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Employee Involvement in Conservation


According to a recent survey in Britain, around 22 million people volunteer in their local community each year (The Complete Beginners Guide for Companies who wish to start an employee volunteering scheme, Employee Volunteering). A large proportion of these volunteers support local conservation; for example, every year more than 24,600 volunteers give their support to The Wildlife Trusts.

An increasing number of conservation initiatives are supported by employers, which recognise the benefits of employee involvement in community based conservation activities for companies. For example Investing in Nature, a five-year partnership between Earthwatch, HSBC, WWF and Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), is working to place 2, 000 HSBC employees on Earthwatch Conservation projects around the world and initiate local community conservation projects back in employees own communities.

What is Employee Engagement?

Employee engagement refers to a wide range of ways in which employees can become involved in voluntary initiatives. These initiatives involve a three way partnership between the employer, employee and the volunteer organisation. In the conservation sector these organisations will usually be non-governmental organisations or local biodiversity partnerships.

The work arrangements and activities can vary widely. In some cases staff volunteer their time outside of work hours to carry out conservation work in the communities. In other cases a company may second employees to work full time in the recipient organisation for six months or a year. For more details of ways in which companies may choose to encourage employee engagement see Taking Action below.

Employee engagement schemes contribute to the skills, resources and work of these organisations while providing satisfying and motivating opportunity for employees to gain valuable knowledge, skills, and new ideas which can in turn be beneficial to the company.

The Business CaseRecording data

Employee engagement in biodiversity conservation offers numerous opportunities and benefits to businesses. Engage Online, a programme which supports the development of employee engagement in community initiatives, has presented the business case for employee engagement by citing many of these benefits which include:

1. By supporting employee engagement in conservation activities companies can demonstrate their own commitment to building healthy communities and biodiversity issues,

2. A wide range of skills can be developed through employee engagement such as communications, organisation time management, and innovative approaches to problem solving and teamwork

3. Encouraging new ways of thinking can help internal communication within an organisation by creating a shared sense of purpose and loyalty, and provide staffs with new insights and knowledge that encourage innovation both in the community and within the company.

4. Employee engagement is associated with corporate social responsibility and enhancing company’s image.

5. Companies can benefit from broadening their networking capacity within the community through their employees involvement in local initiatives. This can help the company keep abreast of current environmental and community issues.

Benefits for Employees

In addition to benefits to the company, employee engagement in conservation activities offers many opportunities to employees:

1. Building and strengthening personal skills such as communication and organisational skills.
2. Exploring and learning to cope with new situations and challenges.
3. Working with a wide range of different people from other departments or organisaitons.
4. Offering the opportunity to employees to contribute to important conservation causes.
5. Providing an atmosphere of a caring employer who is good to work with.

These benefits will have positive payback to the company through increased motivation, morale and potentially productivity of employees.

Taking Action

Numerous different employee engagement programmes have been developed in recent years. Employee engagement schemes will either be company or employee led. In company led schemes, the employer will lead on setting up a specific programme, for instance offering staff the chance to become involved in a ‘fellowship’ through a particular organisation or through secondments.

For many companies wishing to increase their internal understanding of biodiversity and environmental issues, sponsoring their employees to participate in short-term conservation projects can provide many benefits to companies, communities and employees.

The Earthwatch Corporate Employee Fellowships are designed to develop environmental awareness and understanding amongst corporate employees by involving them in hands-on scientific field research projects. Employees on Earthwatch Fellowships contribute to internationally important conservation work such as monitoring endangered flamingos’ numbers in Kenya, conserving dolphin population off southern Spain and tracking pumas in Mexico to help maintain viable populations. For many fellows, the experience provides an opportunity to develop new skills, meet new people from around the world, learn about important conservation issues and develop the motivation to continue making positive contribution to the environment when they return home.

