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Engaged Employees Lead to Better Environmental Stewardship, Better Product Innovation

neef-logo2Engaging a whole company’s workforce is the surest way toward better environmental sustainability within an organization, according to leading business executives.

“The Engaged Organization,” a new report from the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF), looked at environmental education at Wal-Mart, Johnson & Johnson, Hewlett-Packard, Cisco and others.

Representatives of some of these companies participated in a roundtable Webinar Marcy 18, which was organized by NEEF.

Three-fourths of respondents in the survey that led to the NEEF report said that green hiring would grow, said Diane Wood, President, National Environmental Education Foundation.

“In the future, all jobs might be green jobs,” Woods said.

Companies can gain insights by engaging their employees. For instance, Wal-Mart has a personal sustainability project. One employee pointed out that lighting on vending machines was wasting electricity at night. Changing the machines so that lights were not on at night saved the company $1 million a year.

A company needs to have good environmental knowledge in order to have good product innovation, said Ken Strassner, Vice President of Global Environment, Safety, Regulatory and Scientific Affairs for Kimberly-Clark Corp.

A company that represents itself as a good environmental steward also finds it easier to recruit and retain employees, Strassner said.

Computing giant Cisco has a Web portal for internal communications about Cisco environmental efforts.

“It’s a good way to marry the green message with some of the tools we’re coming up with, that we’ll be marketing to customers,” said Kenis Dunne, Senior Manager of Internal Communications for Cisco.

The portal features a video carousel, with videos that are both corporate in nature and also informal, she said, “We have an internal version of youtube called C-Vision, where employees can post questions or begin dialogue.”

Also on the portal, there is a discussion board and an events calendar urging employees to get involved with sustainability initiatives.

At modular carpet company Interface, about 15 years ago the company began changing its culture to focus on internal education, said Joyce LaValle, Senior Vice-president of Associate and Customer Engagement.

“We have created a vision of a mountain of sustainability. We tell our associates that getting to the top of the mountain is eliminating environmental impacts by 2020,” she said.

Interface’s products can be purchased as carbon-neutral, whereby carbon offsets are included in the price.

Also, the company has its CO2 Cool Commute program, in which employees sign up and Interface pays 50 percent of carbon offset for employee travel to work. Additionally, all the company’s air travel is offset.

For a large conglomerate, the issue of environmental education is a great challenge, said Tish Lascelle, Senior Director of Strategy and Assurance, Worldwide Environment, Health and Safety for Johnson & Johnson.

“We’re like a holding company for 120 different operating companies. So when we thought about environmental literacy, we had basically 120 cultures to incorporate into,” Lascelle said.

Johnson & Johnson has a sustainable forestry campaign, with a logo that is based on a tree. Johnson & Johnson companies are allowed to tweak the logo in various ways, incorporating various messages, in order to accomplish the goal at hand, she said.

Johnson & Johnson also has its own video site called “ForestTube.”

“We seeded it with videos we made, and we encouraged employees to post their own. But we do maintain some control. Anyone could post a video but they had to go through me,” she said.

Also, Johnson & Johnson created environmental-education materials for employees to take home to their children.

“It keeps the employees engaged since the children talk to them about it,” she said.

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