Bosses miss out on £300 million energy and waste reduction opportunity

Less than a quarter of UK employees have been asked to help save energy at work, and fewer than half are concerned about the cost of energy for their employer, according to new research released today by the Carbon Trust.

The research highlights how UK workplaces are missing out on more than £300 million a year in savings that could be achieved through encouraging employees to adopt behaviours that reduce energy use and waste.

With steep rises in energy costs it is no surprise that 92% of workers are concerned about the cost of energy at home, but only 47% are concerned about the cost of energy for their employer.

And it looks like little is being done by employers to improve this situation. Only 23% of employees have been asked to help save energy at work by their manager, and just 13% claim that they are rewarded by their employers for saving energy.

Employees are the greatest asset of UK business, but when most of us enter the office, we take far less care to save energy and use resources efficiently than we do at home. The good news is that employees are willing to help and by understanding how employees act in the workplace, businesses can unlock significant bottom line savings.” Behavioural psychology tells us that just telling employees what to do is not enough. Employers need to understand what motivates or blocks good behaviour to really unlock cost, waste and carbon savings. For example using negative messages can lead to unpredictable results, including the potential for backlash.

Richard Rugg, Managing Director of Programmes at the Carbon Trust


The survey uncovers a number of insights into employee attitudes and behaviour that can be helpful in designing effective campaigns. For example:

  • 60% say they would be more likely to save energy at work if they were praised, twice the number that felt they would respond positively to criticism
  • Praise is almost as effective as money in motivating staff.  60% say they are more likely to take action if financially rewarded, and 58% more likely if to do it if their actions were recognised
  • Employees are willing to change: 81% would share a car journey with a colleague and 74% would replace a meeting with a video conversation
  • Only 22% of employees are confident that they know what actions to take to save energy at work, and just 16% are sure that they have the authority to do it.

Using techniques from behavioural psychology to encourage staff to take simple actions on workplace energy consumption, travel and waste employers can help deliver significant reductions in operational costs and carbon emissions. For example reducing the energy used for lighting by 10% - something readily achievable by many organisations - equates to total annual savings across the UK of over £55 million.

Adopting these environmental behaviours, alongside changes in commuting to and from the workplace, could also result in cutting the UK’s annual emissions by more than six million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Further insights from the research include:

  • Workers in London consistently take more action and show higher levels of concern than those in other parts of the country. For example three-quarters of Londoners believe they should take action to save energy at work, compared to just half of workers in Scotland, the South West, Yorkshire and Humberside, and the East of England.
  • Workers in the public sector consistently take more action and show higher levels of concern than those in the private sector. For example, 65% of public sector employees are concerned about how the actions they take at work impact on the environment, compared to 55% in the private sector.
  • There is a significant gap between being willing to take action in principle and actually taking it. When it comes to regularly turning off lights in unoccupied rooms or areas, 96% are willing to do it but only 52% actually are. And 74% would replace a meeting with a video conversation, but only 17% are doing it.
  • The behaviour of young people, particularly those aged 18-24, is significantly more influenced by others than older colleagues. For example 40% of 18-24 year olds admit to influence from celebrities, compared with just 3% of those aged 55-64.

This research is included in a report released today by the Carbon Trust, which provides guidance on how organisations can develop programmes to engage their employees to make green choices, alongside practical solutions to overcome common barriers.

Some of the UK’s leading companies are already engaging employees in the war on workplace waste.  Nationwide worked with the Carbon Trust to develop a sustainability strategy, which involved actively engaging every department in the businesses - from IT to finance and procurement.


Our employees' support is vital for us to achieve our environmental targets and environmental sustainability must be embedded into the hearts and minds of everyone within the organisation for our strategy to be truly successful.

- Lynn Forrester, Sustainability Manager at Nationwide

A small but growing number of organisations are starting to recognise the opportunity in engaging their workforce in low carbon behaviour. But even when they have the best intentions, many organisations struggle to engage employee power. It takes more than a just an occasional nagging email or a “switch me off” sticker to tap into the opportunity. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, it is important to understand the workplace and the people in it. It takes time to turn actions into habits.

- Richard Rugg, Managing Director of Programmes at the Carbon Trust

The Opportunity for Change

According to the Carbon Trust the biggest opportunities in changing workplace behaviour to deliver annual cost and carbon savings, are:

  • Reduce business air travel by 5% - £128m & 1.5m tonnes CO2e
  • Reduce lighting by 10% - £55m & 164,000 tonnes CO2e
  • Reduce waste sent to landfill by 5% - £49m & 115,000 tonnes CO2e
  • Reduce small power use (e.g. microwaves, kettles, photocopiers, monitors) by 10% - £39m & 190,000 tonnes CO2e
  • Reduce temperature by 1°C - £35m & 194,000 tonnes CO2e

Organisations can also have an impact on their employees own choices, empowering them to make sustainable changes outside of work. If UK employees avoided commuting by car for one day a week, either by car sharing, or travelling by public transport, then the cumulative effects would be between 3.7 million and 4.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Notes to Editor


Populus conducted an online survey of a representative sample of 1,135 UK employees, with fieldwork taking place in December 2013.

Organisational Engagement Support:

The Carbon Trust helps public and private sector organisations take advantage of the cost and carbon savings from engaging its workforce in more sustainable behaviour, through:

About the Carbon Trust:

The Carbon Trust is an independent company with a mission to accelerate the move to a sustainable, low carbon economy. The Carbon Trust:

  • advises businesses, governments and the public sector on opportunities in a sustainable, low carbon world
  • measures and certifies the environmental footprint of organisations, products and services
  • helps develop and deploy low carbon technologies and solutions, from energy efficiency to renewable power

For further information on the Carbon Trust, please contact the Carbon Trust press office on 020 7170 7050 or Alternatively visit