Environmental and economic case for virtual action learning

The 2016 Paris Agreement’s central aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change. The short version of the agreement is that we all need to cut our greenhouse gas emissions, and quickly.

According to an Accenture report ‘a small carbon footprint can translate into big business value’.

The report tells us that over the next 15 years utility companies must reduce their carbon emissions by 50%. Whilst the report concentrates on utilities, all of us need to find ways to work differently and change our behaviours if we are to meet climate change targets. As the report says, those organisations that can adapt will have significant competitive advantage over those that can’t.

What are you doing to reduce your carbon footprint?

Think about it… if you could find a way of reducing travel cost, time, and carbon emissions and, at the same time, improve the quality of your communications and the qualities of your managers and leaders, what benefits could that have for your business? In today’s globalised world, working groups and teams are often spread across sites, regions, countries and even continents. Where colleagues need to work together closely, effective ways of collaborating need to be encouraged, but that doesn’t need to mean lots of travel.

Learning without compromise

Virtual action learning – and virtual working generally – can be a highly effective alternative to face-to-face meetings and can help reduce carbon footprints as well as costs. Action learning cultivates a learning mindset in participants.

Research by Dr. Carol Dweck and Dr. Steve Terrell has shown the benefit to leaders whose attitude or mindset toward learning embodies qualities such as: a belief in their own learning and growth potential; an openness to experience; motivation, willingness, and desire to learn; curiosity about others and how they do what they do; an attitude of discovery and exploration; and the intention and willingness to gain something positive from experience.  These leaders experience more personal growth and offer a greater contribution to organisational success than leaders who do not have these attitudes toward learning. Just what’s needed in times of rapid change!

At one international energy company we worked with recently, participants in a prestigious talent management programme came together from various business areas in different parts of Europe. Action Learning, delivered virtually, was a key part of their programme. The purpose was to help participants apply their talent programme learning back at work.

By implementing this virtual component of the programme, rather than choosing the more traditional face-to-face learning options, the company reduced travel time, cost, and carbon emissions. The figures below offer an overview and evidence of the reductions made. The calculations in Table 1 take into account two groups of participants and each group met 4 times virtually.

(Calculations have been made using the website calculator www.carbonfootprint.com).

Using face-to-face meetings, total travel time would have been over 95 hours; total cost would have been 3,194 Euros, and 1,68 metric tons of CO2 would have been discharged (equivalent to 1/3 of the emissions of a typical passenger vehicle per year (according to www.epa.gov)).

Meeting point for group 1: Central HQ Participant’s base Total distance for 4 meetings (km) CO2 emissions for 4 meetings (metric tons) Travel time for 4 meetings (hours) Travel costs for 4 meetings (Euros)
Participant 1 Central HQ 0 0 0 0
Participant 2 Central HQ 0 0 0 0
Participant 3 Central HQ 0 0 0 0
Participant 4 Regional office 1 1,832 0.32 24:00 374.00
Meeting point for group 2:

Regional office 3

Participant’s base Total distance for 4 meetings (km) CO2 emissions for 4 meetings (metric tons) Travel time for 4 meetings (hours) Travel costs for 4 meetings (Euros)
Participant 5 Central HQ 68 0.13 2:00
Participant 6 Regional office 2 1,784 0.24 24:00 374.00
Participant 7 Regional office 3 0 0 0 0
Participant 8 International Office 1 7,872 0.72 24:00 1165.00
Participant 9 International Office 2 6,040 0.40 21:20 907.00
Totals for both groups   17,596 1.68 95:20 3,194.00

Table 1: Showing travel time and distance, CO2 emission figures, and travel costs if meetings had taken place face to face instead of virtually. (Researched and compiled by Krisztina Orbán)

There are challenges and misconceptions with virtual working but these can be overcome by using experienced facilitators, the right preparation, and leaders who are open to new ways of working. Virtual action learning is not a conference call where participants ‘get on with their real work’ whilst  only half-listening. Virtual action learning is a specific practice with a rigorous set of protocols.

In summary, the careful and appropriate introduction of virtual working practices can reduce time, cost, and carbon footprint. Virtual working is neither better not worse than face-to-face working… it’s different! And, action learning develops a multitude of skills that are transferable to all areas of work and life. Taken together, all this can have a positive effect on your organisation’s bottom line and, as noted above, translate into ‘big business value’.

Article produced by John Heywood (Action Learning Associates) research and statistics by Krisztina Orbán, 2017

You may be interested to listen to a webinar by John Heywood: What’s in a Voice? The art of listening, in which John explains more about the methods used during virtual action learning programmes.

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