10 Best Practices for Supporting Green Teams

By Deborah Fleischer, Green Impact

There seems to be a growing buzz about green teams these days as companies struggle to find the best way to engage their employees in sustainability. GreenBiz.com and Green Impact recently released a new report Green Teams: Engaging Employees in Sustainability–a great resource for companies and organizations just beginning to think about creating a green team and for those ready to take their existing program to the next level.

Based on interviews with green team leaders from Intel, Yahoo!, eBay and Genentech, as well as a review of the latest literature on employee engagement and green teams, the report provides an overview of the best practices companies are using to support and guide green teams.

It makes the business case for green teams, includes tips for getting started, identifies four emerging trends and details 10 best practices for supporting green teams.

What is a Green Team?

Green teams are self-organized, grassroots and cross-functional groups of employees who voluntarily come together to educate, inspire and empower employees around sustainability. They identify and implement specific solutions to help their organization operate in a more environmentally sustainable fashion. Most green teams initially focus on greening operations at the office, addressing such issues as recycling in the office, composting food waste, reducing the use of disposable takeout containers and eliminating plastic water bottles.

This focus on operations is evolving and some green teams are beginning to focus their efforts on integrating sustainability into employees’ personal lives, while others are bringing consumers into the equation and aligning their efforts to support broader corporate sustainability objectives.

Getting Started

A green team often starts off with a few passionate employees going to HR and creating a green employee network or club. They go through a company’s formal process to charter a team and give the group an official status within a company. These groups typically are not linked to corporate sustainability priorities and self-organize to work on issues they are interested in. Funding and executive support can come from a combination of facilities, the corporate sustainability officer (CSO), environmental health and safety (EHS), human resources (HR) or the corporate foundation.

Another mechanism for creating a green team is for the CSO or EHS department to formally sponsor a team and act as a hub by providing priorities, structure and resources. Leading companies are supporting their green teams by providing Web 2.0 tools to encourage communications and dialogue, convening the teams to share best practices, creating tool kits to get them started and training them on how to be sustainability change agents.

Some companies have dedicated paid staff to support their green team, while others have a voluntary leader. In some cases, the volunteer leader is on the corporate social responsibility (CSR) team.

A hybrid structure is evolving where a “corporate green team” is created to bring representatives from key departments together to help implement and support strategic corporate sustainability initiatives. They also act a cross-functional umbrella group to screen ideas that are suggested by green teams, identify resources to support new initiatives and help to link green team activities with corporate sustainability objectives.

Four Emerging Trends

Four key trends emerge as one reviews the best practices of existing green teams:

  • Focus on internal operations: Many green teams initially focus on ways to improve internal operations, addressing such issues as energy and water use, recycling in the office, composting food waste, reducing the use of disposable take-out containers and eliminating plastic water bottles, without a formal link to corporate CSR priorities.
  • Reduce employee footprint at home: Some companies, such as Wal-Mart, have focused on providing employees tools and resources for being more sustainable in their own lives. Other companies such as Hewlett Packard, Genentech and Yahoo! provide resources and tips for employees to be greener at home. The theory here is that if you can get employees excited and engaged in their personal lives, it will translate into bringing a sustainability lens to their day-to-day work.
  • Bring consumers into the equation: A few companies, including eBay and Intuit, are linking their consumers to green practices and helping them reduce their footprints, strengthening relationships with customers.
  • Link to corporate sustainability goals: Larger companies, such as Intel, Genentech, eBay and Yahoo!, are working to maintain the grassroots energy of green teams, while at the same time linking their efforts to broader corporate sustainability goals. In addition to their informal green teams, Intel has created three Sustainability Action Teams to help engage employees on key corporate sustainability objectives, such as reducing energy consumption. And while the informal teams still have the latitude to pursue their interests, they are encouraged to help educate employees and raise awareness on key strategic issues.

Best Practices

The report concludes with a detailed summary of 10 best practices for green teams, with specific examples from leading companies. The best practices detailed include:

  1. Start with the visible and tangible: focus on internal operations
  2. Get senior management involved, but don’t lose the grassroots energy
  3. Engage employees to capture ideas
  4. Communicate and share best practices
  5. Engage employees with their bellies: the low carbon diet campaign
  6. Engage employees in their personal lives
  7. Engage customers to be part of the solution
  8. Use art to raise awareness
  9. Create a toolkit to support and guide green teams
  10. Align green teams with corporate sustainability goals

Download the report to learn more about these best practices and for a comprehensive list of available resources on employee engagement and green teams.

Resources for Learning More

Deborah Fleischer is president of Green Impact, a strategic environmental consulting practice that helps companies engage employees, strengthen their relationships with stakeholders, develop profitable green initiatives and communicate their successes and challenges. You can follow her occasional tweet @GreenImpact or contact her directly at Deborah@greenimpact.com.

Deborah Fleischer is founder and president of Green Impact, a strategic sustainability consulting practice that helps companies walk the green talk. She helps companies design and launch new green strategies and programs, as well as communicate about successes. She is a GRI-certified sustainability reporter and LEED AP with a Master in Environmental Studies from Yale University and over 20-years of direct experience working on sustainability-related challenges in both the public and private sectors. She brings deep expertise in sustainability strategy, stakeholder engagement, program development and written communications.Deborah has helped to design and implement numerous successful cross-sector partnerships and new green initiatives, including the California Environmental Dialogue, Curb Your Carbon and the Institute at the Golden Gate.She has helped create lasting alliances among such organizations as Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy with companies such as Disney, Arco, Bank of America and Passport Resorts.You can follow her occasional tweet @GreenImpact or contact her directly at Deborah@greenimpact.com.

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