Employee Engagement Around Sustainability–Survey Results from Brighter Planet

Brighter Planet, a company dedicated to the mitigation of climate change through personal action, is perhaps best known for its tools that help people quantify their personal carbon footprints. It also has a credit card that, with each purchase, contributes to renewable energy.

However, it is their research that excites me more than anything else. A lot of people are talking about employee engagement around sustainability initiatives right now. Brighter Planet just released a study on its findings from an internet survey it conducted, to which 1055 people responded. Big businesses can use it. Small businesses can use it. Employees are happier and more productive when they do. So let’s get to it, people, start engaging your employees around sustainability!

Employee engagement is a concept that is fairly well-known. Ford Motor Company did an employee engagement initiative around “quality” that led to its tagline, “Quality is Job 1.” Walmart had well-documented success engaging its employees around a Personal Sustainability Project where 1.3 million Walmart associates received training in sustainability and used it to improve their personal and work lives (not to mention increasing their productivity, decreasing their turnover, and improving morale at the company).

Walmart’s PSP engagement goes down as one of the most successful of all time, since it is the largest employer in the country, and the initiative, headed up by Adam Werbach and the fine folks at Saatchi & Saatchi S, still had almost half of the Walmart employees in ACTIVE participation with Saatchi a full year after the trainings. But what do we really know about it? It’s one of those touchy-feely subjects best left to HR professionals, right?

The report is brilliantly written, so I’ll let it do the talking for a bit here:

A Gallup study estimates that more than $300 billion in productivity is squandered within the U.S. workforce due to disengaged employees. Furthermore, the same Gallup study indicates that organizations with an engaged workforce have 2.6 times the earnings per share growth rate compared to organizations in the same industry with a less-engaged workforce. Sustainability programs serve as an important part of organizations’ broader strategies for activating and engaging employees. In a survey commissioned by National Geographic magazine in February 2008, more than 80% of U.S. workers polled said they believe it is important to work for a company or organization that makes the environment a top priority. However, a recent McKinsey survey shows that, while business leaders and investors believe that sustainability programs can generate substantial shareholder value, they rarely take this into account when making business investments.

Among the report’s more surprising findings:

  • 75% of respondents said their office actively promotes recycling (pleasant surprise)
  • slightly more than 50% of respondents said their office encourages energy efficiency (surprised it’s not more, since it’s a great ROI)
  • Among those companies whose employees rated their sustainability initiatives as good, those initiatives were started internally, by management or employees, and not by outside consultants (I’m only surprised because I used to work at Saatchi S, where we were hired as outside consultants, and paid large sums of money to do so–so I’d assumed it was more successful that way)
  • Only 14% of respondents said their employers’ sustainability initiatives were ‘very effective’ (unpleasant surprise)
  • The more an employer had a system for employees to share ideas and best practices, the more likely that initiative was to succeed, almost 3 to 1.
  • Organizations in which there is a main sustainability figurehead (Chief Sustainability Officer, for example) leading the initiative were 1/3 as likely to have successful initiatives than companies where management or the board had the lead role

Among the report’s less surprising findings:

  • Respondents’ impression of their company’s sustainability initiative success was higher in smaller companies

To download the full report, visit www.BrighterPlanet.com.

Scott Cooney is the co-founder of GreenBusinessVillage.com, a green business incubator and small business consulting firm based in San Francisco and Philadelphia. He is also the author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill)

Scott Cooney, Principal of GreenBusinessOwner.com and author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill, November 2008), is also a serial ecopreneur who has started and grown several green businesses and consulted several other green startups. He co-founded the ReDirect Guide, a green business directory, in Salt Lake City, UT. He greened his home in Salt Lake City, including xeriscaping, an organic orchard, extra natural fiber insulation, a 1.8kW solar PV array, on-demand hot water, energy star appliances, and natural paints. He is a vegetarian, an avid cyclist, ultimate frisbee player, and surfer, and currently lives in the sunny Mission district of San Francisco. Scott is working on his second book, a look at microeconomics in the green sector.In June 2010, Scott launched GreenBusinessOwner.com, a sustainability consulting firm dedicated to providing solutions to common business problems by leveraging the power of the triple bottom line. Focused exclusively on small business, GBO's mission is to facilitate the creation and success of small, green businesses.