Green Business Strategy – Getting Employees Engaged in Sustainability

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Give the company a green boost

Trying to persuade your business colleagues to go green can be tough. Yet we know environmental consciousness is not only good–it is good for business. Customer loyalty, public credibility and investor confidence are gained by companies that do things right.

The majority of leading companies have made public commitments around sustainability – whether it is lowering their carbon footprint, investments in communities or ensuring sustainable sourcing. Yet, we see that their internal practices do not necessarily measure up to their public commitments – which leads to skepticism amongst their customers and employees about how truly green they are. This can impact the bottom line from reputation and loyalty to attracting and retaining the right talent.

In order to be taken seriously and perceived as an environmentally-friendly enterprise, you should establish credibility and follow through on public commitments for sustainability. The added benefit for you is that sustainability in business means operating more efficiently… in other words, driving expense out of the business.

There is a way you can significantly improve the effectiveness of sustainability initiatives and ensure that the environmental culture permeates throughout the organization: by framing them properly and getting employees engaged. Though simple in concept, it requires expertise in practice to get the best results from sustainable business initiatives.

How to sell sustainability within your organization

The single most important factor for success is executive sponsorship. It is required to ensure the success of sustainable practices within your company. However, changing your organizational culture and perception of the company’s values also requires contribution from everyone within the organization. In order to do so effectively, it is important to understand the unique perspectives of senior managers and benefits to each area in addressing sustainability. In turn, senior managers will be able to frame the objectives within their functional areas in a way that is relevant to each employee, creating a more comprehensive and effective implementation. Some of the key functional areas to get on board include: Finance, Marketing, HR and IT / Operations.

Defining the need for the finance department:

In order to influence the finance department to direct resources toward sustainability efforts, it is important to focus on what is most relevant to them. Expense savings are a huge focus in business right now and finance departments are constantly looking to the business to do more for less. Often times it leads to internal cost cuts which translates to reduction in headcount – something which may impact the effectiveness of the business (less headcount to do the work and morale impact on productivity) and public perception on the viability of the business.

However, supporting green initiatives is a great opportunity for those in the finance department to get employees excited about and supportive of internal cost cuts. By identifying ways for employees to help reduce energy consumption – such as turning off the lights, changing screen savers and shutting down computers at night, stocking the refrigerator, cutting down on paper waste, etc., you can save money and increase morale as employees unite in doing something good.

Defining the need for HR:

HR departments are typically concerned with attracting and retaining top talent. However, when the business is focused on saving money and potentially reducing headcount, it can be challenging to maintain employee satisfaction. Additionally, they need to stretch their budgets farther, making recruiting and retention ever more difficult.

A focus on sustainability can be the basis of attracting talent and may help smaller companies, which are often at a disadvantage when recruiting employees, attract creative and talented staff.

– Highly educated/talented prospective employees, especially Generation Y, are seeking the opportunity to work in a company focused on sustainability.

– Employees look to work for companies with a strong brand reputation – and a focus on sustainability could be a key point of differentiation in creating a positive brand image.

From a retention perspective, current employees will be more engaged and productive. Employee productivity and morale typically impacted in the current cost-cutting environment. However, by focusing on cost-cutting through sustainable business practices, a culture focused on “doing-good” – employees will be more engaged and able to focus on productivity instead of the stress typically associated with cost-cuts.

Defining the need for IT / Operations departments:

IT and operations groups tend to be the most resource / energy intensive groups within an organization and they are constantly being asked to do more with less – causing frustration amongst the groups who use the IT resources. While it is challenging to get employees on board with IT cuts, IT groups can be influenced to get on board with sustainability with knowledge that by getting employees engaged in green IT initiatives, IT departments will be able to more effectively drive their cost-cutting initiatives and maximize results without sacrificing efficiency. Additionally, IT will have the support necessary to implement policies and practices that–while reducing energy and resource consumption–may generate resistance among employees.

Defining the need for the marketing department:

Sustainability initiatives can address two key focal areas of the marketing department – getting and retaining customers and brand advocacy. Research indicates that companies whose employee practices do not align with green marketing claims will drive consumer skepticism and be perceived as cynically taking advantage of environmental concerns. Marketing leaders have the opportunity to engage customers and employees on a new dimension by demonstrating commitment to sustainability – thereby making employees into committed brand advocates and creating loyal customers by living up to public commitments.

Aligning the rest of the organization

Once Executive Sponsorship is in place and Senior Management understands the benefits of embracing sustainability within their functional areas, it is time to align the rest of the organization and embed a true culture of sustainability. Since employees, like consumers, have different attitudes and perceptions around sustainability programs and can be segmented as such, it is important to design programs that address the unique segments within your organization. The steps below outline what is necessary to fully engage your employee base to achieve your ongoing sustainability commitments.

1. Survey employees to segment on attitudes, perceptions, behaviors

2. Conduct moderated discussions to get a deeper understanding and to develop communication, persuasion, and engagement strategies

3. Design promotions and track behavior to add a dimension of competition and tangibility-and go beyond traditional directive style

4. Create a holistic program to achieve stated green business goals while identifying incremental performance opportunities using employee input

Benefits

The benefits of embedding a sustainability culture within your organization are clear: greater efficiency, lower costs, positive PR, easier recruiting and retention and of course, the positive impact on the environment. By understanding the unique perspectives and needs of everyone within the organization and ensuring the organization is fully aligned, it is easier to communicate your overall strategy and identify and transfer knowledge of successes across the organization. This enables a more comprehensive implementation of your sustainability programs, thereby multiplying the effects of any programs designed.

Evaluation

Implementing sustainable business practices is a process–not an event–and ultimately should become part of the way the company does business. In order to ensure ongoing success, tools should be established to track and share progress. Start by investigating what can be measured, including electrical and other energy consumption, and resources consumed. Then establish a baseline from which goals can be set and progress tracked. Measure very frequently at first to create continuous feedback on relevant behavioral changes; as those changes become habituated, you can measure less frequently. Conduct root cause analysis on both positive and negative performance so you can replicate the positive and avoid the negative.

Use employee engagement programs to achieve these goals and help celebrate success across the organization.

Source by Glennon Franklin

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