Any company operating in the 21st century is quickly realising that sustainability isn’t a buzzword, nor is it a crusade for climate scientists and environmentalists alone. In the aftermath of the Paris Agreement, where each country committed to a set of measures to bring global warming to a halt, business savvy companies are also seeing sustainability as a great economic opportunity. Beyond contributing to the global goal to reduce emissions below the 2-degree threshold, sustainability actually enhances a business’s success. Adopting a sustainable culture foregrounds innovation, mitigates the risks and losses of future environmental regulations and attracts the next generation of customers who prioritise ethical business practice. And it is not just customers who appreciate sustainable products and services. According to a study conducted by Kelly Services, employees also prefer working for a company that has a measurable positive impact, with one-third even willing to have a lower salary if they are doing so.
Becoming a sustainable business doesn’t happen overnight. And hiring a sustainability officer and defining sustainability goals is only the start. To really reap the benefits of sustainability, it also needs to be an intrinsic part of corporate culture amongst employees.
6 ways to engage employees in a corporate culture of sustainability
While formal measures for sustainability involve clearly defined rules that a business can follow, informal measures are a little harder to define. How do you get employees excited about nurturing a sustainable culture? The answer lies in embedding the sustainable practice into everyday business life, making it ‘second nature’ in a way that is fun and engaging. Drawing on the report, "Embedding sustainability in organizational culture" by the Network for Business Sustainability, we are going to explore six proven ways for anchoring sustainability into the corporate culture.
- Make management “walk the talk”
The role model function of company management plays a central position in displaying the importance of sustainability. Managers can, for instance, explicitly favour long-term versus short-term payoff options during meetings. Their personal choices also play an important role: a CEO who uses public transport or an electric car gives a strong signal to his employees.
- Engage in active communication about sustainability
Internal communications managers can show what is going in on in a company by actively and regularly dedicating a space to sustainability topics. Case studies and interviews, for instance, can highlight and communicate what sustainability means for the company. These can be distributed through internal channels such as newsletters, intranet articles, posters in the cafeteria or management updates.
- Recognise and support internal change makers
In every company there are certain employees who already care about the environment from personal interests or previous studies and usually, they are eager to contribute to increasing the sustainability within the company. These sustainability ambassadors can be used as facilitators for initiatives, and should be supported and recognised accordingly. This recognition can come in the form of praise by a supervisor during a performance review or on corporate level with exclusive event invitations or an interview for the corporate newsletter.
- Link sustainability to private life
Employees will be more intrinsically motivated to engage themselves with sustainability when they understand how environmental issues personally affect everyone, including themselves. By implementing awareness-raising activities, such as sustainability weeks, team competitions or communication campaigns, employees can learn what kind of impacts their personal decisions have on society and the environment and how they can change them in a positive way.
- Inspire through events
During events, employees have the opportunity to learn more about sustainability and get to know other change makers. This fosters a sense of belonging and a community of support within a company. At the same time, events are a great way to give recognition to sustainability ambassadors. Examples of such inspiring events are “brown bag” sessions over lunch, movie events (e.g. with a movie from "Films for the Earth"), workshops, excursions or even thematic weeks during which many different activities are offered.
- Keep an open dialogue with employees
Last but not least, it is important to integrate sustainability into the topics of daily business, as opposed to keeping it a separate issue only run by the sustainability team. An open dialogue with employees from all divisions and hierarchies should be maintained. During interdisciplinary workshops, a vision of a sustainable business can be co-developed. By using open dialogue it can be demonstrated that sustainability isn’t an “expert topic” but something that everybody can contribute to.
Every company is different, with their own history, culture and vision. The question of how a business becomes sustainable is less important than just starting somewhere and combining different measures. A long term plan and employee programs (such as the We Act Challenges) combine different aspects of the above described methods and help to accelerate the desired change in corporate culture. We Act Challenges are team competitions, designed to raise awareness for sustainability in a playful way. They are easy to implement and integrate into daily work, with the help of an interactive online platform and a range of proven impactful ecological and social actions. It doesn’t matter where you begin, just start somewhere and shape a better future!
Join the Swiss WeAct challenge in September 2017 and register here using the code “SPG17” for a 20% discount.