We recently had the pleasure of interviewing Clare Topping, Energy and Sustainability Manager at Northampton General Hospital. Also known as a Green Ninja, Clare’s sheer passion for waste and all things sustainable really shines through and is thoroughly infectious!
Clare: I get excited talking about sustainability things.
Daniel: Your passion comes through! Do you agree that when you talk and if you're passionate about something, people are much more likely to listen to you and like you and trust you and change?
Clare: I work with a lot of consultancy and account managers; it’s the ones whose eyes sparkle when you talk to them about waste and recycling, you know who are the passionate ones because you can see the change. Others are just going through the motions. You can definitely see the difference. People do sparkle when they're passionate.
Certainly, if you talk to somebody who is passionate and sparkly about something, say waste, you know that if you have a query they’ll come back to you because they want to help you. Whereas perhaps with others it's just a job and they will get back to you eventually. I've had some bad suppliers over the years and you can tell the difference. You know which ones aren't going to be great!
Daniel: Despite enthusiasm do you think it’s a tricky field to work in?
Clare: I was originally employed to look at reducing energy consumption and the conversation always strayed to recycling. Although I hate recycling in every way because I think it hides the bigger picture of us trying to reuse and reduce consumption in the first place. But they always want to talk about recycling!
Daniel: Why do you think that is?
Clare: I think it's because there is so much information out there and people seem to just remember the recycling. "I do everything I can for the environment, I recycle".
I ask them: “So just what don't you buy in the first place then?”
Daniel: Exactly. Why do you think that recycling hides the bigger picture?
Clare: When someone is recycling stuff, it means they don't have to think about what they're buying and why they're buying it in the first place. For example, when recycling all that Easter egg packaging, you don't have to think twice about buying something with all that packaging on it.
It’s a feel-good thing and people like the recycle element and forget about reduce and reuse; although I do think that's changing a bit. There's a lot more information out available about reusing and a mind-shift is happening that you just don't buy it in the first place.
For anyone who needs convincing, I always show them the spoon story, which is a fantastically compelling case against disposable tableware.
Daniel: What have you found works well in getting people to take part in sustainability?
Clare: I try to give them a message that they can remember. It’s about engaging with people, talking to them, and spreading the message – reinforcing it over the longer-term. For example, when encouraging people to turn off the lights at work I’d remind people the Estate has 30,000 lights – quite a lot! I try to get them to remember the nine second rule, which is if you're leaving a room for more than nine seconds turn your lights out; it's more efficient. It often leads to gaffer dazzler – this is when staff make their boss happy because they’ve done an awareness thing!
Daniel: Tell us about green ninja and where the idea came from. I’ve seen it on your email signature!
Clare: I wanted something that would make me stand out and be memorable. If I say: "Hello, I'm Clare, I'm the energy and sustainability manager" it's not that exciting before you've even started a conversation. But if I say: "Hi, I'm a sustainability ninja" – well that gets attention and breaks the ice! I now have porters in the hospital who say, "Hello ninja, how's it going?"
Daniel: I like that because it makes you really human. Sustainability can often be a dry subject so it's disarming and humanising the whole thing. So what are your top tips for making change in a large organisation?
Clare: Be consistent and never give up. Find the right people in the organisation and the right solution for them. You've got to find the thing that they're interested in and that they can contribute to and make a difference.
Remember when it comes to sustainability, not everyone realises what it encompasses and what it includes. Many think it's just about just turning lights off or recycling rather than the bigger picture of resource use, time, health and well-being. We’re having various conversations about meat and problems with food, what can be done, and how staff can get engaged. Our catering supervisor now has an allotment where food for staff meals is grown and have achieved a bronze food for life.
People often have an idea and then don't know how to move it forward so sometimes it's about knowing the right people to help move things forward and making the right connections.
Daniel: What are your tips to convince people about new ideas?
Clare: I think it's listening to people and identifying what their objectives are. If you haven't got an answer there's usually somebody out there who has. Approaching things in a different way. Some people are always going to object, just because that's what they do! You have to find a way around that wall rather than just banging your head on it or give up for a bit and come back later.
Daniel: Tell us about the awards that you've won recently.
Clare: We won National Gold for the NHS and Health Sector in the 2016 Green Apple Environmental Awards. It is a privilege as the awards recognise, reward and promote environmental best practice around the world.
Daniel: Well done. Congratulations!