We see the terms “brand” and “sustainability” mentioned together more often today than ever before. Since brands usually function as the connection between business and people, their role has evolved beyond marketing to also represent corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts. But when a corporation’s sustainability commitments become unfulfilled promises, or fail to engender broader support – the future of a sustainable brand can ultimately become “unsustainable.”
The contributing factors are often complex and related, from new management and vision, to failed policies, tools and practice. Amongst the many reasons, there is one that is so essential that it practically hides in plain sight -and that is the lack of emotionally engaged employees. Such employees are needed not only to support and implement such programs, but to also champion its purpose and possibilities.
Building a sustainability minded corporate culture requires voices beyond that of Executives, CSO, HR, Marketing and Corporate Communications. Engagement and development opportunities should be made available to all employees, especially those who can impact the relationship between business, people and environment. On-boarding and training programs should not only inform, but strive to inspire action and connect shared interests.
Study: Six Growing Trends in Corporate Sustainability
According to a study conducted by Ernst & Young and Green Biz Group on the Six Growing Trends in Corporate Sustainability, employees have emerged as key stakeholders in driving the success (or failure) of corporate sustainability programs.
“Conventional wisdom is that company sustainability initiatives are driven principally by customers or investors and shareholders, and sometimes by NGO activist groups or regulatory agencies. But our survey found that employees are a key driver in a significant number of companies.”
In fact when participating executives were asked to rank the top three stakeholder groups responsible for driving their company’s sustainability initiatives, employees ranked second (cited by 22% of respondents), behind customers (37%) and ahead of shareholders (15%), policymakers (7%) and NGOs (7%).
All too often when corporations introduce their sustainability story to others – they focus their communication efforts on how they are going to build and manage their sustainability commitments. Great care is spent on explaining sustainability management tools, processes and methodology for how their CSR progress will be reported. Ironically, according to the breakdown of stakeholder groups in Six Growing Trends in Corporate Sustainability, such information would be of primary interest to those with minimal influence on sustainability programs and outcomes (shareholders, policymakers and NGOs).