Two years ago, when the concept had just started to really gain traction, we reported the results of a survey conducted by Brighter Planet on engaging employees on sustainability issues. The company just released an update to that study which includes responses from employees at some of the companies leading corporate sustainability efforts including Walmart, UPS, and Coca-Cola. Since the first survey two years ago, employee engagement practices around sustainability have become increasingly more common and organizations are seeing and monitoring the impact of these programs. The results of the study suggest three surprising trends that sustainability practitioners should take note of:
- The results aren't all positive. Although more than half of the employers in the survey are frequently promoting sustainability within their organizations, most still lack official engagement policies, and fewer programs were rated as effective at actually eliciting the desired behavior from employees. According to Brighter Planet, this could be the result of companies not implementing best practices established by the leaders in the space; or, it could be that employees have been slow to adopt the newer programs. Regardless, there is the possibility that ineffective programs could undermine the progress made so far on employee engagement overall and threaten the effectiveness of this approach to implementing sustainable practices.
- Effective programs go beyond traditional issues. The more effective engagement programs promote action from employees on a variety of different issues. Instead of focusing narrowly on more traditional green office initiatives like recycling, energy use, and commuting, the best programs go a step further by giving more attention to emerging sustainability issues such as water use, sustainable procurement, and business travel. It's possible that by expanding the breadth of their initiatives beyond the status quo, these companies are demonstrating to their employees a more serious commitment to sustainability as well as a more innovative approach which is likely to inspire greater motivation and action.
- Data and information are key to success. Of all the organizations surveyed, those that collect and report data relevant to employee engagement efforts were three times as likely to have a program that was rated as "very effective." This includes information on employee sustainability efforts, data on the organizations environmental footprint, and on travel and commuting. The number of employers that are collecting this type of data also increased 15 percent since 2009. In addition, the programs that empower employees to share sustainability-related ideas with each other had a strong correlation to overall program effectiveness.
Although employee engagement is becoming increasingly mainstream, it is still a young tool, and the effectiveness of different approaches vary widely. As companies implement and refine their employee engagement efforts, it's important that they continue to collect the kind of feedback that this survey from Brighter Planet provides so they can continue to improve their programs.
Kara Scharwath is a corporate social responsibility professional, marketing consultant and Sustainable Management MBA Candidate. She is currently working as a Graduate Associate in Corporate Citizenship at the Walt Disney Company while pursuing her degree at Presidio Graduate School. Follow her on Twitter @karameredith.