Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Top 3 Strategies for Sustainability Employee Engagement

Incorporating sustainability in business strategy is a continually evolving topic. Not long ago, most would consider sustainability as a topic primarily suited for companies looking to reduce waste in their production process. More recently, a lot of attention has been placed on reducing waste within a company’s supply chain. Today, the vision for incorporating sustainability into business strategy has expanded even wider, and is now applicable to businesses of all types and sizes. The new frontier in sustainability is engaging employees in sustainability, and that’s where HR professionals come in.

There have been good and bad approaches to engaging employees with sustainability, so before we get into all the great ways HR leaders are tackling this new frontier, I have a word of caution. While it is great to encourage your employees to take actions that save company resources, and promote healthy and sustainable living, credit must be given to the employees. As soon as a company neglects to give credit to its employees for their sustainable behavior, the company opens itself up to being criticized for taking credit for their employees’ actions, and risks being accused of green-washing.

Now that the word of warning is out of the way, we can get into all the great ways HR leaders are engaging their employees in sustainability. Here are the top sustainability oriented employee engagement strategies and tactics we’ve seen employed by HR leaders:

  1. Involving employees in the company’s commitment to become carbon neutral or reduce carbon emissions.
  2. Engage employees in reducing waste, saving resources, and living healthy.
  3. Rewarding employees who achieve goals that are aligned with the company’s sustainability strategy.

The first strategy is a good place to start for HR professionals looking to embrace sustainability employee engagement. Companies have gone about achieving this strategy by promoting walking, biking, and carpooling to work. Using a carbon calculator, you can measure how much initiatives to promote sustainable commuting are reducing the carbon footprint of your company. Tracking this on an ongoing basis can be tedious, but is certainly possible. Also, automated means for tracking and rewarding these sorts of behavior is available. The main benefit to your company is that this strategy aligns employee values with company values, which in turn helps turn employees into ambassadors for your brand.

The second strategy is where sustainability employee engagement starts to get sophisticated. Putting in place the right process and system to measure exactly how much employees are reducing waste, saving water, saving trees, and living healthy can do wonders for engaging employees. When an employee sees how their personal lifestyle changes impact the company, the environment, and themselves, it reinforces the connection employees have with your company, and empowers them to realize an internal paradigm shift to a more conscientious person. On the flip side, what doesn’t get measured doesn’t get recognized.

The third strategy is a great approach to layer on to a core sustainability employee engagement program. Some company’s have engaged their employees with sustainability focused contests, and have offered prizes for high achieving employees, departments, or offices. One approach is to have offices or departments competing against each other to see who can save the most trees, conserve the most water, lose the most weight, eliminate the most waste, or reduce their carbon footprint by the largest amount. Obviously, you’ll want the reward to have a sustainable focus, but other than that, most any reward will do. The real focus is on the process of behaving more sustainably in a fun and engaging way.

Engaging employees with sustainability initiatives is a powerful component of a sustainable business strategy. Sustainability employee engagement produces tangible results in the form of retention, recruitment, and creating brand value. This brand value is especially important in a new business landscape where turning employees and market influencers into brand ambassadors adds more value to a company than the old recruitment and retention tactics that worked well prior to the age of social media and transparency that we are now all a part of.

The most visionary HR and marketing leaders are already making employee engagement through sustainability a business imperative. The fact that they are able to do so at lower cost than their cohorts at large enterprises due to leveraging the same technology that large enterprises use, and employing their best practices, is all the more reason to adopt sustainability policies. A strong sustainability employee engagement program distinguishes their company from their competitors, both in the eyes of their current and future employees, and their customers. For additional reading on the topic, check out The Business Case for Environmental and Sustainability Employee Engagement.

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