Tailoring benefits to suit an organisation’s workforce can be key to its success in a tough recruitment market, but Debbie Lovewell unearths a company where its perks meet environmental goals
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Once upon a time, environmental issues were seen primarily as the domain of sandal-wearing hippies or extreme activists such as the infamous Swampy. The last decade, however, has seen a marked change in attitudes as such issues have wormed their way into the nation’s consciousness.
Inevitably, as individuals have become more environmentally aware, many have begun to source goods and services from organisations which share their ethos and principles. This has meant that organisations failing to respond to this increase in awareness are increasingly coming under fire for poor environmental practices and below par corporate social responsibility records.
So it is hardly surprising that a whole industry has sprung up around this relatively new-found concern in the environment. One company is Enviros, which was founded in 1995 following the amalgamation of several environmental consultancies. Doug Cattermole, head of HR, explains: "It’s a growing market. People are more aware of the environment these days and there’s more and more legislation coming down through Europe or locally that creates a demand for these sorts of services.
So it’s an area that’s projected to continue growing at a good rate." Given the nature of the organisation, it is hardly surprising that Enviros has expanded its philosophy on the environment into all areas of its business including its benefits package. "Working where we are on environmental states, we have quite a strong ethical stance. It’s part of our business and it’s important to our employees," says Cattermole.
Despite working under a single Enviros brand name for most of its existence, employees remained on disparate employment terms and conditions until a couple of years ago. One of Cattermole’s first tasks upon joining the organisation more than two years ago was to change this.
"It was quite a challenge when I first came here in that we had the legacy of these companies coming together but nobody had really harmonised anything. So for a population of 350 [staff] we had seven pension schemes, different terms and conditions of employment, and different benefits programmes, [for example] three medical schemes. So it was a bit of a patchwork quilt and nobody really got to grips with it," he says.
The need to harmonise its offering provided the catalyst for the organisation to look into ensuring its benefits package met with its environmental ethos. The first step was to replace its existing myriad of pension schemes with a single stakeholder plan in July 2004. Fittingly, the company made sure that members were able to invest in ethically-sound funds. Changing over to a new pension arrangement also provided the means for the organisation to fund a new flexible benefits scheme by using the National Insurance savings which are made available by offering pension contributions through a salary sacrifice arrangement.
"Looking at the benefits agenda, there was an opportunity to say ‘we will change the pension scheme and that could generate some commission. We could use that commission to set up a flexible benefits scheme’. There was an opportunity to do something at no cost to the business to take [the benefits package] from poor to excellent in one fell swoop. So that’s what we did," explains Cattermole. The result was its flexible benefits plan which launched in October last year.
And Enviros’ green theme can be clearly identified running through a number of its options. Topping the list of employees’ most popular benefits, for example, was its carbon-offsetting scheme. "As a business, we operate on a carbon-neutral basis, so we work out how much CO2 we produce through our business and we offset that every year. So when we brought the flexible benefits scheme in, we thought it would be nice to give people [the chance] to offset their domestic CO2.
The average CO2 production per household in the UK is 10 tonnes so we worked out an option in flex where you can offset 10 tonnes of CO2 on an annual basis. We go and buy carbon credits for that and take it out of the carbon trading system in the UK," says Cattermole.
Choosing ethical providers where possible was also a key consideration. Enviros’ childcare voucher scheme, for example, is provided by a co-operative organisation which donates a percentage of its profits to children’s charities each year. Some areas inevitably proved more of a challenge than others. Company cars may not immediately spring to mind as the most environmentally-friendly of benefits.
Enviros, however, operates a banded scheme, which not only sets monetary limits on staff, but also places restraints on the level of CO2 emissions permitted for company cars. "The CO2 limits do determine [employees’] choices. Peoples’ choices are constrained because typically you cannot get a high-performance petrol engine vehicle.
They are just ruled out because the CO2 emissions are too high. Initially, we saw it driving more towards diesels but the development now with petrol engines means they’re becoming more efficient so the choice pattern seems to be changing but it is a free choice," explains Cattermole.
But he adds that the company reviewed the scheme following employee feedback about the higher CO2 limits permitted for senior staff. "Historically, the more senior you are, the more money you got. So the comment we got back initially was ‘why should managers be allowed to pollute more?’ The problem was that if you set the same CO2 limit, in effect, the people in the higher bands wouldn’t have any choice.
