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Employee Engagement Key to Sustainability for Tech Networks of Boston


Editor's Note: This is the second post in a three-part series featuring Tech Networks of Boston. In case you missed it, you can read the first post in the series here

In part one of this series, we described how this small, Boston-based professional information services company has built sustainability into its strategy from its inception in 1994 with a commitment to making its own operations as resource-efficient as possible.

Founder and CEO Susan Labandibar understood that engaging her employees in the company’s sustainability strategy would be critical. From the beginning, she has adopted a hiring process that ensures staff additions share her passion for maximizing human and environmental resources, and maintained a commitment to building a culture that maximizes the value generated by its human assets. “This commitment is a key element of a genuinely sustainable business strategy,” Labandibar stated.

However, the obvious benefits of this type of strategy are frequently overlooked or even ignored. Supported employees who feel that they are fairly treated, enjoy their work environment, and appreciate what the firm stands for in its approach to customers, the community in which it works and the natural environment are more productive in their work and remain with the firm over a longer period.

Employee retention is significant in financial terms. The cost of finding, hiring and training professional staff is estimated by human resource management firms to be 1.5 times the base salary of an employee. This measure does not include the lost productivity or the negative impact on clientele due to staffing shortages.

Landibar has learned that it is not a given that employees will embrace the principles of sustainable business. If people are feeling uncomfortable about some aspect of the business, that is not the time to bring up a new sustainability-focused initiative. Moreover, employees like to feel that a proposed sustainability initiative is relevant to the company’s business in some way; an effort to engage her staff in the plight of Orangoutans “backfired,” according to Landibar, because the staff couldn’t relate to it. “We have continued to evolve the program so that staff honestly feel as if they are part of the efforts,” she says, “and that these are efforts they can be proud of.”

TNB has employed many of interns over the years and made a point of utilizing them in the early years to be the point persons for both internal and community-focused sustainability initiatives. It was not until 2006 that the company formally brought on a sustainability specialist.

Landibar is a firm believer that small businesses have a key role to play at the local level in helping each other to understand the clear benefits of sustainable business practices. She has used her own experiences and leveraged TNB’s employees and interns to find ways of communicating this message to other local business and other organizations. This effort has resulted in the creation of several startups to further drive specific messages on the value of sustainability in the local business community. These startups include:

  • Climate Action Liaison Coalition (CALS), which works with small and mid-sized businesses to build internal, metrics-based, sustainable businesses; acts as a political advocacy platform; and works to foster strong ties to local communities.

  • Southie Trees, an environmental initiative aimed at preserving and maintaining trees in the South Boston area.

TNB has never had a formal Green Team but is now making use of CALS to, for example, help establish a baseline and metrics tracking system for a variety of sustainability parameters as required by their recently achieved B Corp status.

Another example of how TNB seeks to engage others in the local business community in the value of sustainable business practices is its series of IT Roundtables for non-profit organizations. There is a strict company policy that meat is not served at these roundtables or other company functions. This policy ensures any waste is wholly compostable, supporting one of the firm’s core principles of treading lightly, and demonstrating to others how they can do the same.

Part 3 of this series will show how sustainability has been a key factor in helping TNB identify new business opportunities and expand its revenues. Stay tuned! 

Image courtesy of Tech Networks of Boston

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Sustainability4SMEs: Graham Russell & Martha Young

Graham Russell brings 25 years of CEO experience in the environmental services industry to his current role as a sustainability professional. He currently teaches sustainable business in the University of Colorado, Denver MBA program and chair’s the School’s Managing for Sustainability Advisory Council. He provides sustainability and cleantech consulting services to SMEs through TrupointAdvisors and is on the board of the International Society of Sustainability Professionals.

Martha Young has been an industry analyst and writer for 20 years. Her expertise is in small and mid-sized businesses, information technology and energy. Young co-authored four books on virtual business processes (cloud computing), and project management for IT. She is on the board of two small Texas-based businesses, and acts in a technical advisory and business strategy capacity for an east coast venture capitalist.

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