[Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles based on interviews from experts in the field who will be speaking at the Environmental Leader 2016 Conference in June.]
Environmental management initiatives reach their goals and become successful more easily when employees are engaged and enthusiastic, General Motors has found. The automaker, which has 130 landfill-free sites and has reduced carbon and energy intensity by 11% each between 2010 and 2014, incorporates sustainability directly into its business plan, identifies key metrics, and sets out goals not only for the company as a whole but for each division within the company and for each individual employee.
“We start at the top with the key objectives; then, the people on the plant floor have their own set of goals, the plant manager has his goals, and that goes on to the head of manufacturing, to the vice president, and beyond,” says Mari Kay Scott, Executive Director of Global Environmental Compliance and Sustainability for GM. “And these include personal goals as well as goals for the organization.”
Currently, GM’s biggest goal is to achieve zero waste at its plants. Its landfill-free facilities – 75% of which are manufacturing plants – recycle, reuse or convert to energy all waste from daily operations, turning waste streams into revenue streams. For example, GM says, it has generated as much as $1 billion in recent years from recycling. And much of this success can be attributed to employee engagement.
Scott offered several suggestions for companies on a similar journey on how to engage employees in environmental management efforts to improve the bottom line:
Tip #1: Look at management differently.
Once the workers on a plant floor are engaged in a project, they tend to be the ones who have the ideas and know how to implement them, Scott says. “So instead of the plant manager being ‘on top’ and everyone else under him, the workers are at the top and everyone else in management is underneath them, supporting them and helping them achieve their goals,” she says.
“You have to show them that you support them, that you can help them with the problems they have,” says Scott. “Then, when that problem is solved, you’ve gained their buy-in to work together on the next project.”