Published on 03-May-2012
Validated on 25 Nov 2013
"The social networking capabilities provided by IBM Connections have played an important role in the success of this initiative." - Alex Segrt, IT Project Manager, Earthwatch
Social Business for Knowledge Sharing and Innovation, Social Business
Earthwatch is a global, nonprofit environmental organization dedicated to conserving the diversity of life on Earth to meet the needs of current and future generations. Founded in 1971, it maintains offices in the UK, the US, Australia, Japan, India, Hong Kong and Brazil. Additionally, it works with an array of partners—from individuals and the public, to small, midsized and large corporations, governments and institutions. In support of its aim, Earthwatch seeks to engage people in education and learning experiences to foster the understanding and action needed for a sustainable environment.
Leverage the most effective model and communication channels for increasing understanding and action needed to support a sustainable environment and fight climate change
Corporate employees learn about climate change and remedial responses through interactions with “Climate Champions” and each other using IBM® Connections social software
Widening conversations via social channels have spawned 2,267 informed activists in this global company, helping to change its ways of doing business and operating in its industry
Earthwatch is a global, nonprofit environmental organization dedicated to conserving the diversity and resilience of life on Earth to meet the needs of current and future generations. Founded in 1971, it maintains offices in the UK, the US, Australia, Japan, India, Hong Kong and Brazil. Additionally, it works with a broad array of partners—from individuals and the public, to small, midsized and large corporate partners, governments and institutions. In support of its aim, Earthwatch seeks to engage people in education and hands-on learning experiences to foster the understanding and action needed for a sustainable environment.
Climate change is on the agenda
The purview of Earthwatch is wide-ranging, with current focus in several areas, including climate change. The process of climate change and the human role in bringing it about has been warned of by scientists for decades. Yet now with virtually unanimous worldwide consensus among scientists that this is happening, and mounting forms of evidence such as melting ice caps and dire weather events, governments and citizenries have been slow to respond. Regrettably, public belief in climate change has even declined in the last several years, confused by misleading information.
With this obstacle impeding constructive response and time running out for averting the worst consequences, educating and influencing public opinion is paramount. Though the global economic crisis unfolding since 2008 has put a strain on companies’ and peoples’ ability to engage with sustainability issues, Alex Segrt, an Earthwatch IT project manager, sees a positive trend as well. “More and more people are beginning to realize that inaction is going to be more costly than action in the long run. You see this recognition in the corporate sector, in government and in people's personal choices.”
Earthwatch puts trust in science and informed citizens
The Earthwatch approach to influencing public opinion and activating citizens constructively rests on a core belief and competency. The belief is that future decisions regarding the environment must be based on objective science while engaging and empowering people and organizations to act responsibly. The competency is the Earthwatch Institute’s proven ability to bring institutions and individuals forward toward understanding and informing critical environmental issues.
Earthwatch employs a unique “citizen scientist” model that involves sending members of the public to join scientists working in the field, collecting data needed for addressing critical environmental challenges. Since 1971 over 93,000 volunteers have worked with Earthwatch scientists as research assistants, contributing more than 11 million hours to frontline environmental research in over 120 countries around the world.
Global company commits to role in fighting climate change
One of the corporate partners Earthwatch has worked with is HSBC, a multinational banking and financial services company with a strong commitment to sustainability and fighting climate change. With a 300,000-person workforce, it has just completed five years of an ambitious initiative for helping its employees learn more about climate change and what they can do to combat it. The objectives have been to develop environmental leaders, to motivate employees to make changes in their business and personal lives, and to embed sustainability in the everyday decisions and workings of the business.
Similar to the Earthwatch public programs, the approach taken involved selecting employees from around the world to participate in a “Climate Champion Programme.” This began with an intensive exploration and education event in which each participant spent two weeks at the nearest Earthwatch Regional Climate Center, working alongside scientists to monitor the health of forests.
Forests, of course, are important to life on earth in many ways, including the role they play in mitigating climate change. The participants helped collect data on forest carbon—the least well-understood component of the global carbon cycle—contributing to an understanding of how to best manage forests in a changing climate. They also took part in discussions and action planning that furthered their understanding of the factors affecting forest health and impacts on the environment.
