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Employee Engagement and Climate Change

When organizations think about designing a suitable sustainability or carbon management strategy, more often than not the primary emphasis is placed on the external communication of these initiatives. Whilst no one is denying that external stakeholder audiences, especially customers, are important groups for tailored communications, companies should also be focusing on effectively engaging with internal employees.

This can be broken down into five key principles that need to be addressed in order to achieve maximum employee engagement. Whilst there is no quick fix, by integrating these principles, companies can create comprehensive and compelling reasons for employees to get involved in climate change and truly change behaviors.

Consultation – creating a feeling of ‘buy-in’

When dealing with internal audiences, creating a feeling of ‘buy-in’ is key to the success of any organizational climate change campaign. To really obtain commitment to achieving success, it is vital that employees are represented at the very beginning of the process, e.g. when outlining the environmental objectives of the organization, and are continually updated throughout the entire campaign.

For example, when carbon offsetting is part of a climate change strategy, employees can be part of the ‘decision making’ team that selects the types of emission reduction projects a company invests in, increasing the likelihood that employees will feel connected with the development of the project and the surrounding communities that benefit as a result.

Communication, communication and more communication

It’s imperative that from the outset of any organizational initiative the objectives are clearly communicated to employees. This is also true for a company’s climate change strategy – if you want to instigate real change throughout the organization, everyone needs to understand the goals and what behavioral changes are required to make significant reductions in carbon emissions. The environmental goals must be continually evaluated and reassessed, and there must be an ongoing, two-way communication between senior management and employees.

For any communications strategy to be truly effective it will need the input from a host of different organizational functions and an integrated mix of communication channels and tools. A great example of mixing communication channels is Sony, which distribute an in-house environmental magazine called ‘Eco Press’, as well as holding regular ‘Environmental Summits’ attended by the organization’s most senior management team. It also arranges a host of international exhibitions, events and web conferences in order to communicate Sony’s environmental initiatives across its entire business. Furthermore, Sony launched an employee tour of a consumer electronics recycling factory – helping engineers learn about environmental design.

Education – filling the knowledge gap

In recent years, environmental issues have risen up political and corporate agendas and employee knowledge levels relating to climate change have significantly improved. However, it is still a complex topic that in many cases requires further education.

Companies that instigate climate change initiatives and educate their employees about the complexities often have the highest level of engagement. For instance, NEC, the global IT company, believes that all of its employees should conduct their work with a high level of environmental awareness and has implemented various education and awareness raising programs to get them involved. In particular, all new employees experience environmental training, which is customized to their specific job function. This training ensures that employees understand how their own jobs directly relate to the wider environmental goals of the organization and their unique contribution to the process.

Measurement – if you don’t know your environmental impact how can you change it?

If employees don’t understand how their activities impact the environment, how can they be truly incentivized to change? Monitoring, recording and communicating the company’s impact on the environment are very important, alongside promoting employee change outside of the organization.

InterfaceFLOR has implemented a program that recognizes that organizations have a role to play in changing employee commuter habits and has thus extended its ‘Cool Carpet’ initiative, by adding another program called ‘Cool Co2mmute’. The program provides employees with a carbon calculator that allows them to measure the level of carbon emissions resulting from their commute and take measures to reduce them. For the proportion of emissions that cannot be reduced, employees can purchase carbon offsets and InterfaceFLOR provides a contribution to the overall cost.

Participation – Reinforcement, recognition and reward

The concept of reducing emissions needs to filter through the whole organization in order to achieve a company’s defined carbon emission objectives. If real behavioral change is to be achieved and sustained over the longer term, reinforcement, recognition and reward of those behaviors needs to continually take place.

WSP was the first company in the world to develop a personal carbon trading program for its employees, the ‘Personal Carbon Allowance Trading’ (PACT). This involved employees signing up to the program on a voluntary basis, where WSP gave each employee a carbon allowance of 5.5 tonnes, together with an online tool to measure their carbon footprint from home, energy and travel over the course of the year. At the end of the year, staff that fall under this target, and so are in the carbon ‘black’, are paid 5p per kilo under the threshold, up to £100. Those in the carbon ‘red’ pay into the fund on the same basis. Spare funds are used to help staff be green at home and to make the scheme carbon neutral.

Every organization is different, and to engage employees effectively around a climate change and carbon reduction program, a company needs to tailor a strategy that ultimately works for them.

However, there are ten clear elements that must be considered:

–For employees to really ‘believe and buy-in’ the drive needs to come from the board level.

–Be clear about the organization’s motivations and ensure every claim will stand up to scrutiny.

–Get the mix and the timing of internal communications right.

–Be consistent, logical and holistic – eliminate contradictory signals.

–Ensure that the messages conveyed to employees are coherent and that your internal and external faces are aligned.

–Educate employees to guarantee buy-in and stimulate real behavior changes.

–Make it simple and easy for employees to understand and appreciate.

–Be open, honest and transparent.

–The positive impacts from changes in behavior must be communicated to the staff.

–Make it fun. Reducing your emissions should be an enjoyable, uplifting experience.

Rachel Mountain is head of global marketing at EcoSecurities.

Rachel Mountain
Rachel Mountain is head of global marketing at EcoSecurities.
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4 thoughts on “Employee Engagement and Climate Change

  1. Great article, Rachel. Engaging employees around sustainability is certainly the next step for most companies. After implementing common green changes, many businesses find themselves in a transition period. Connecting employees with an organization’s sustainability objectives is a perfect way to continue moving toward a greener future. I just led Newmarket International to winning the 2010 Lean and Green Large Process Award for the multiple and varied ways in which I have engaged employees with sustainability. Check out my blog for more details.

  2. Rachael, your comments are spot on. Sustainability needs to start with employees. Because employees are key resource in implementing the sustainability objectives of an organization. If employees are not engaged at the beginning of the process it may seem, the impact will be minimal.
    Engaging employees, I mean; the key and strategic people is vital at the start of the process. Then maximum impact can be achieved.

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