It was interesting because when we reviewed the scheme recently, we actually reduced the CO2 bands at the top and dropped them down because you can see that manufacturers are actually becoming more CO2-efficient so you can [now] do that without curtailing the choice completely." Alongside its environmental aims, the company also hoped that its benefits overhaul would boost its reputation as an employer in its market. The growth of the environmental consulting industry has led to much competition for key staff. "There’s the old clichÈ that ‘people are our greatest asset’ but in many ways in consultancy there’s more than an element of truth to that because you actually sell the hours of your people. So, to grow, you need your people to sell their hours. We’re in a very competitive market where there’s a shortage of experienced senior people so that’s a struggle.
It’s been a difficult market for a few years. There are more and more people trying to grow into this area so that’s a challenge really to recruit people. It’s shaped how we’ve approached benefits over the last few years," explains Cattermole. But while he is aware of the need to remain one step ahead of the package, a lack of pay and benefits information about the sector has made benchmarking difficult.
"Environmental consultancies are niche organisations and it’s quite hard to find out information. You get quite a bit of information through recruiting people from competitors but it’s hard to get things like salary survey information. It’s not that easy to get. A lot of that information we gather through perhaps more discreet channels," he adds. So gaining staff feedback is crucial.
Enviros carries out regular surveys around its perks offering and encourages workers to contribute ideas or comments about their package. "It’s good to have a responsive population who are articulate and have good ideas. We’re going to tap into that because our philosophy on benefits is very much that it will be organic, will evolve and will meet the changing needs of our population."
Enviros at a glance
Enviros was founded in 1995 by the merger of a number of environmental consultancies such as Aspinwall, March and Quantisci. It is now owned by its management team which receives backing from venture capitalists ECI Ventures and Barclays Bank.
Enviros provides consultancy services on a wide range of environmental issues including: air quality, climate change, waste management, development and regeneration, and energy saving. Its clients include government bodies, public sector organisations and businesses in the private sector.
It now operates out of ten offices in the UK and Ireland, as well as two European offices based in Barcelona and Prague. Overall, it has more than 350 employees.
Career profile: Doug Cattermole
Doug Cattermole has a long career in HR, spanning more than 20 years. He moved to Enviros to take up the role of head of HR more than two years ago after working for the International Cricket Council based at Lords Cricket Ground. He has also held senior HR roles in organisations such as Scandinavian Airlines, internet company UUNet and medical technology firm Medtronic.
He was attracted to Enviros by the challenges that the position presented. "There’d been a number of senior management changes prior to me joining and it just seemed that there was a real agenda to get my teeth into," he explains.
He is particularly proud of what he has achieved around benefits since joining the firm. But with such a wide-ranging career to date, he also has a number of other highlights. "When I first went to UUnet, it had 500 staff in the UK and I remember the first time I met them, they said ‘we want to double in size in the next year’. And it actually did that. We took on 500 people in a year.
It was amazing to experience that, it was a real challenge. We did a lot of work around developing an HR intranet and support into the business. So as well as running around trying to recruit all those people, we also developed the HR function," he says.
Employee case study
Stephen Rintoul is a commercial director at Enviros and has been with the company for 18 years after previously working for one of the consultancies from which it was formed.As he has a young family, Rintoul particularly values perks with a family focus such as the organisation’s childcare voucher scheme.
The structure of the perk has also enabled him to take up additional benefits. "The tax saving on those is very useful. I use that saving on tax to buy extra leave. I’ve tried to balance my package so that it’s cost neutral but I get extra benefits," he explains. He adds that being able to buy extra leave is particularly important to him because of the frequent travelling demands of his role.
"If I want a day off to go to a sports day or take the children to a museum, it’s [easy to do]." Since moving to a flexible benefits package, Rintoul appreciates the accessibility of the benefits offered through it.
Benefits Box Pension
Stakeholder scheme for all employees. Employer contributions of 6%, while employees put in 3%.
All employees have to take single cover private medical insurance and a minimum of 50% cover of income protection through the flexible benefits scheme with the option to increase cover. Critical illness insurance, medical screening and dental plan are also available through flex. Eyecare offered outside of the scheme.
25 days as standard with the ability to buy or sell up to five days through the flex scheme.
Work-life balance policies
Flexible and home working options are available.
Available on car leasing, gym membership and tickets through flex.