By Luke Bujarski
‘Green’ is something of a new paradigm in the global contact center industry, but its potential as a competitive differentiator has become unmistakable. This was a key takeaway during last week’s visit to Teleperformance Bogota, and their soon-to-be LEED Gold certified facility near the El Dorado International Airport. Aside from slashing operations costs, green building initiatives have potential to improve call center agent productivity, reduce turnover, and help operators align their overall business proposition with their clients’ values.
We also found that ‘green’ goes beyond environmental impact when it comes to BPO. Namely, being sustainable is as much about growing responsibly in new labor markets, as it is about saving trees. One potential risk to committing to ‘green’ is that once the bar is set, expectations soon follow. But according to Teleperformance Colombia and Teleperformance Global, being a trailblazer in ‘green’ and sustainability is a way of ensuring that standards are set and met proactively.
Teleperformance Colombia: Embracing the Triple Bottom-line
Colombia is among the hottest contact center markets in Latin America today. Increased economic and political stability, coupled with competitive wages, a sizable domestic market, and ability to service offshore and nearshore clients has made Colombia a prime destination for global operators (between 20-25 thousand agents – Spanish only and bilingual). This includes Teleperformance (TP), a publicly traded contact center giant with over 100 thousand employees worldwide that has been in Colombia since 2010. Furthermore, the company’s commitment to the country is reflected in their decision to make Teleperformance Bogota their first LEED certified facility.
Obtaining LEED certification is a comprehensive process that follows strict adherence to what the US Green Building Council calls the triple bottom-line: Namely, the objective is to strike a balance between environmental, social, and economic impacts during the construction or refurbishment of a building. This is achieved through the building design, its proximity to public transportation, reductions in energy consumption, among other criteria.
Providing ample natural light, rain water recycling, a green roof, and locating near the airport – as well as a Transmilenio station (Bogota’s main public transportation system) – are among some of the ways that TP has worked to qualify for its LEED certification credits. In turn, TP Bogota leadership hopes to reduce their overall energy consumption by 30 percent.
For TP, the Bogota facility is the capstone to a more ambitious global initiative. “The objective for 2012 is to reduce our global carbon emissions per FTE by 5 percent,” explained Gabriel Toscana COO of Teleperformance Colombia. While TP Bogota is the first out 270 TP centers worldwide to achieve LEED certification, much of their global strategy is coordinated around human engineering. This includes things like installing energy efficient lighting, upgrading and setting thermostats, and reducing paper waste.
“As a newcomer to Teleperformance one thing that has surprised me is the company’s methodology around green. We have to submit all of our consumptions including paper, energy, and how we travel in order to calculate our total carbon footprint,” explained Juan Hurtado, CEO of TP Colombia and former owner of TeleDatos, acquired by TP in 2010.
Quantifying and Monetizing on Green Initiatives
Being able to quantify energy consumption on a global level has allowed TP to find new ways to cut costs, but also to analyze otherwise blurry metrics such as employee satisfaction and benchmarking performance across global facilities. Toscana – who is also the Senior Global Sustainability Officer for Teleperformance – sees an inverse relationship with energy consumption and employee satisfaction – meaning, that when energy consumption (per FTE) goes down, employee satisfaction tends to goes up. “Every year we conduct an employee satisfaction survey to our employees and I am confident that this facility (yet to be graded) will rank among the highest in 2012,” explained Toscana.
Establishing metrics needed to quantify environmental impact on a global scale is ultimately the first step to a bigger sustainability strategy. As part of their Citizen of the Planet initiative, TP’s global comprehensive environmental initiative, the main KPI (key performance indicator) used to measure environmental impact is carbon emissions per FTE. According to Toscana, each TP facility must submit an annual carbon footprint report which in turn gets aggregated into their global carbon footprint indicator.
Green as a Competitive Differentiator
In addition to direct and indirect cost savings, ‘green’ is becoming an important tool in cultivating current and future client relationships. “Sustainability metrics have perhaps been the biggest change to client RFIs and RFPs that we’ve seen in recent years,” explained Mark Pfeiffer, Executive Vice President-Global Management Team. As global enterprises embrace corporate social responsibility (CSR), vendors must also adapt and change their ways to align themselves with customer values. “Clearly, the total package has to be competitive, but when it comes down to the details, having a strong strategy around sustainability can be enough to swing new business in our direction,” explained Pfeiffer. “In any case, Teleperformance believes that being sustainable gives us the best of both worlds; it makes great business sense and it ensures we protect the earth for our children and future generations.”
A comprehensive sustainability agenda should account for social, economic, as well as environmental impacts. More often than not, contact centers are viewed as a positive presence and as an economic engine for developing economies. However, in newer markets like Colombia where the labor pool – particularly the bilingual labor pool – is not yet fully accounted for, the industry runs the risk of overheating. Spiking wages and high attrition rates are common as employees jump ship to join the competition. Providing a healthy and clean working environment has been shown to improve overall employee satisfaction and attendance.
Furthermore, mismanagement and undercutting the competition without any consideration on wages has been known to kill local industries. And while the concept of a ‘sustainable’ labor market is oxymoronic, since wages inevitably rise as economic conditions improve (or are artificially inflated), committing to green facilities and managerial best practices shows commitment to local markets. Perhaps more importantly, ‘sustainable’ growth also gives the industry time to evolve into higher value services and stronger communities.