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Green Recovery Insights: Businesses can help us to use resources more wisely

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In our latest Green Recovery Insights blog, Iain McGuffog of Partnership supporting member Bristol Water focuses on how businesses can work with each other and local communities to make resource efficiency easier.

Do you ever realise after the event that you could have avoided wasting resources, if only you had thought about it at the time? I know I do, and I start with a confession that I occasionally forget to turn the tap off while brushing my teeth – a fairly shocking admission for someone in a job where I really should know better.

Why do I do this – the pressures of the time. When I’m in a hurry or distracted by the 1,001 different things rushing around in my head, like most people I lose focus on the resource efficient option. I should know better, but I’m human (despite being an economist).

People are bombarded by messages on sustainability, some hear them but are not sure what to do and others will feel it is too remote from their busy lives for them to be able to make a difference. But we know people do care about the environment around them and the communities they live in. The current pandemic has reminded us all of the importance of taking care of each other and the world around us, but alongside this opportunity are new challenges in our already crowded lives.

For water companies and many other utilities, it’s not always obvious to our customers how the water or energy they use, how they travel or what waste they throw away impacts on the local environment and community. There is a real challenge to make change easily achievable for people when time is so precious.

Research by Bristol Water identified that the greatest gap between environmental awareness and being able to follow sustainable lifestyles was in those between the ages of 18 and 35. Our research showed increasing concern about climate change and the environment in this age group, but at the same time this generation are showing higher water use compared to previous generations. Digging deeper there was a variety of causes, but a common theme was the challenges of living in shared rented accommodation (such as having to use the shower to heat the bathroom). Another key factor was the challenges of work life balance – sustainable behaviour takes time and space, for instance access to places to recycle, buy plastic-free or grow your own food.

So as employers, we have a role to play to start to tackle this sustainability challenge. With Bristol Green Capital Partnership, in July 2019 we held a “Citizens for the future” event to work out how to tackle these challenges. As an economist I had always been concerned about the limitations of a focus on behaviour change, and whether we focus too much on short term actions that people can’t stick with. Businesses have the opportunity to support more lasting cultural change through how they work, for both their customers, community and employees. The participants at this event made shared pledges to work on together.

Action on these pledges focuses on the twin track approach of increasing consumer awareness about resource use, whilst also making it easy for people to use less whilst also having a positive impact on their quality of life. There are three key ways in which organisations can support the changes we need.

First, a number of organisations including Bristol Water, Bristol Waste, UWE Wales & West Utilities, Western Power Distribution, Wessex Water and Bristol Pay have got together to try and promote resource efficiency together, rather than through separate campaigns. We all had our own targets and objectives to reduce water, energy and waste, whilst also helping those at risk of vulnerabilities, not least the pressure of time. By working together, we can work quicker and far more effectively. The first large scale charge of this approach will start soon in Southmead, Horfield and Lockleaze. We hope Resource West will make a major contribution to the One City Plan targets.

Second, as employers we can support cultural change, by promoting and supporting resource efficiency whilst people are at work. Resource West will be able to help with ideas. Flexible working can provide the space and time for people to live more sustainably. For those with green spaces, you can help your employees contribute to the green corridors needed for the ecological emergency, or for local food growing by your workforce.

Third, as employers we can engage the next generation and work with schools to raise awareness of the practical steps their families can take for resource efficiency, while at the same time promoting the green growth careers of the future. In the most sustainable cultures, education of the next generation has always been the top priority. Whilst mentoring and career days has had to take a temporary backseat with social distancing, we’ve had great fun coming up with our on-line educational resources.

Just think about how many people the organisations within Bristol employ and the influence we have through our customer bases. So, for any individuals or organisations out there who are interested in taking part, join the Bristol Green Capital Partnership, and get in touch with any ideas or actions you might want to take. In the meantime, I’ll try and remember to turn that tap off.

About the author

Iain (@mcguffog_iain) has been Director of Strategy and Regulation at Bristol Water for three years. He is an economist and management accountant, whose career has focused on how better business long term planning and community engagement can improve wellbeing. Bristol Water has developed a social contract that sets out how it will contribute and be accountable to society, based on an explicit agreed and shared set of actions. Iain is also a member of the One City Environmental Sustainability Board

Further information

Find out more about Resource West at https://www.bristolwater.co.uk/about-us/social-contract/establishing-resource-west-initiative

The educational resources can be found at https://www.bristolwater.co.uk/education-toolkit

Water, News & Information, Blog, Green Recovery Insight
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