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ROI on environmental training: what governments must know

In previous blogs I’ve mentioned the significant costs companies can incur if their staff are not well-enough trained about environmental management. I’ve also looked at the eye-popping profits firms can make from great environmental training.

$ value of costs avoided + $ value of benefits earned = $ very big numbers!

So yes, companies can reduce losses and increase profits by supporting great environment and sustainability training.

But it doesn’t work like that for government bodies, right?  Wrong.

One of my environmental colleagues recently attended my ROI workshop on how to measure the full financial return on investment in environment and sustainability training. She had led a highly successful training program that resulted in a massively profitable business turnaround for the firm concerned and was bidding for some environmental training work for a council.

The council has been experiencing rapid growth and had prosecuted several firms for failing to follow its environmental guidelines. Instead of simply reacting to serious pollution events, the council wanted to set up an environmental training program to proactively help local companies protect the much-valued streams and harbour around the city.

We talked about the cost of my colleague’s work to the council, which needed to allocate the funds in its budget. Suddenly she said, “Hold on – the cost of my training proposal has got to be less than the cost to the council of even one prosecution!”

“The cost of my training has got to be less than the cost to the council of taking even one prosecution!”

How’s that for an ROI? If the council avoids the costs in staff time and legal expenses of just one prosecution after rolling out my colleague’s training, its return on investment is at least 100%. The cost of preventing two or three prosecutions a year after a one-time delivery of the training becomes a 200% or 300% return on investment per year.

And that’s not even counting the costs of environmental harm to freshwater and marine species and ecosystems and community concerns about their beautiful natural environment from preventable pollution events, or the value of the benefits of protecting this natural capital.

That’s why it’s reasonably common for a range of government bodies to deliver environmental training to businesses.  Worldwide, depending on local and national issues, the usual topics are:

  • erosion and sediment control
  • construction and demolition waste minimization
  • river restoration and replanting of riparian and wetland areas
  • energy efficiency and conservation
  • pollution prevention, waste minimization and resource efficiency for manufacturers.

Government-supported training on reduction of greenhouse gas emissions will also become a hot topic as government bodies help companies reduce their emissions so that each government can meet its zero net emissions targets under the Paris Accord on climate change.

From my experience, government-sponsored training programs such as this need a long term commitment – and that leads to a raft of other benefits. The most outstandingly beneficial is the building of lasting partnerships between government, business and the community.

Successful government training programs are based on partnership. Step 1 of any successful environmental training program is to set up a partnership group made up of representatives from the government and industry bodies, community and environmental groups and first peoples, such as tangata whenua in New Zealand. Together these people set up, maintain and monitor the effectiveness of the training program and its business and environmental outcomes.

Time and again I’ve seen the benefits of this approach. Recently I’ve reframed it in terms of social and relationship capital, one of the six capitals which I’ve blogged about here.

It’s also known as “social license to operate”, which broadly means that an agency or a project has the ongoing trust and approval of the local community and other stakeholders – or not, as the case may be.

When a company loses the trust and approval of stakeholders like clients and regulators because of repeated environmental offences, its business outlook gets very bleak very fast. Clients – especially government purchasers – are very risk-averse and will look elsewhere for suppliers.

Cost-effective government agencies also depend on the trust and approval of their constituencies, and investment in environmental programs, including training, delivers obvious returns in the form of reduced pollution and creation of more skilled jobs.

What’s not to like?

What environmental issues face your local government body that robust and enjoyable training could solve? Contact me to talk it through.


Find out more about my ROI workshop here  and my other environment and sustainability training workshops here.

Read more about the six capitals in my blogs here:

Find out more about social licence to operate here:

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