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Sustainability and Employee Engagement: Don’t Forget the Fun

3p Contributor | Monday April 21st, 2014 | 1 Comment

Sony Pictures Green OfficeBy Ben Egan

Sustainability is a concept that is supported by 97 percent of top executives, according to a U.N./Accenture CEO study. CEOs like the cost savings that result from sustainability programs because they are immediately measurable. However, there are bottom line benefits that which are more subtle but no less profound.

Chief among these is the impact on employee engagement. In his book “Talent, Transformation and the Triple Bottom Line,” Andrew Savitz lays out how companies with sustainability engagement programs see an increase in employee engagement.

If this is the case, where are all the sustainability programs?

The truth is that it can be difficult to get employees to engage with them. Described below are three successful programs that draw on basic human psychology to achieve their goals.

Gamify your program

It’s become apparent that most of us will adapt our behavior in response to non-financial rewards. These rewards need not be tangible – fun is the key factor. This approach has been commercialized by the computer games industry where it’s common practice to encourage continued play by awarding players with badges and titles and through peer recognition.

Most of us are familiar with the way that game apps like Angry Birds or Flappy Birds award stars or medals depending on how well players complete levels. Players respond to receiving a single star or a bronze medal by replaying the level, seeking to improve their reward. Harnessing gamification can greatly increase employee engagement by motivating employees to make small behavioral changes.

Sony Pictures harnessed gamification as part of its green workplace certification. Employees are rewarded for a range of behaviors from using the energy-saving settings on their computers to getting rid of their own rubbish bin in favor of facilities that separate recyclable material. Their reward includes a series of badges that escalate from seed through leaf and tree to forest.

Sony’s pilot resulted in an average savings of $85 per participant with a cost of $20. The company estimates that the full-scale program could lead to savings of some $300,000. Program leader Eric Johnson says, “Packaging it in a way that is approachable, scalable and most of all fun encourages people to ‘own’ the actions they choose to take on.”

Scoreboards also motivate people to persist to improve their performance by increasing the kudos of high-performing participants. When TD Bank launched The Green Pledge, it encouraged a spirit of friendly competition by creating visual dashboards that let branches compare their performance. One year after launch, almost half the company had committed to reducing their CO2 and paper usage.

Make sustainability a performance measure

The challenge facing all internal initiatives is that they compete with the ‘day job’ – the activities that are measured and rewarded. To introduce a sustainability initiative as an add-on is to consign it to the bottom of task lists.

After noticing that employees were not engaging with the sustainability agenda, Campbell Soup Co. devised a novel approach. A central part is asking in the appraisal form for evidence of activities that employees have undertaken to advance the company’s culture — including corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability.

Campbell Soup VP Dave Stangis gives examples of activities that employees could include in their appraisal form: “Making sure that their workgroup volunteers 20 percent more in their local community with one of our non-profit partners than they did last year … or working on integrating a healthier ingredient into a product next year.”

The key to success is bringing sustainability into individual’s daily objectives. This sets an expectation that sustainability will be measured and forms part of performance appraisal.

Tailoring the program

Businesses determined to increase employee engagement and deliver their sustainability agendas can employ these and other techniques.  As the examples above illustrate, leaders will need to tailor each program to the circumstances of their employees. What is encouraging is how universal the human psychology is that drives behavior.

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures – A Greener World

Ben Egan is a consultant working for UK-based HR consultancy ETS https://www.etsplc.com/ETS are experts in employee engagement, assessment and development working with companies including Vodafone, PepsiCo and RBS.


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  • Andrei Hedstrom

    Ben – great article. I love this intersection – csr, hr and gamification. I have a few blogs on similar topics. I would love to connect if you are interested. I can’t remember if this is one of the sites that blocks comments if there are links so will wait for your reply and send some links to blogs and my company site so you can see areas of synergy. Thanks for the great article.