To view a range of local environmental activities undertaken by volunteers on their return home from Earthwatch research project please visit a regularly updated list of Local Action Updates.
Secondments are a way for employees to gain in depth knowledge of the conservation sector while providing the receiving organisation with valuable business skills such as finance, project management or information technology. To see a case study, please click here. Handling a bat

Other employer led initiatives exist where a company’s work with a conservation organisation provides opportunities for employees to become actively involved in conservation initiatives. Employees can contribute to assessing and monitoring biodiversity as well as with practical tasks such as hedge laying or pond management.

Case Study: At Quest, a subsidiary of ICI in Kent, employees and their families have taken part in tree planting days on the company’s site. The work contributes to the conservation management plan which the company has compiled with the help of the Kentish Stour Countryside Project.

Case Study: At the John Muir Trust Project at Schiehallion, BP employees regularly participate in footpath maintenance, stile building and environmental surveys designed to repair erosion and help conserve this popular mountain in Perthshire, Scotland. The company matches the employees time with resources and funds donated to the John Muir Trust. Employees participating in the Project come away with the satisfaction of a fun weekend outdoors, a sense of achievement and a wider understanding of the environment.

Other programmes are supported by companies but organised by the employees themselves. For instance, many companies offer their staff a week’s paid leave to carry out volunteer work or may contribute to a volunteer’s efforts through matching their time with funds.

Useful organisations which can help companies set up employee engagement initiatives include Earthwatch Institute (Europe), Business in the Community, and the Employee Volunteering Programme, which is managed by the National Trust but also provides opportunities for employee volunteering with British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, RSPB, The Wildlife Trust and YHA.

These institutions have a good understanding of local community needs and can organise entire programmes of activities and events, thus reducing the time a company has to spend in planning and setting these up itself.


Measuring biodiversityOrganisations

There are several charity organisations which give employees the opportunity to become involved with practical conservation work and get a real hands-on experience in the UK and worldwide.

The Earthwatch Corporate Employee Fellowships are designed to develop environmental awareness and understanding amongst corporate employees by involving them in hands-on scientific field research projects.

British Trust for Conservation Volunteering (BTCV) offers opportunities for practical conservation volunteering in the UK. Projects range form dry-stone walling fencing to pond recreation and habitat management.

Business in the Community (BITC): a membership organisation which gives advice on all areas of CSR. Business in the Community’s Advisory Service provides companies with assistance in shaping corporate responsibility policies, practices and impact. They can also provide advice, information, and support on all aspects of employee community involvement like events and seminars and designing employee volunteering programmes.

ENGAGE Online is a programme developed by the International Business Leader Forum (IBLF) and Business in the Community (BITC) to support companies and communities in their effort to develop employee engagement as a tool to build healthy and sustainable communities.

The National Trust’s Employee Volunteering Programme (EVP) is working in partnership with BTCV, RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts, and YHA to develop employee volunteering projects for groups and individuals.

The Royal Society for Protection of Birds (RSBP) is UK charity working to secure a healthy environment for birds and wildlife. To see volunteering opportunities at RSBP click here. .

Youth Hostel Accommodation (YHA) gives volunteers the opportunity to get involved in a wide range of activities, like volunteering wardening, countryside activities, marketing and professional services.


Business in the Community, Responsibility: driving innovation, inspiring employees, FastForward Research 2003.

The Business case for Employee Involvement, 2003, Business in the Community, sponsored by Barclays.

Ramrayka, Liza, Employee Volunteering –The Guide,2001, National Centre for Volunteering

Practical Handbook for Conservation Volunteering, BTCV.

The Complete Beginners Guide for Companies who wish to start an employee volunteering scheme, Employee Volunteering.

2001 Home Office Citizenship Survey, ‘Active Communities’. For a copy contact Meta Zimmeck, Voluntary and Community Research Section, Home Office, London. Tel. 020 7273 2261

Surveying habitatsLinks

Employee Volunteering
Time Bank
World Wide Volunteering
Volunteering England
The Experience Corp

Photo Credits: Elizabeth Brill, Ed Wilson / Earthwatch Institute, Stella Johnson / Earthwatch Institute, Peter Mbugua/Diageo, Michelle Hamer / Dai Herbert, Philip Swann / HSBC.

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