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What do environmental trainers want to know about training?

Earlier this year I asked people on my newsletter mailing list to answer six short questions about environmental training and to tell me what their job was. Why? Because my UK-based publisher has asked me to write a 2nd edition of my book on how to set up successful environmental training programs, and I want to make sure I cover things that the people out there doing that work would want to know.

A select group rallied to the cause and their answers were so good that yes, I included them in the revised edition – and I thought I’d put the best of them out there for other environmental trainers to consider.

Here are the survey questions:

  1. What is your interest in environmental training?
  2. What are your top three reasons for your interest in or objectives from environmental training?
  3. What successes have you achieved, and how did or do you measure these?
  4. What difficulties have you encountered with environmental training (operational and strategic)?
  5. What solutions do you see to these difficulties?
  6. What other issues, questions, opportunities or ideas would you like to see in my book that would make it more useful to you?

Of the people who answered, two-thirds work for local government and a third for businesses with over a thousand staff. The most common job descriptions were Environment & Sustainability Manager and National Environmental Manager, with a Catchment Manager and Erosion and Sediment Control Officer also putting in an appearance.

My wholehearted thanks to the people who answered the survey. Here’s what they said.

  1. What is your interest in environmental training?

Interestingly, while all respondents said they deliver environmental training, two fifths of them also want to receive it and one fifth are in a position to commission as well as deliver it. We have mixed roles!

  1. What are your top three reasons for your interest in or objectives from environmental training?

Not surprisingly, enabling changes in practice on the ground was the biggest single motivator for environmental training for all respondents. People used different terms, including building capability; enabling trainees to perform more effectively in their jobs, to do things the right way, to perform specific actions or to achieve positive changes. Also mentioned was enabling trainers to support delivery of environmental programs and plans.

The next biggest area of interest, common to almost all these environmental trainers, was how to set training targets, monitor implementation and evaluate the effectiveness of their own delivery methods and messages, including measuring the financial return on investment (ROI) of their training.

Professional development as a trainer for most of these environmental experts delivering training: most of them wanted to learn new methods of environmental training, be more empowered to deliver their training and also to learn from their participants – a truly valuable interest for a trainer.

Humour and having fun also featured – alongside an underlying motivation to make a positive difference to the environment through people.

  1. What successes have you achieved, and how did or do you measure these?

Here respondents mentioned things I’d expected, saying their trainees were ‘mostly satisfied’ with the training but they did limited measurement of success beyond surveys straight afterwards. This is true for most professional trainers, too, sometimes because they can’t get the budget from their clients to do more advanced evaluation of training outcomes. Some respondents said they observed improved on-the-ground outcomes because people avoided doing ‘dumb stuff that inadvertently degrades the environment’.

But I was thrilled to see some quite sophisticated observations: one respondent said that better on-site outcomes occurred when people worked out ‘how changes / detail / collaboration can achieve great outcomes’. Another succeeded in getting a company with a workforce of 300+ recognise environment and sustainability as core business with its own performance requirements and audits its own ways for staff to communicate and share ideas on their different worksites.

And here’s one for the ROI books: one respondent developed an in-house environmental training package tailored to the business’ needs – and it saves on average $500 per employee per year compared with the costs of an external consultant/trainer!

  1. What difficulties have you encountered with environmental training (operational and strategic)?

Most of the respondents’ answers go to the heart of best practice training: how to clearly define the training needs and objectives, how to make the business case for your training and how to measure its business and environmental outcomes.

Many respondents also described difficulties with lack of business commitment and alignment, saying that environmental training requirements are poorly integrated into business strategy, with people or departments avoiding responsibility and some KPIs (key performance indicators that staff must meet) having ‘nasty unintended consequences’ for the environment and environmental training. Add in a lack of engagement across organisations to identify how environmental training can add business value and it’s easy to see how the result is that trainees are poorly motivated.

Some respondents struggled to develop training suitable for trainees with ‘vastly different capability/skill levels’ and with a workforce with unknown levels of literacy/numeracy. Others had difficulties with a lack of shared understandings where contractors are not been trained to the same level as staff and don’t have the same commitment to the environment.

A surprisingly small number of respondents mentioned a lack of time, money and resources as a difficulty. Of more concern were systemic issues, where environmental trainers ran into difficulties because environmental specifications in supply contracts are poorly defined; environmental training material available within the industry is too generic to be useful and the responsible regulatory body has little or no ownership of its compliance functions.

One respondent offered the classic difficulty facing the over-extended: ignorance – what do you do when don’t know what you don’t know?

  1. What solutions do you see to these difficulties?

The answers to this question were so good that if I knew the names of all the respondents, I’d make them co-authors of my book and nominate them for the highest environmental offices!

Here’s what one respondent said, verbatim – which actually sums up the core content of my book:

All of the above highlights the need for sufficient diligence well before training is developed and delivered. This includes understanding training needs and existing skill levels, roles and responsibility of staff to be trained, clearly describing training needs, objectives and outcomes, and understanding how these fit into the overall strategic context of the operation, making training highly relevant, appropriate and interesting, planning training with monitoring and evaluation in mind and with a timeline that enables evaluation of training effectiveness over an extended period of time.

Other solutions were:

  • data / case study collection; involving a broader range of people when determining KPIs; breaking down silos; enabling and giving permission and scope for people to do a better job and praising / acknowledging them then they do it
  • top down buying and continued bottom up delivery
  • provide schools and educational institutions with feedback about the level of ignorance about environmental protection at work
  • provide tailored packages for businesses that deal specifically with the environmental management and training challenges they face.
  1. What other issues, questions, opportunities or ideas would you like to see in my book that would make it more useful to you?

All respondents said they would find case studies very helpful, especially with photos, diagrams, and cartoons; practical demonstrations of environmental protection methods to help readers translate them into the real world; examples of emotional triggers for on-the-ground staff for example, ‘We are near a beautiful coastal area that we all use, and what we do during the week effects how we play at the weekends – fishing, surfing and swimming’; and explanations from various industries with what changed and empowered them.

Several respondents wanted more information about ROI – how to monetise the environmental value of environmental training, a specialised professional training skill that environmental experts readily grasp.

The answers to this question concluded with a salvo for the policy and regulatory system, referring to the urgent need for engineering and other environmental interventions to support water quality with outcome-focused and less bureaucratic permitting and compliance processes that are more consistent across the public and private sectors and around the country.


I love the critical thinking and excellent practice that these answers show environmental trainers are delivering and aspire to.

I have made every effort to meet the needs the respondents to my survey identified. My next mission?  To produce and market my book to the world of environmental trainers out there.

Click here to make sure I can notify you when the book comes out later this year!