As an industry, we have much to offer our communities and the global world of business. Our leadership in customer service practices and technology is a cornerstone of our value portfolio, but it is by no means all we offer. Employment, and lots of it, is another example of a benefit tied to contact centers. Convenience is yet another benefit, as the time we save our customers can be put to use elsewhere in their lives.
To our value portfolio, we need to add our contribution to the environment. That may sound like a stretch as a value, and to some it may seem too unimportant to mention. Regardless of your personal position on the environment, though, it is becoming increasingly important to the world at large. As a major employer and a point of interaction for millions of customers daily, our impact on the environment is substantial and is felt in three ways:
- As an industry in general
- As a place where employees congregate daily
- As an occupier and builder of commercial office space
Impact as an Industry
We are an exceptionally large employer, and despite all the focus and the gains made in at-home agent programs, most of our employees drive to an office every day. Lots of driving, lots of traffic, lots of emissions. That’s not very green, but no less so than any other major white-collar industry.
What differentiates us, though, is the impact we have on our customers. Doing business with a contact center means little more than picking up a phone, sending an email, or initiating a text-chat session. Without our services, customers are forced into other options. Yes, some of them will be able to transact business simply by using the Internet. Others, though, will not have that luxury. They will need to visit a store, an office, a branch or some other physical outpost that offers the service they need. In the 40 or so years of our existence, the number of trips we have eliminated is incalculable. Whatever the number is, even the lowest of estimates will show a substantial net positive impact on the environment.
Small Things That Add Value
Where people congregate, opportunities exist to support environmental programs. Some contact centers have realized this and have initiated programs to take advantage of it. In the consulting trips that I’ve made to contact centers in recent years, I have noticed the following:
- Dead battery collection (and proper disposal)
- Cell phone and other used electronics collection and disposal
- Parking spaces for low-emission vehicles
- Accommodations for biking to work (secure parking areas, showers, etc.)
- Low-flush toilets
- Removal of paper towels in restrooms
Many of these practices are still more the exception than the rule. Yet they are easy to implement and have little to no cost attached to them. For those reasons, I suspect they will catch on quickly and be considered the norm in the next five to 10 years.
The State-of-the-Art Green Contact Center
Contact centers are no different than any other industry in the evolution of the physical plant that houses our employees and equipment. Every year—every day, in fact—advances are made in the construction of commercial (and residential) buildings that make them more environmentally friendly.
Fully capitalizing on the opportunity is no small task, as it requires more money and far more effort to build according to the latest green codes.
Constructing a state-of-the-art green contact center is exactly the choice made by Nationwide Insurance in San Antonio. The center is at the leading edge of environmental design. From the initial planning stages of the 290,000-square-foot facility, the decision was made to build a center that would meet and go well beyond LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certification. According to Travis Hodges, the associate vice president of sales for Nationwide, this meant an excavating and outdoor design process that:
- Left 40% of the 34 acres of land untouched—“green”—during and after construction
- Preserved 44% of the trees originally on the property
- Connected graywater collection with irrigation systems for landscaping
- Provided for special parking for up to 89 low-emission vehicles
The attention to the environment continued with an internal design that includes:
- Task lighting complementing overhead lighting with dimmers
- Automated window shade mechanisms that react based on the weather
- Showers for those choosing to bike to work
- Low-flow sinks and toilets
- Elimination of trash cans at desks, opting for centralized collection instead
- No paper towels in restrooms
And while some may associate green with “compromise” (think small, funky-looking hybrid cars), that is clearly not the case here. According to Travis, Nationwide’s facility in San Antonio is the first commercially fortified building in America, capable of withstanding natural hazards like wildfires, hurricanes and windstorms that would damage other facilities. It is all done with a clean, comfortable design that makes for a pleasant work environment.
Clearly, the environment makes out better when organizations choose to implement some of the green practices described here. But is that enough? Contact centers exist to serve customers, ultimately for the good of the organizations that employ us. Whatever value you may personally place on environmental issues, there needs to be some payback for the effort for any green movement to hit a critical mass.
If you think in terms of return on investment, it becomes easier to analyze the possibilities. Many green practices—collecting batteries and other electronics, encouraging fuel efficient transportation, reducing or eliminating paper towels, for example—involve little to no investment from the organization. At a minimum, these practices strengthen our organization’s position as a good corporate citizen, and most would agree that is enough to justify a very minor investment.
What about those big-ticket items, though? Constructing a building that meets the most stringent environmental standards comes at a price. Some payback in reduced energy expenses (and potentially some tax breaks) will offset the investment, but these direct, hard-dollar paybacks will not typically be enough on their own to justify the additional cost.
Every situation is different, of course, but for the foreseeable future we know that taking a path like the one chosen by Nationwide in San Antonio will set you apart in the community. This can initiate a “chain reaction” where the media and community leaders will interact more often, and in a more positive manner, with the organization. The added coverage and attention then leads to:
- A larger pool of employment candidates, ultimately resulting in better hires
- An added “benefit” for employees personally aligned with environmental concerns, leading to improved employee satisfaction and engagement rates
- Higher employee retention rates
- The improved performance that comes from more tenured staff that are more engaged in their work and feel a sense of pride about their employer
In the end, an investment in environmental design becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Commitments to a great cause—be it the environment or a charity—often help to galvanize a workforce and make them feel a part of something bigger. Finding those types of opportunities in the high-stress world of a contact center is not easy and should be highly prized.
Bake a Bigger Pie
However you may define the pie—more compensation, greater prestige, higher intrinsic fulfillment—we all want a bigger slice. Individually, there is much that can be done to ensure we stand out from the crowd. But getting a bigger slice can also be accomplished by simply baking a bigger pie. Lifting the image of the contact center industry accomplishes just that, and when we do it with a nod to the environment, the benefits spill over to our employees, customers and community. We know the future will demand more emphasis on going green… so why not start today?