Transformative learning expands through social networking
Several of these immersion events were mounted each year in several different countries. These served as incubators for transformative learning on sustainability issues—not only for the direct participants but for the many colleagues with whom they shared their learning. Participants’ new knowledge and heightened advocacy quickly infiltrated the company’s larger employee population through interactions supported by IBM Connections social software, which was piloted and deployed throughout this company in 2008. The IBM Connections components of Profiles, Blogs, Communities, Bookmarking and Activities all came into play. According to Segrt, the Earthwatch IT project manager for HSBC’s climate change initiative, “The social networking capabilities provided by IBM Connections have played an important role in the success of this initiative.”
While in the field, participants tracked what they were learning. They shared their experiences and interacted with the larger employee population via blogs on the company intranet and by joining interested communities. They wrote about what they saw, the research activities involving them and the relevance. They started to see what it is like to work as a scientist collecting data with scientific rigor, and they began thinking more deeply about sustainability—what their own life and habits have to do with this. Some with children thought and wrote about the legacy being left for the next generation, which was quite powerful.
Climate Champions act and teach through projects
Upon their return to work, these folks were named Climate Champions and were identified as such by profiles in the company directory, increasing their visibility to others who could easily find and contact them. Each Climate Champion was responsible for implementing a project that embeds sustainable practice in the way the company conducts its business while writing about this in their blog so friends and colleagues could learn about what they were doing. They were given time to develop the projects, and they helped put in place related practices and policies that affected the way the company treats the environment.
The Climate Champions could choose projects of several types. They could look at direct footprints, such as the amount of paper used in an office, which they would seek to reduce. They could lead awareness-raising within a part of the organization, such as asking people to remember to turn off lights and computers at day’s end, or helping to implement automatic overnight shutdowns. Such projects obviously had dollar savings.
One in three employees is involved with the operations of the company, and some concerned themselves with making their data centers more sustainable through greater efficiency. This was accomplished in several instances by projects for moving data centers into better environments.
Another project involving customers instituted paperless billing as the default billing channel in some markets. Customers must now opt in if they want paper statements. Apart from using less paper and saving money, this operational change represented an innovation in the company’s industry that its competitors registered, and which may have led a trend.
Finally, there were volunteering projects for setting up initiatives in the Champions’ own communities, such as in schools, or working with other NGOs on goals such as a community tree-planting effort. (One such group in China planted 10,000 seedlings.) By and large, these projects were small actions, but they added up. Meanwhile, participating individuals were awakened to things they could do in their own lives.
New policies save money while benefiting the environment
Frequently, new corporate policies arose out of internal projects. For example, one Climate Champion drove a paper cup–reducing campaign within one of the US offices, considering paper cups wasteful because they are used only once and then thrown away. This successful project eventually morphed into a new company policy eliminating paper cups, and now employees have ceramic or plastic cups instead, which they can reuse. This one project saved 14,000 paper cups a day, for cost savings of about USD 2,500 monthly.
Another project in India concerned transportation. Many employees had to travel from two different sites to Mumbai, necessitating use of cabs or other vehicles. Of course people traveling separately greatly increased carbon footprint, so a vehicle-sharing policy and system was introduced that enables regular booking and sharing of vehicles. This not only saves people time and reduces the carbon footprint for these journeys by 60 percent, but it also resulted in approximately USD 70,000 saved.
Employee engagement and sustainable business practices definitely have had a positive impact on the company’s bottom line. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), in an announcement early in 2011 of its annual meeting, pointed to the compatibility of environmental protection with good business when recognizing the financial benefits achieved by HSBC: “Climate champions to date are saving millions by saving resources, implementing ‘green’ marketing initiatives, inspiring their colleagues to ‘go green,’ and more.”1 All the projects and initiatives do add up!
Ordinary citizens make significant contributions
More to the point, by the end of its five-year initiative in December 2011, 2,267 HSBC employees had contributed nearly 100,000 hours of data collection about the relationship between forests and climate change, helping to advance the work of scientists across all the Earthwatch Climate Centers. Moreover, HSBC’s objectives—for developing environmental leaders, motivating employees to make changes in their lives, and embedding sustainability into the culture and operations of its business—were all advanced.
Meanwhile, the 2,267 Climate Champions have written around 1,000 blogs, and the company’s senior leadership has set itself the challenge of saving USD 10 million through sustainability projects going forward. Though HSBC’s five-year program came to an end in December 2011, the commitment and momentum remains, led by a broadly expanded cohort of advocates and leaders at all levels.
Products and services used
IBM products and services that were used in this case study.
Footnotes and legal information
See http://aaas.confex.com/aaas/2011/webprogram/Session2593.html for February 2011 description in the AAAS Meeting Announcement.
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