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Best Practices That Motivate Work Associates And Customers To Go Green

Words by Bill Roth

Motivating customers and employees to change their behavior to align with sustainable best practices is a major business challenge. This article is the first of a three-part series profiling proven best practices that make money and reduce environmental impacts by motivating work associate and customer behavioral change.

This first article profiles experiences to date on what works and what doesn't work featuring an exclusive video interview with Annie Longsworth, CEO of Saatchi Saatchi S on how her firm is making sustainability irresistible. The second article will feature a company called Practically Green and its founding CEO Susan Hunt Stevens who pioneers the use of gamification to make change a fun and competitive Farmville-like experience. The final article profiles Caesar Entertainment and an exclusive video interview with VP Gwen Migita on their Code Green program that provides a compelling case study on how reducing a company's environmental footprint can achieve measurable cost savings.

What doesn’t work
When a person’s or organization's beliefs and sense of security are challenged, it creates resistance which impedes change. The fundamental question for motivating change is how to make a new behavior so compelling that employees and customers find it irresistible. Answers to this question are now emerging from companies that are succeeding in adopting sustainability into their work environment and product offerings.

A starting point is to recognize what does not work. One non-starter is to attempt to inspire change by explaining the facts. It seems logical that if people just knew the facts they would change. Yet market research confirms that facts do not motivate most people to change.

Shame or fear also do not inspire change. The world may be cooking itself to a harmful result but pointing fingers or preaching a message of doom has not proven to motivate change. For example, market research shows that while we do not feel good about throwing away plastic bags, convenience wins over shame. The message of saving the planet from global warming loses to a promise of lower gasoline prices by drilling for more oil. The bottom line for a business is that facts and finger-pointing do not deliver change motivation for most employees or customers.

What does work: Four keys to implementing behavioral change The key elements for realizing behavioral change are:

Personal. Associates and consumers in the United States are motivated to adopt sustainable behaviors based upon “in me, on me and around me” personal benefits. The key to changing behavior is to answer the question: “What’s in it for me?”

The good news is that in most organizations there are a growing number of employees (and customers) led by the Millennial generation’s focus on their future. Gaining their support and leadership is a key best practice for engaging others in changing their behavior toward sustainable best practices.

Best Practices. Positive results happen when a change process is simple to understand and act on. A CEO mandate that the organization must cut CO2 emissions by 20 percent can feel overwhelming and even threatening. The whispered typical responses I hear from such mandates are “What am I supposed to do, not use my computer, not fly to see clients or stop coming to the office?”

What is working for companies achieving employee engagement on sustainability is taking the CEO’s vision and breaking it down into simple steps. Change is enabled when every employee is able to point to one measureable best practice they should adopt to help implement the company's sustainability program.

Choice. Force can create change. This type of change is called malicious compliance. Empowering customers and employees is the more lasting path to change. Innovation is often the positive byproduct of empowerment that a command almost never delivers. Companies that are making progress implementing sustainability are using Green Teams of employee volunteers empowered to choose, discover and implement their path toward behavioral change.

Real. While 70 percent of companies have adopted sustainability into their strategies, it is ranked eighth in importance based on the survey results of the third annual Sustainability & Innovation Global Executive Study jointly produced by MIT Sloan Management Review and the Boston Consulting Group that surveyed 2,800 managers in 113 countries.

Today, for most companies, solving root cause problems pales in comparison to making the quarter’s sales and profits goals. Attempting to make sustainability and organizational change more than what it is in this type of near-term performance environment endangers the ability to win and retain support with employees, especially senior management. One of the most important tasks in attempting to motivate change is to be realistic. The adoption of sustainability for most companies is an incremental process focused upon changes that deliver results to a company’s bottom line. This is not necessarily bad. It is real.

How to make sustainability irresistible
Annie Longsworth is the CEO of Saatchi Saatchi S, a company recognized for its work with Walmart, successfully engaging over 1.3 million Walmart associates in their development of a personal sustainability promise. Annie is also a world-class market researcher who has pioneered insights on what is motivating consumers to go green. Annie is a leader I look to for answers on how a company can make money going green. The following interview, conducted at Sustainable Brands 2012, is a must-watch short video on some of her proven best practices for motivating work associates and consumers to find sustainability irresistible.


Bill Roth is the Founder of Earth 2017. He coaches businesses on proven best practices in pricing, marketing and operations that make money and create a positive difference. His book The Secret Green Sauce profiles business case studies of pioneering best practices that are proven to win customers and grow product revenues.

Bill Roth headshotBill Roth

Bill Roth is a cleantech business pioneer having led teams that developed the first hydrogen fueled Prius and a utility scale, non-thermal solar power plant. Using his CEO and senior officer experiences, Roth has coached hundreds of CEOs and business owners on how to develop and implement projects that win customers and cut costs while reducing environmental impacts. As a professional economist, Roth has written numerous books including his best selling The Secret Green Sauce (available on Amazon) that profiles proven sustainable best practices in pricing, marketing and operations. His most recent book, The Boomer Generation Diet (available on Amazon) profiles his humorous personal story on how he used sustainable best practices to lose 40 pounds and still enjoy Happy Hour!

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