dedicated people at the site-level who can drive performance improvements has been key to Edinburgh Leisure’s success. Every site has a voluntary Green Champion who leads a Green Team. 10% of all staff are part of Green Teams across all sites. This ensures resource efficiency is highly visible to other staff and customers.

All new Green Champions receive initial training to provide an overview of the Green Plan and progress to date. A tailored action plan is then written up for their site to ensure they have a well-defined focus to their role.

 “Our value statement at Edinburgh Leisure is that ‘We will make a positive difference by being: welcoming, caring, passionate and proud’, and that also extends to our operating environment and the larger environment. It also makes financial sense – our energy and water costs are nearly £3million so any reduction in usage can result in significant savings. And in the current financial climate that’s important. At EL we are aspiring for ‘working green’ to simply be a way of working – our sustainability team and our Green Champions are instrumental to us achieving this.”  June Peebles Chief Executive, Edinburgh Leisure.

Green Champions are afforded time to progress actions and have a large degree of autonomy to make decisions and implement initiatives to help achieve objectives. For example, having access to energy and water management software enables the Green Champions to gain instant feedback on site performance. With this information they can investigate the cause of high usage and produce graphs to illustrate progress.

Giving Green Champions this level of control instils a sense of ownership and empowerment, which leads to greater engagement and enthusiasm. It has also resulted in significant improvements that are directly attributable to action taken by the Champions. Examples include a 13% reduction in energy use at Ainslie Park and the resolution of an issue of high overnight energy consumption at the Jack Kane centre due to lights being left on.

Progress updates and incentives help to drive performance improvements

Green Champions, staff and customers are incentivised to play a role in improving the resource efficiency of Edinburgh Leisure’s sites through the publication of monthly league tables which are displayed on site ‘green boards’ and communicated by email.

A league table system was developed with input from the Green Champions giving them ownership and a desire to see the system work in practice. Points are based on the environmental impact of activities, and a traffic light system is used to clearly indicate progress.

The league tables inspire friendly competition between sites, which in itself helps to drive improvements. It also allows staff to immediately benchmark their site’s performance with that of others so they have a greater understanding of the scope of improvements required to meet performance objectives.

Progress towards resource efficiency targets is communicated at annual all staff training sessions as induction training for new staff.

Staff engagement generates savings

The high level of engagement in resource efficiency initiatives among staff is testament to the efforts of the sustainability team and Green Champions. This is demonstrated by the number and nature of ideas submitted in suggestion boxes on site – such as issuing a 10% discount for refills of reusable cups, starting a community garden, and participating in events (for example, Recycle Week and charity fundraising).

The results of great staff engagement leading to real and sustained behaviour change are also evident in the performance figures. Overall, Edinburgh Leisure has increased its recycling rate from 26% to 67% (2011-2014) resulting in £16,000 of savings. Some sites have achieved impressive recycling rates of 80% (since 2011). There has also been a significant reduction in CO2 emissions year on year, with a 4% reduction in 2014/15.

One specific initiative, which required carefully planned communications with customers, involved removing single-use cups from water dispensers. This eliminated the purchase and waste of 2 million cups per year and generated an annual saving of £25,000.

Edinburgh Leisure has also achieved external recognition for the work of its Green Champions through its placement as a finalist in the Large Business category of the VIBES Awards 2014.

Do you have Green Champions in your business?

Savings of £41,000 aren't small change. The results are testament to the passion and drive of the Green Champions and Green Teams, which are active at all of Edinburgh Leisure’s sites.

If you’re inspired to start a Green Champions team, there is a free online course available, from the comfort of your desk. 

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Our free service for Scottish businesses is funded by the Scottish Government and by the European Regional Development Fund through the £73 million Resource Efficiency Circular Economy Accelerator Programme. The support provided to this organisation was delivered by Zero Waste Scotland’s Resource Efficient Scotland programme, which has been relaunched as Zero Waste Scotland’s Energy Efficiency Business Support Service as of 1 April 2020.

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