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‘Play it forward’ refers to carrying out a good deed without the expectation of any return, with the idea coming to prominence in the 2000 film of the same name.
In 2012 we launched a new department environmental programme and held a staff competition to come up with a name. The result was ‘Planet Forward’ (Plan It Forward), adapted from the film title and reflecting an ambition to reduce our environmental impacts and create a positive legacy for the future. The programme has grown from introducing modest changes in the early years to spearheading significant improvements across the company.
A common challenge experienced by many sustainability practitioners is the misconception that they have sole responsibility for addressing their companies’ environmental impacts. This presumption faced our Environment Officer, and he struggled with limited resources and no direct leverage with the multiple departments creating those impacts.
The solution was to turn this problem on its head by introducing a new mandatory expectation for departments to deliver environmental projects linked to the end-of-year staff bonus. This repositioned the Environment Officer’s role as a helpful facilitator (rather than someone encouraging improvements from outside traditional reporting lines), and all 18 departments now seek his assistance to ensure they meet the necessary outcomes by the deadlines.
How it works
Each department nominates a champion to lead its work. At the beginning of the year, champions agree on action plans and timelines with the Environment Officer. Most projects must be completed by November, or reach interim milestones in the case of two-year projects. This allows champions to balance this work with busy periods in their core department activities.
The Environment Officer guides champion with regular meetings, emails and phone calls. All parties contribute ideas and expertise, enabling projects to achieve a compatible mix of business and environmental value.
Progress is reported to senior management and regularly shared at staff meetings. The environmental bonus recognises the commitment of time and effort by champions but is only awarded if every department completes its agreed project or milestone.
Projects are designed to deliver environmental and business returns.
More than 100 projects have been completed since 2012, with reductions in carbon emissions, paper and printing, single-use plastics and waste. They have targeted building impacts, strengthened compliance and EMS processes, created ecodrive videos, developed environmental training modules and improved data management. Examples across the retail network include the installation of water meters and lighting upgrades, the promotion of Store certification and the installation of LittaTrap™ in stormwater drains.
Business benefits include sizeable cost savings, process efficiencies, risk management, fortification of our brand reputation and growing employee pride in the company for which they work. A single project can provide multiple benefits; for example, freight route improvements save hundreds of tonnes of carbon dioxide and thousands of dollars each year, and also reduce the risk of vehicle damage in transportation, requirements for part replacements, and waste. Such complementary benefits justify the staff time spent on the programme.
Environmental issues are often presented as national and global problems, preventing many people understanding how they might tackle them in practical, meaningful ways. This programme empowers staff to address such issues from an operational perspective; many champions value the opportunity to ‘step out’ of their normal roles for a few hours each month to contribute to TNZ’s sustainability performance. It also provides project management skills that may not have been available to them in their core roles. As champions can change in subsequent years, the programme continues to build capability and understanding throughout the workforce.
Planet Forward has been a vital mechanism for accelerating environmental sustainability at TNZ. It has created a culture of collaboration, ownership, kaizen and innovation, and helped dismantle traditional barriers to progressing sustainability, without additional resources. It can be applied to all work areas and projects of differing scale and complexity.