Sustainability Means Employees Work Harder for Their Money (and like it)

There is no doubt that the culture of the working environment in America has changed considerably over the last few decades and especially in the last few years. Today, with a lingering recession, it is not unusual to find organizations where morale is low and job security is fleeting.

A disengaged workforce creates serious problems for any company. Strategies to avert this and make people feel included and aligned with the corporate mission is a top-of-the-mind topic in management today. Many young professionals are eager to join companies whose mission goes beyond profitability, where they feel they can make a real difference. Research has shown that employees working in companies that support or serve an environmental or social purpose are in fact more productive. Who doesn’t want a happier and more productive workforce?Many companies believe that green goals impact the attitude of their workers and are seeking out strategies to provide their employees with opportunities to get behind sustainability. Hiring tactics now have to take into consideration the fact that many young professionals are concerned about things like corporate social responsibility and environmental impact as they research their first or next career move. This shift in priorities means that company perks and benefits are changing as well. Padded expense accounts and first class air travel are being replaced by rewards for things like biking to work or purchasing a hybrid car.

eBay, for example, encourages employees to become a part of their Green Team, which started in 2007 as a grassroots effort giving employees the ability to green the company. Google offers gourmet meals made of local, organic ingredients and offers employees discounts who want to go solar at home. Patagonia allows employees to leave their jobs to work for an environmental cause of their choice, while continuing to get their pay and benefits. Clif Bar provides their employees with up to $1,000 annually to make eco-home improvements.

That’s all well and good in high margin industries, but what about the low margin ones, like dairy? Proferssor Ante Glavas of the University of Notre Dame undertook a research project called “Business for the Greater Good,” in which he demonstrated that corporate sustainability impacts employee morale. Glavas and his colleague Professor Matt Bloom have recently teamed up with the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, which is working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from dairy farms by creating sustainable, methane-powered farms.

Together they will survey 1,000 dairy farm, retail and processing employees to assess their motivations and try to determine if employees work harder for methane powered farms that feed cows healthier diets? Glavas hypothesizes that this will in fact be the case.

What I really want to know is, if you work for a methane-powered, environmentally friendly dairy farm where you (and the cows) are happier…does that mean that you don’t mind shoveling manure as much?

Cory Vanderpool joined EnOcean Alliance as the Business Development Director for North America. Prior to this role, she was Executive Director of GreenLink Alliance, a non profit organization dedicated to promoting energy conservation in buildings and tax incentives for building owners. Before establishing GreenLink, Cory worked in business development supporting a government contracting firm focused on civilian and defense markets. In addition to her work at EnOcean, Cory is also pursuing her PhD in Environmental Policy at George Mason University and is a part-time contributing writer at Triple Pundit.

3 responses

  1. Just shared this with classmates in my Sustainability Leadership program…
    Great article, Cory!
    More coverage is needed on engaging the green workforce and creating harmonious work environments.

  2. It seems like there is more and more merging between the for profit sector of and the for purpose space of NGOs and social movements. There’s a lot of talk about making the for-purpose sector more business-savvy, where’s the serious discussion about for for-profit businesses can learn to unlock the power of intrinsic motivation from the people who understand it best?

  3. Thank you for the interesting article, Cory. Dan Pink wrote an incredible book entitled Drive in which he discusses the surprising motivation behind people’s actions. This RSA Animate piece gives an excellent summary of his book and the findings of the many studies he references. In the end he says that if people are paid enough so that income is not a factor, then they are more influenced by autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Check out the video:

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