Northern Gas Networks (NGN) sets a high standard of stakeholder engagement so its environment policy decisions are robust, inclusive and data-driven.
In this interview, we talk to Hannah Jewson, Environment Strategy Analyst at NGN, about how she has used online engagement to ensure the organisation’s environment strategy reflects the ideas and views of its multiple stakeholder groups and creates genuine buy-in and commitment.
Claire: Hannah, can we start by talking about your role and how you work with other teams in the organisation?
Hannah: I’ve spent the last three years as Environment Strategy Analyst in the Environment, Health & Safety Strategy Team. My team is part of the wider Asset Strategy and Investment Planning group. We focus on three things. Firstly, making sure the organisation is compliant with the standard for environmental management held by NGN (this is called ISO 14001). Secondly to advise internal teams on environment and safety issues as varied as preventing fly tipping to reducing fuel poverty for vulnerable customers.
Lastly, it’s our role to support and influence the environmental commitments taken by the asset management teams who look after NGN’s extensive portfolio of network and non-network assets. We want them to include the appropriate environmental and safety considerations as they plan asset health, maintenance and replacement. An example of a network asset would be NGNs network of 37,000 km of underground gas pipes or some of the associated network infrastructure. Non-network assets include buildings and our car and van fleets.
It was a really interesting job at the heart of NGN’s work to reduce our day to day environmental impact and I have only recently moved to the stakeholder engagement team as Stakeholder Manager.
Claire: In your role as Environment Strategy Analyst, what were your priorities?
Hannah: NGN is really committed to delivering on its sustainability agenda and the environment programme is a key part of this. In 2017 we realised that if all our asset strategies were to be successful in helping the organisation shape up for an environmentally-friendly future, tangible and extensive environmental targets needed to be added to these plans.
In the past, our environmental commitments hadn’t always had the buy-in of the whole business. We wanted to change this and make sure everyone had the opportunity to provide their input so their views were represented.
It was a priority to touch every team, every employee whether they worked onsite or in an office, and all our stakeholder groups across our region. We cover a very large area - the North East, Northern Cumbria and much of Yorkshire.
Claire: So what did you tackle first to capture feedback?
Hannah: Our first action was to create a company-wide vision statement about our commitment to the environment. We did lots of internal engagement to understand what was topical and important to colleagues, all the time being aware that we needed to develop goals in areas where we could actually have an impact. During this engagement period, everyone was watching Blue Planet and this really affected people’s interest in what we were doing about plastic waste.
We then extended our engagement outside the organisation to capture the views of environment teams at the other network providers and from wider stakeholders.
And this is where Confers was a great asset.
Claire: So how did your team start using Confers? What was the context and problem you were trying to solve?
Hannah: The stakeholders we wanted to engage with were based in lots of different locations. We certainly didn’t want everyone to travel with the impact on carbon footprint this would cause. But we wanted their views. Confers gave us an online, creative way to reach everyone we wanted to, listen to feedback and have conversations to build the environment strategy.
We set up the first online forum in February 2018. We presented an interactive slideshow of the initial environment goals we had developed with the input of our colleagues and we asked our stakeholders really open questions about them to stimulate engagement. We wanted to know whether the goals should be aligned with UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, if they were clear enough and if we had missed anything important.
We had lots of questions and feedback which we used to improve how we articulated the goals and strategy. In a second online forum, we then shared this progress to show we had listened and to capture further thoughts.
Claire: You mention that Confers was a great asset. Why was it so useful?
Hannah: Confers gives us the ability to ask open questions and to start a conversation online so you get really useful and more meaningful feedback and insights. You can’t do this with a survey.
Our stakeholders found the process very easy and using Confers we were also able to expand our engagement to include more local groups who really valued the opportunity to have their say. I think this has been good for our reputation.
I was able to personalise invitations to the forums and explain why this was important and what we were planning to do with the feedback. The other useful aspect of Confers was the ability to download the results as a CSV file. We didn’t have to log in to view the results online like you have to do for so many other platforms. The data we received was easy to analyse and integrate with other information.
Claire: How have you used the feedback?
Hannah: The feedback has given us the deep insight and evidence we needed to devise a environment strategy that is relevant and impactful for our business.
We have been able to flag the environmental issues our stakeholders care most about to the Business Planning team. And it gave us the traction we needed to go ahead and set up some important projects.
Claire: Do you have any advice for others about an effective approach to stakeholder engagement around sustainability and environment issues? What are the things that really matter?
Hannah: Sustainability has a very wide scope. The environment strategy is just one part of it, and even this covers many issues. It’s really important that an organisation narrows down its environmental focus to what’s really important to its employees, customers and stakeholders.
To do this, effective stakeholder engagement is key. By this, I mean being able to cast your net wide and to use online tools like Confers to capture ideas, feedback and discussion from everyone involved. Then you get real buy-in and delivery of an environment strategy that will make an impact.
If you are interested in learning more about how Confers helps Energy and Utilities organisations, get in touch to arrange a demo.