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Changing employee behaviour with Marks & Spencer using superhero powers

Marks & Spencer is the first major UK retailer to meet sustainability targets and to go carbon neutral. To keep the subject light-hearted but engaging, we created a cartoon hero called Captain Energy, who helped to deliver practical advice and tips, making it both easy and fun to save energy to help change employees’ energy saving behaviours. He’s recently had a little press coverage for his efforts!

Green superhero

Marks & Spencer are one of the best companies around when it comes to thinking about the environment. They launched their sustainability initiative, Plan A, in 2007 with the sole aim of driving improvements in sustainability. But even for them, getting 75,000 employees in over 600 shops to think about energy saving was going to be a struggle. And then getting the employees to change their everyday behaviour was going to be the main challenge.

The first step was to get people’s attention by injecting a bit of fun and colour into the subject – along with a mask, a cape and pants. So, back in 2009 we created Captain Energy – a cartoon superhero who actively encouraging employees to play a role in managing consumption and in looking for savings.

We’d done our research and knew that people were tired of climate change communications, even if they did accept that it was happening. We could see that the simple truth of the matter was that climate change communications needed to entertain as well as state the bald facts. I loved him. But actually, even I was unsure if he would ‘fly’ so to speak. But my word he did.

The next step was to back up the new energy superhero with practical, personal information to inform and enable change in the form of a website, stickers and easy-to-understand ‘routine maps’ to show people how they could save energy day to day. A serious issue, but solved with an engaging and light-hearted touch.

Meanwhile, Captain Energy was getting a life of his own with store staff putting Captain E graffiti on walls and creating his arch-nemesis Dr Drain (well, a super hero needs an enemy doesn’t he!).

Since the Plan A launch in 2007, employees have helped cut energy consumption by 23%, saving £13.5m in 2011 alone, and M&S are on track to meet both their 2012 and 2015 targets. All this despite seeing an 18% growth in sales floor footage.

Coming up with ideas that shift attitudes and change beliefs is something we love. Captain Energy provides M&S with a perfect campaign and got employees doing something differently because of climate change without sounding patronising.

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