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Good behaviour

By Marjo Johne | July 7, 2014
Good behaviour

Canada’s Zerofootprint Software makes it easier for organizations to engage employees in sustainability efforts. 

The challenge

Most companies know that it takes more than great products and service to build trust with their customers; they also need to show good corporate citizenship through sustainable environmental and social practices. But building a sustainability program – one that balances business needs with caring for the environment, employees and the community – can be tough. There are often big expenses such as energy-efficient heating, eco-smart windows and low-flow toilets. Social initiatives like wellness and community support programs need organizing and funding, too.

Then there’s the biggest challenge of all: engaging staff. “It’s the last frontier, basically,” says Ron Dembo, Founder and CEO of Zerofootprint Software Inc. The Toronto-based company’s VELO and GOODcoins programs help drive corporate sustainability strategies by encouraging employees to behave differently. “When people think of sustainability, it’s typically infrastructure they talk about – changing windows and light bulbs or moving into LEED-certified buildings,” Dembo adds. “But it’s the behaviour of people that can really make a difference.”

Dembo cites research showing that occupants of LEED buildings can slash energy use by doing things like using the office photocopier less. In some cases, the reduction is 40 per cent more than expected, based on LEED standards.

The strategy

Dembo, who previously founded Toronto-based Algorithmics Inc., a financial risk management software provider, turned to corporate sustainability after attending a California technology conference where he saw the disconnection between companies trying to change the world – and consuming so much of it in the process. After launching Zerofootprint in 2006, he split it into two entities. Zerofootprint Carbon sells carbon offsets and helps organizations earn a carbon-neutral label certified by the CSA Group (Canadian Standards Association). Zerofootprint VELO, a software-as-a-service platform, brings together key components of an effective sustainability strategy, including data management, analytics and communication. 

Organizations use VELO to track, analyze and communicate all of their sustainability efforts via one central system accessible online through a desktop computer, laptop or mobile device. For example, employees can view their carbon footprint, based on measures ranging from how many trips they’ve taken by plane, car and public transit over a certain period to how much paper they’ve used. 

Corporate sustainability also includes programs that look after the well-being of people and communities, Dembo notes. VELO can track health-related metrics such as how much staff walk each day (by using data collected through a pedometer app on mobile devices) and what foods staff eat.

“It’s now a given: sustainable corporations are viewed as caring corporations,” Dembo says. “And for people to trust your brand, your brand has to show you care.”

The results

About a dozen organizations, including companies, universities and municipalities in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, use Zerofootprint’s technology. He points to clients such as the city of London, Ont., which adopted VELO in 2010 to make residents more aware of their energy consumption and carbon footprint. Oxford Properties Group, the real estate division of the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System, uses the software to track and communicate tenants’ electricity consumption in one of its Toronto buildings. Digital displays in the elevators show various carbon footprint metrics, plus suggestions on what people can to do help, such as switching off their computers when they go to lunch.

The future

This March, Zerofootprint launched the GOODcoins rewards program, which offers incentives for sustainable behaviour. For instance, an employee who earns coins for buying environmentally friendly products can trade them for a transit pass. Through GOODcoins – which is designed to work with VELO – companies have an even more powerful tool for motivating employees to be good corporate citizens, Dembo says. 

“We know from social science that people react very well to rewards,” he explains. “In terms of changing people’s behaviour so they act in a more sustainable way, I believe this currency for good is necessary for companies to truly achieve their sustainability goals.”


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