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The Guardian Rates Sustainability Employee Engagement Programs

This post is part of a series on Stakeholder Engagement sponsored by Jurat Software.
Employee engagement is a term that's thrown around a lot as a reason companies should be more sustainable. Because it is perhaps considered a "soft" management science, it risks being viewed as a fad in the fickle business community (TQM, anyone?).

Recently, the Guardian (UK) ranked some of the best sustainability employee engagement programs by companies in its directly named "Sustainable Business's Engaging Employees" awards. Burt's Bees, which has a mandatory sustainability training program all employees must take for up to 30 hours per year, was a co-runner up in the final analysis for some of their programs, but the winning entry was Marks & Spencer, perhaps because its metrics have been so much better quantified. Burt's Bees' 30 hour requirement allows its employees to enroll in training programs in environmental stewardship, social outreach, natural wellness, and leadership. Employees can study subjects as diverse as conservation and honeybee biology (that may well be unique to Burt's....this author is unaware of any other company that offers bee health education to its employees...).

In addition, Burt's makes the critical step of aligning financial motivation for its employees with sustainability metrics, with pay being at least partially aligned with measurable company performance. The company matches energy offsets for employees at their homes, and subsidizes bicycling to work. (I know...everyone reading this is opening another window to Burt's Bees "jobs" section as we speak....and that was the runner up!).

The winner of the contest was Marks & Spencer, the UK's largest clothing retailer, whose Plan A initiative has 180 clear, measurable commitments the company wants to achieve by 2015. Results speak for themselves. Plan A has improved such metrics as fuel efficiency on clothing deliveries (30%), reduction of carbon emissions per square foot (20%), and energy efficiency in stores (19%).

The effect on employees? According to Adam Elman, head of delivery for Plan A, new recruits are impressed by Plan A, and often cite it as the reason they're applying for work at the company. In addition, store Plan A champions are increasingly moving into the management development program in the company, allowing M&S to retain good, motivated talent. Elman, in fact, calls it the "most successful motivational and change management program ever delivered within M&S."


Scott Cooney is the author of Build a Green Small Business (McGraw-Hill), and teaches sustainable business web classes through GreenBusinessOwner.com, including an upcoming class in employee engagement.

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Scott Cooney headshotScott Cooney

Scott Cooney, Principal of GreenBusinessOwner.com and author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill, November 2008), is also a serial ecopreneur who has started and grown several green businesses and consulted several other green startups. He co-founded the ReDirect Guide, a green business directory, in Salt Lake City, UT. He greened his home in Salt Lake City, including xeriscaping, an organic orchard, extra natural fiber insulation, a 1.8kW solar PV array, on-demand hot water, energy star appliances, and natural paints. He is a vegetarian, an avid cyclist, ultimate frisbee player, and surfer, and currently lives in the sunny Mission district of San Francisco. Scott is working on his second book, a look at microeconomics in the green sector. In June 2010, Scott launched GreenBusinessOwner.com, a sustainability consulting firm dedicated to providing solutions to common business problems by leveraging the power of the triple bottom line. Focused exclusively on small business, GBO's mission is to facilitate the creation and success of small, green businesses.

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