Employee Engagement Drives Sustainability Strategy

by | May 7, 2013

Have you considered how employee engagement can drive your sustainability strategy and how you can also leverage sustainability initiatives to engage your employees and create a values-driven culture of collaboration and creativity?

While the majority of employees fall under the umbrella of not engaged (emotionally detached) and actively disengaged (negatively view the workplace), few companies even know how to engage their employees in social and environmental sustainability. Consider these statistics:

The Benefits of Engaging Your Employees:

Employee engagement has a ripple effect and creates numerous benefits, including:

  • Innovation
  • Lower turnover
  • Reduced sick days and absenteeism
  • Higher employee morale
  • Increased productivity
  • Better retention
  • Improved talent attraction.

Furthermore, a Gallup analysis showed that:

“Organizations’ employee engagement scores directly related to their earnings per share (EPS). Organizations with employee engagement scores in the top quartile of Gallup’s overall database in 2006 and 2007 posted earnings in 2007 and 2008 that were on average 28% higher than those of their competitors.” (State of the American Workplace Report 2008-2010 by Gallup)

Hewitt Associates also found that the shareholder return of engaged companies was 19% higher than average in 2009. (see: http://www.bs-muc.de/aktdoku/report.pdf)

According to an employee attitudes survey by Sirota Survey Intelligence, “When employees are positive about their organisation’s CSR commitment, employee engagement rises to 86%.”

It’s all about Collaboration

Cross-departmental collaboration and integration are vital to sustainability employee engagement. When seeking to involve employees in sustainability, it’s important for your sustainability team to consider with whom else in the organization it could build an alliance, while identifying shared core values and cultural barriers. Your sustainability efforts should engage diverse functional areas within the organization, as well as external stakeholders where it would be mutually beneficial to partner.

Co-creating sustainability programs with employees cultivates:

  • trust
  • ownership
  • excitement
  • commitment.

Partnering with the Human Resources Department

If Human Resources (HR) is leading employee engagement at your company or has the resources and capacity to get involved, it would be an essential partner as HR would share your objective of creating a more engaged workforce. Collaboration between HR and your sustainability team would result in synergistic benefits. The Human Resources Department would play an active role in developing new sustainability employee engagement activities while also acting as a vehicle that garners participation by providing the implementation tools and techniques. Through this partnership, sustainability can also be incorporated into existing HR programs. As a result, sustainability would achieve deeper integration along the spectrum while the Human Resources Department would enjoy the perks of a more engaged workforce.

Cadbury Schweppes exemplifies successful partnership between Human Resources personnel and sustainability with their “CSR Living Our Values Learning Tool” for training employees. (see: http://www.saycocorporativo.com/saycouk/BIJ/journal/Vol2No1/BIJ-Vol2No1A.pdf#page=206)

Partnering with Employee-Led Initiatives

Alternatively, partnering with employee-led initiatives provides a foundation for dialogue and new programs. There are many instances of committees and projects that have been kick-started by employees on a voluntary basis. Some are employee councils, social committees, corporate volunteer groups and the like. These employees are ripe with passion and initiative and would make excellent partners in sustainability employee engagement, which would complement their own efforts. You could additionally create a sustainability employee engagement committee comprised of staff from different areas of the business.

HP Hewlett-Packard (HP), for instance, takes a strategic approach to employee engagement in sustainability and ties it to its business goals. Among its programs, HP

  1. houses an internal Sustainability Network with over 10,000 members worldwide to teach its employees about and share environmental practices that can positively impact the business and the planet; and
  2. offers an Eco Advocates program, complete with training modules, to provide employees with the resources they need to educate customers and business partners on the environmental benefits of HP’s products and how to use those products with reduced environmental impact.

Let’s highlight the key to HP’s success. Hewlett Packard:

  • mobilizes employee-led committees
  • facilitates collaboration, communication and the exchange of ideas
  • offers training on the company’s environmental leadership and product impact
  • integrates sustainability strategically and makes it applicable to employee responsibilities
  • knows where its biggest impact is
  • supports employee development and leadership.

Are you an individual who wants to influence your co-workers and initiate change within your organization? WWF’s Living Planet @ Work program, championed by Hewlett Packard, provides the guidance, tools and support to help employees engage their organizations. Since its launch in November 2011, over 300 Canadian companies have joined. Learn more, access free resources and sign up at http://atwork.wwf.ca/. As the Head of the Living Planet @ Work program, Adrienne Lo, puts it, “The workplace is an excellent place to empower individuals to go above and beyond their day job to make a meaningful difference. The companies we work with in Living Planet @ Work are inspiring examples of how improving sustainability – and engaging employees in the environment – is both good for business and supports WWF’s critical conservation work.”

Sustainability Brings Humanity out in the Workplace

While 97% of executives surveyed for the UN Global Compact – Accenture CEO Study believe that sustainability should be fully ingrained in business strategy and operations, we are at a point in time where you could say that sustainability has plateaued and where companies suffer from lack of engagement.

Sustainability, however, creates opportunity for engagement, collaboration, and innovation. Employee engagement drives strategy. If you don’t have the culture to support sustainability and innovation, then you won’t be able to achieve your goals. Involving employees in sustainability programs would embed such values in your organizational culture.

A company has never truly integrated sustainability until sustainability has become part of its very culture and corporate DNA. It’s called integrity. The result is that sustainability trickles down to every employee who integrates it into their own job.

One tool that would help you to overcome cultural barriers to integrating sustainability would be the 90-day strategy map. Using this framework, you would plot your challenges and the appropriate actions you need to take to shift to a collaborative culture.

Engaging employees in sustainability galvanizes them. It gives them a sense of belonging, drive, passion and purpose. It unleashes their potential to make a difference. It inspires them to do something more that they can associate themselves with and feel good about. If done well, it will even resonate into their personal lives and impact their decisions so that they make better choices that serve them, their families, communities and the environment.

It’s about creating a shift that brings out humanity in the business world.

Izabela Popova is a sustainability champion for Popova Advisory Services. As a forward-thinking sustainability champion, Izabela seeks to make a difference by harnessing the creative force of business and people to transform the market and engage the masses in sustainability. With her experience in sustainability, project and event management, strategy, stakeholder collaboration, marketing, and communications, she has helped high-profile organizations to maximize the impact and effectiveness of their sustainability initiatives. She is an energetic self-starter who is passionate about driving sustainability by engaging, empowering, and inspiring others to unleash their potential to make a difference.

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