By Ron Loch
Attend a sustainability conference and you are likely to find at least one discussion panel or presentation dedicated to the “green” consumer and what it takes to motivate people to embrace sustainable choices. While much of the discussion revolves around product marketing, the 2013 G&S Sense & Sustainability® Study suggests internal communications may be even more effective in driving behavioral change.
“Consumer” is a term for such a diverse group of people it’s hard to make general assumptions, but there is a common title that more than half of U.S. adults share – employee. According to a study conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Gibbs & Soell, a global business communications agency, when employees engage in sustainability activities at work, 73 percent are more likely to become sustainable consumers at home, and 80 percent are more likely to encourage others to behave more sustainably.
It’s been well documented that engaging employees in sustainability activities at work helps improve organizational productivity, employee satisfaction and talent retention. Now we find that engaging employees in sustainability also translates to more advocates of sustainability at home and in the community.
Unfortunately, not enough employees are feeling engaged. Of the more than 1,000 employed adults surveyed, 63 percent said that no one at their company is responsible for corporate sustainability, or they are not sure who is. Nearly 70 percent also said they wished their employer engaged in more sustainable business practices and less than half felt their company does a good job of communicating about sustainability.
However, their desire to learn about responsible corporate behaviors doesn’t stop with their employer. Among employed adults, there is also a strong link between knowledge gained about a company’s sustainability efforts and their intent to purchase from that company. Three-quarters say they would be more likely to buy a company’s products or services if they learned it was making a greater effort to adopt environmentally-conscious practices.
Certainly, marketing communications is a key component for educating consumers about sustainable choices, but it’s important that companies don’t lose sight of those consumers they influence from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. As the G&S Sense & Sustainability Study demonstrates, an investment in employee engagement clearly pays dividends externally as well as internally.
Ron Loch is principal and managing director of the Sustainability Consulting Practice of Gibbs & Soell, a business communications firm. He is a co-author of the annual G&S Sense & Sustainability Study, which gauges the perceptions of more than 2,500 consumers on business efforts to develop sustainable products, services and practices.