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The Three Stages of Staff Sustainability Engagement

Programs to involve staff in sustainability programs break down into three key stages, according to a report by brand consulting firm BBMG.

In Green the Team, the firm draws on recent experience helping Walmart create My Sustainability Plan, the retailer’s platform for engaging its 2.2 million staff in sustainability programs.

The first stage in creating an employee engagement program, BBMG says, is to set a strategy. This involves:

Writing a vision statement to help employees understand the program’s goals and what resources are available to them. Involving employees, even at this early stage, will improve chances for long-term success.

Connecting the vision to specific calls to action, preferably in bite-sized chunks. For Walmart, BBMG promoted 12 categories of actions to choose from, including many easy options, to make sustainability seem more doable.

Framing complex issues in personal terms. Emissions calculators such as the the EPA’s personal GHG Calculator or Conservation International’s Eco-Footprint Calculator can help.

Creating a flexible framework, so different business units in different geographic regions can adopt messages to suit local cultures and knowledge levels.

Identifying key metrics of success from the outset, measure results and report regularly. Metrics to consider include retention, job satisfaction, volunteer hours, number of employees engaged in the program,and greenhouse gas emissions reduced.

The next stage is to “build the buzz.” Key steps include:

Make the program voluntary. Mandatory participation poses a risk of alienating employees.

Reward employee efforts and achievements, through formal and informal recognition from their peers, managers and senior leadership. Competitions can help to motivate staff.

Keep up the internal communications. Build the buzz in stages and using all the communications tools you have available – not just intranet and emails, but more creative ideas such as sleeves, Post-Its, screensavers and hangtags on breakroom refrigerators.

Next comes celebrating success:

Create opportunities for staff to share their activities, both in person and virtually. Try using a Facebook page or a site on your intranet to facilitate dialogue.

Keep the communication positive. Don’t scare your workforce into recycling. Create guidelines to make sure communications stays upbeat.

Close the loop. Take success stories and re-apply them. Make time during your annual strategy meetings to update the sustainability program.

In related news, a report out from the United Nations Environment Programme Financial Initiative (UNEP FI) says employee engagement is key to hitting environmental targets, but needs top management support

According to If You Ask Us: Making Environmental Employee Engagement Happen, 69 percent of financial institutions see employee engagement as a valuable tool to improve environmental performance. This suggests that engagement is now becoming an integral part of corporate sustainability strategies, UNEP said.

The report says there are five major success factors for effective environmental employee engagement:

  1. Support from top management
  2. Clearly linking activity with day to day job
  3. Involving employees in project development to enhance ownership and levels of participation
  4. Incorporating a competitive element
  5. Communicating action and encouraging involvement.

UNEP said that with management buy-in, employee participation in environmental initiatives increases. One third-party study shows an increase from 34 percent to 58 percent, UNEP said.

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