Building a Committed Community: 9 Tips for Communicating Sustainability in the Workplace

Engaging employees in sustainability initiatives can be hard. RoundPeg offers nine tips to help you develop credibility and encourage participation in sustainable behavior.

Bikeguy-at-workIf your company is working to operate more sustainably, you may be struggling with engaging employees in these efforts.

 Most organizations take the “if we build it, they will come” approach to rolling out sustainability programs. But employees traditionally don’t look to their employer to help them live more sustainably. Even worse, many see organizational initiatives as being more of a PR move than a genuine effort to improve more than the bottom line.

 So, how do you let your staff know that you’re serious about sustainability AND get them to actively participate in programs and contribute to initiatives? Try these nine tips.

 1.  Be clear about what you’re trying to accomplish

Staff will be much less likely to question your motives if you’re up front about why sustainability is important to your organization. Sharing specific, tangible goals (e.g., increase use of public transportation by 40%) will motivate staff to join in the effort. Show your people that you’re integrating these objectives into operations: tie them to overall business objectives and performance evaluations and implement relevant policies and procedures.

 2.  Make it personal

If you’re trying to encourage behavior change in the workplace and beyond, you need to make the benefits relevant to staff as individuals. Take time to discover what your employees need, value and want. What’s in it for them? What will happen if they don’t engage in sustainable behaviors? Use this information to communicate with them on a more personal level: appeal to values and egos, bribe shamelessly and develop incentives to encourage participation.

 Think about how you can make it easy for employees to act more sustainably. Want people to stop drinking bottled water? Stop supplying it and provide reusable water bottles.

 If you’re not sure what will be meaningful and easy, ask your staff. Including employees early in your planning – and on an ongoing basis – builds enthusiasm and buy-in. Add a question about sustainability attitudes to required reports or host a lunch to get feedback on ideas for reducing employee consumption.

 3.  Recognize achievements

Positive reinforcement is much more effective than guilt. When we feel good about doing something, we’re much more likely to keep doing it.

 Recognition can range from a simple staff sustainability superstar profile in the employee newsletter to something more involved like company-wide contests. Contests are a great way to incentivize participation and encourage healthy competition amongst coworkers, while bringing colleagues together and allowing you to recognize more people at different levels.

 Whatever you do, make it fun and positive!

 4.  Take a holistic approach

Most organizations we work with are eager for immediate change, but behavior change takes time and requires a sustained, holistic approach. If you do one project here and there – or let programs lapse – you’ll never gain momentum and staff will have a hard time seeing how these efforts relate to larger goals.

 Plan for multi-faceted communications over time, with each touch point reinforcing the last. Coming at it from different angles allows you to communicate with a variety of employee types, while connecting the dots between specific initiatives.

 5.  Be consistent

When your sustainability communications hang together, employees are more likely to recognize how these efforts compliment and build on each other toward your shared vision.

 Establishing a personality, voice and tone to apply to all communications is a good first step toward consistency. Use these to inform creation of core messaging for your sustainability program. If possible, create a visual look and feel to provide consistent visual cues and make sustainability communications easy to recognize. This might include a logo(s), iconography, color palette, typography and photographic image styles.

 Think about who will develop and use the sustainability and wellness “brand” elements and be sure they have the resources they need to do so effectively. Consider having an orientation, followed by regular check-ins with this group to discuss how it’s going, exchange ideas and identify new elements to consider.

 6.  Don’t reinvent the wheel

Look at how your organization currently operates and identify areas for change. Then, review how you already communicate with staff and infuse sustainability messaging into those existing channels. Add a rotating tip to the homepage of your company intranet, create a folder of tools and resources on the shared drive or add a regular column to your eNewsletter.

 Getting creative with even the most ordinary communication can send big signals to your people. Why not record volunteering hours on paystubs or provide managers with a menu of brief sustainability impact statements for meeting agendas?

 Also think about everyday actions and insert communications at the point of impact. Healthy lunch ideas posted on the refrigerator and stickers on copiers encouraging double sided printing are easy, low-cost ways to encourage positive behavior where and when staff can take action.

 7.  Keep it simple

In all of your communication, don’t get bogged down with endless lists and background info. Unless they’re seeking out information for a specific purpose, your staff will likely be skimming whatever information you provide. Offer manageable bits of information. Avoid jargon. Include a call to action.

 8. Evaluate and update

Create momentum by regularly sharing the impact of efforts with staff. While large, formal reports may be helpful to show the cumulative effect of accomplishments, don’t wait to tell employees the impact of their actions. Share the good and the bad. Be sure to respond to feedback, and let them know that you’re making changes based on their input.

 Updating staff means that you’ll need to think about how you will measure and evaluate sustainability efforts from the start. This may also help you think through how to structure programs, contests, outreach, etc.

 The effort you put into measurement and evaluation now will save you time and money in the long-run by helping you identify where to keep putting resources, what to tweak and when to refocus.

 9.  Be Patient

Don’t throw in the towel if changes aren’t noticeable right away even if people seem enthusiastic. Remember that behavior change takes time. While sustainability may be a high priority for your organization, it may not top the list of things competing for the time and attention of your employees.

 Continue to talk to staff to find ways to reduce any barriers to their participation. When you get discouraged, keep in mind the long-term impacts on the health and wellbeing of your employees, your company and your planet.


 Anne Boyle is Partner + Director of Strategy at RoundPeg, a consulting firm that helps organizations committed to social good communicate better. They develop brands and campaigns for clients working for a more sustainable world. RoundPeg is a certified B Corporation and a Benefit LLC. Contact Anne via, learn more at, and connect with RoundPeg @roundpegcomm and via

4 responses

  1. I agree with keeping it simple and engaging employees. Once you have a few who start,
    others usually follow. If you want a great team building effort to engage staff that will
    include sustainability please visit I and others in my
    office have volunteered for this international event since it started two years
    ago. The Green Apple Day of Service, which will take place on Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014,
    gives parents, teachers, students, companies and local organizations the
    opportunity to transform all schools into healthy, safe and productive learning
    environments through local service projects. Be sure to check out project ideas, pick up helpful event resources, read about last year’s impact, find an event in your area
    and register your 2014 project today! Sorry for the shameless plug for something I enjoy each year.

  2. I think, too, if an individual takes on a small task him or herself to recycle stuff that is normally thrown out in the trash, it behooves that person to alert one’s supervisor what is going on. Several years ago, I had a temp job at a local company. When I saw people putting used manila envelopes in the trash, I asked if anyone put them in the recycling bin. When folks looked at me quizzically, I took it upon myself to do just that. And I put the envelopes in the recycling bin on my way out of work.
    But, I didn’t ask any supervisors if that was “ok”.
    Come to find out people thought I was taking information home with me…
    I tried to explain what I was doing, but perhaps the damage (distrust) was already done.

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