The Ontario public service (OPS) has as its goals the targeted reduction of the OPS environmental footprint, greener business practices and the development of the green organizational culture throughout the OPS. Neil Sentance, Assistant Deputy Minister of the Ontario Public Service Green Office, which provides strategic leadership in reducing the government’s environmental footprint, answered the following questions about the government’s strategy.
What’s the biggest challenge you face in working with many ministries and over 60,000 public service employees?
The biggest challenge is the complexity of the OPS environmental footprint. The government provides a wide variety of services to Ontarians all over the province. As a result, a “one size fits all” approach is not viable. For example, our facilities portfolio includes traditional office buildings, fish hatcheries, institutional facilities, provincial parks and northern remote airports, to name a few. Our vehicle fleet is equally complex including traditional cars, specialized vehicles to support enforcement on land, air and water, ferries, and helicopters to support critical fire management services in Northern Ontario. Measuring and reducing our environmental footprint is no small task.
As the head of an advocacy organization like the Green Office, you are in essence a champion across the OPS for this cause; what strategies are you using to encourage other ministries to reach the targets they have set?
I try to emphasize that the activities to achieve the targets are a way to tell the story of all the good work that is going on. I am continually surprised by the number of green initiatives in place that are not being celebrated. It is important to directly engage employees to be green champions. They will communicate their interest to senior management who pay attention to what their employees are thinking. It is also important to remind ministries that going green is something that creates efficiencies that can be reinvested in green initiatives.
One way in which progress could be encouraged is through the inclusion of green goals in deputy head performance accords; is this happening?
Yes. To strengthen accountability for greening, all deputy ministers have committed to incorporate performance commitments to green their ministries’ internal operations through multi-year ministry green plans beginning in 2010/11. These plans align and support the OPS Green Transformation Strategy and its key goals.
How did you develop the specific targets for ministries to pursue?
The green transformation strategy mandates a 19 percent reduction in the government operations carbon footprint by 2014. This will be achieved through government-wide targets to reduce fuel consumption, air travel and energy consumption in facilities. All ministries will contribute to those targets but a number of key ministries have crosscutting responsibilities such as tackling energy consumption in facilities across the government. In other areas such as print reductions, we have assigned common targets to all ministries with considerable flexibility remaining with the ministries in how to achieve those targets. The ministry green plans also allow and encourage ministries to highlight green initiatives unique to their operations. The Green Office will help roll those up into common metrics of success.
Your office has put in place tools to promote new business practices that will contribute to reducing the OPS footprint. Are you seeing a change in how employees do business?
Absolutely. Greening is changing the way we do business in the OPS. For example, the strategy focuses on reducing paper consumption in the OPS. The first phase of our green print strategy is to reduce the number of unnecessary printers and other imaging devices, such as fax machines, photocopiers and scanners. The environmental benefits go beyond paper savings, but also include electricity and toner savings. In addition, OPS employees are greening their meetings by going paperless and increasing the use of environmentally friendly print practices. To ensure that we permanently capture the environmental benefits of our reductions, we are putting in place processes to manage our consumption. For example, we are looking at electronic processes to support paper reduction and virtual meeting options, such as videoconferencing and web collaboration, as alternatives to travel.
Cultural change involves changing the basic values, norms, beliefs, etc., among members of the organization in order to improve organizational performance. How will you measure success?
We recently ran a green ideas campaign that generated 320 ideas. 5,500 employees voted on them and the top three were selected for their potential for government-wide implementation. The level of engagement and creativity that emerged from just that one campaign is a real indicator of a “green shift” in our organizational culture. In addition, we are fostering and supporting the growth and development of green teams in ministries. These volunteers act as green champions motivating their colleagues to make day-to-day changes to green their workplace. To date, 100 percent of ministries have one or more green teams.
One of your goals is to “leverage the interest and enthusiasm of employees” to develop and implement green solutions in the workplace: what initiatives have you taken to harness this enthusiasm? Are you seeing tangible results?
We have launched several successful outreach activities to engage and educate our employees. Through campaigns and events, such as the Clean Air Commute, OPS Green Ideas Campaign, Ontario on Tap, and the Annual OPS Earth Day Event, our employees are showing their commitment to go green in the workplace. In Fall 2009, we held “OPS Unplugged,” a campaign challenging ministries to unplug office devices when not in use to reduce standby power consumption. Over two weeks, approximately 8,000 devices were unplugged – almost 2,000 of them permanently. We also bring the green teams together once a year to celebrate success, exchange ideas and brainstorm for the future.
Which accomplishments of the office are you the most proud of, and why?
Being named one of Canada’s Greenest Employers (2010) for the first time was a significant achievement for the OPS. We are extremely proud of this award because it recognizes the contributions of the organization and its employees to green government operations and validates our work to date. It also helps to position the OPS as a “green” employer of first choice and a leader for other employers.
What is your leadership style?
I think it is important to provide a big picture view while empowering your team to be creative and to feel confident that they can experiment with new approaches and ideas.
What advice would you give to other governments who might wish to pursue a green agenda?
Establish five or six key priority areas where measurable results can start to be delivered quickly while concurrently identifying the longer-term change strategies that have to be articulated and implemented for comprehensive green transformation. Don’t wait for the development of the perfect plan before acting.