Various companies worldwide are committing to becoming sustainable by reducing their environmental footprints and developing eco-friendly behavior at workplaces. How? By engaging employees and building eco-friendly policies together.
For example, WeWork, a co-working space company, announced that they’d no longer serve or buy meat products at their professional events. Further, companies such as Starbucks have issued statements regarding the non-use of plastic straws to tackle plastic pollution.
Embedding sustainability efforts have a positive impact on business performance. In fact, 80% of customers prefer to buy products and services from companies with a proven record of sustainability regarding reducing their carbon footprint.
Developing an environmentally conscious workplace begins with your employees as your people must believe in your vision and practice sustainable activities before anybody else does. However, getting them excited about simple eco-friendly activities such as putting waste in a bin, saving electricity, etc., is not an easy feat.
Why? Because many don’t care or say that it’s not their responsibility. Or maybe they care but say they don’t have time for it.
So, if you want to take your sustainable strategy to another level, getting your employees involved is crucial for its success. There’s no fixed strategy to engage employees — different techniques work in different situations as companies have different cultures and visions. But, there are a few powerful ways to engage your employees in the company’s sustainability mission. Let’s get into these.
How to Engage Your Employees to Embed Sustainability Internally
Here are five ways to engage your employees for embedding sustainability internally, not just on Earth or Environment Day, but every day.
1. Refine your brand’s long-run mission to include sustainability goals.
All companies have to earn profits to remain in the business, regardless of how it makes those profits. But, the thirst for profits has resulted in the destruction of natural resources and people, especially the most vulnerable populations.
So, the first tactic to engage employees is to ensure that the company’s long-term objectives are aligned with doing good to the people and the environment while also earning profits.
Every organization should define a clear, long-term social purpose in their overall strategy and reflect it through their brand and products.
For instance, in 2010, Unilever announced the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP). It’s a roadmap for the organization’s growth strategy that explains how the company’s success depends on the success of the people and their environmental impact. This plan outlined three key goals:
- Enhancing the well-being of over a billion people by improving their overall health.
- Bettering the financial livelihoods of millions of people in Unilever’s supply chain (such as farmers).
- Reducing the environmental footprint of the company’s products.
The organization’s social purpose enables employees to tap into some great opportunities to use the brand as a means to express their values and create something meaningful — in and out of work.
In short, this helps them understand the main motive behind the work they do.
2. Impart sustainability knowledge and competence.
If employees want to support their organization’s sustainability initiatives, they must know what sustainability is and how it can benefit society, the planet, as well as the company as a whole. Thus, providing sustainability knowledge and training is crucial in bolstering a “can do” attitude towards creating a sustainable culture.
Many companies feel that only people with “CSR” in the job titles require sustainability training. However, that’s not the case anymore. Professionals at all levels can benefit from sustainability and social responsibility knowledge, such as managers, leaders, consulting professionals, and entrepreneurs.
Companies such as IBM, Marks & Spencers, and Nestle have invested a lot in sustainability training, tools, and systems so employees can learn and apply sustainability in their work.
Here’s how you can train your employees:
- Host casual meetings over lunch, conferences, seminars, and online training to discuss the different topics on business sustainability. Ask them about their opinions and tips on contributing to creating a sustainable culture.
- Involve employees when creating relevant, sustainable policies for the company. This way, they will feel that their opinions are valued, increasing their morale and productivity. And, you can get some new ideas for improving your sustainability initiatives, which brings us to the next point…
3. Cocreate sustainable brand practices with employees.
Another effective way to engage employees in sustainability is to involve them in creating sustainability programs.
When companies act on even the smallest idea shared by the employees for the sustainability initiative — such as switching to using digital signatures or investing in office plants — they feel like a vital part of the organization. This, in turn, boosts their morale and loyalty towards the company.
Not only that, companies get a plethora of better and new ideas when they consider the workers’ suggestions. However, employees might hesitate to provide suggestions, especially if their ideas have been ignored in the past.
Therefore, it is essential to provide the right environment where employees can come together and get comfortable sharing their ideas. This might take time but is worth it in the long run.
One way to do this is by creating a green team. A green team involves employees engaged in improving the company’s sustainability.
Here, your employees can share their ideas freely and make decisions regarding their implementation. You can also gather more ideas during periodic staff meetings or send out an employee survey.
An excellent example of this is Marks & Spencer. An employee suggested placing clothes-recycling boxes in its stores to provide income for the International Oxfam movement. The idea was highly supported by the board and achieved tremendous success.
4. Gamify sustainability adoption.
Want to make your employees sustainable while entertaining them? Gamification is your best bet.
Nowadays, many organizations have started turning to gamification to engage and influence their employees and participate in sustainable initiatives. Basically, it uses gaming elements such as rewards and points to boost employee engagement in various activities.
Plus, it makes learning and training more interactive and fun.
Microsoft created the “One Drop of Life” app to raise awareness of the global water crisis among users. In this app, players have to navigate a water droplet through a maze full of twigs, leaves, and toxic waste to reach the collection of droplets.
If the droplet touches any garbage, it will become contaminated, and the game is over. At the end of each round, a factoid bubble appears, mentioning a fact about global water shortages. Such apps and games help employees learn about global issues and develop ideas to tackle them.
Furthermore, creating point-based leaderboards is an effective technique that appreciates the employees who participated more often in the company’s sustainable initiatives.
WeSpire has created a gamification platform where users earn points for completing various sustainable actions. For example, using eco-friendly products, recycling, or coming to the office via public transport.
Points are displayed on the leaderboards and shared on Facebook, inspiring positive change in others.
The platform has become a massive success that companies like Sony and McDonalds use to introduce their sustainability challenges to their employees.
5. Make your sustainability efforts visible.
Today, more and more companies are becoming eco-friendly, but they don’t provide any specific information on how they’re making a positive change for the people.
Also, announcing that sustainability is essential and doing nothing about it is a major step towards failure.
If you want to truly incorporate sustainability in your organization, you have to show it to others, including your employees.
From the hand soaps, paper towels, and toilet paper in employee bathrooms to whether or not you’ve installed durable, commercial-quality EV charging stations for businesses in the parking lot, these decisions create a domino effect.
Visibility plays a crucial role in changing employees’ beliefs and influencing them to contribute to various sustainable initiatives.
One way to boost visibility is to have clear indicators that you are tracking and sharing the progress with the employees — whether by posting updates on the employee news channel, communicating it in the regular meetings, etc.
Only when the employees understand your sustainability efforts and how you’re moving towards them will they be more enthusiastic in contributing towards the same.
Furthermore, it is also necessary to celebrate successes — both big and small. Employees must feel that they have played an enormous role in achieving the company’s goals.
Symbols and signage are also effective tools to grab people’s attention towards the company’s commitment to sustainability. For example, Marks & Spencers has put up numerous signs to encourage their employees to take the stairs instead of an elevator, even if for a few floors only.
Sustainability initiatives are excellent for the people and the planet and also for boosting workplace morale. Including your employees in your ecological vision and influencing them to participate in different sustainable initiatives can go a long way toward making them satisfied and great ambassadors for your company.
The above tips can help you engage your employees, helping align their personal goals with those of your brand.
Equip them with the tools and tips to practice sustainability. Show them how their contributions help towards a greener world. When they feel proud for bringing a positive change, they’ll become more driven to work.