By Gretchen Digby
Consumers are becoming more aware of the impact their purchasing decisions have on the environment, and as a result, many consumers have adopted increasingly sustainable behaviors. In tandem, there has been a strong rise in consumer demand for companies to offer environmentally-friendly products and services. According to Nielsen, 66 percent of consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable brands — up from 55 percent in 2014 and 50 percent in 2013.
These sustainable behaviors also transcend into the workplace: Having employees who are aware and engaged in your company’s sustainability measures is no longer just “nice to have.” It is now a key competitive business advantage. The new year presents a great opportunity to hit refresh on your company’s sustainability goals and allows employees to re-prioritize their sustainability habits. With the spirit of the new year in mind, I’m sharing my top three tips for motivating employees to participate in sustainability programs to help make 2017 your organization’s most environmentally-friendly one yet.
When developing your sustainability program it is also important to focus on the end-goal and provide your employees with multiple options to help hit your goals. For example, if your goal is to reduce employee generated emissions, brainstorm all of the ways employees can easily contribute to the goal in their daily activities. This could include things such as biking to work, creating a carpool club, work from home options and public transportation benefit programs.
Rather than choosing just one tactic, such as a “bike to work challenge,” you discuss the different ways employees can reduce emissions and they pick the one that’s best for their lifestyle. By providing regular updates on emission reductions from all the alternative transportation options, employees will be able to see first-hand the difference they’re making and feel motivated to continue with the program.
When I was activating Green Teams across my company, for example, we created a program where teams could compete for silver, gold and platinum certification based on points earned related to the sustainability activities happening at different distribution, office, sales and service, and manufacturing locations. This encouraged friendly competition among the different regional sites and also helped generate excitement around the program. Employees will feel a sense of pride and “buy in” if the efforts they make internally are recognized by senior leadership in public forums.
It is best to start by setting easily achievable goals, and then becoming more ambitious as confidence and expertise are gained by employees. For example, requiring all printing and copying to be done double-sided, providing refillable pens in the supply cabinet, and turning off unused lights and equipment, are simple possible starting points.
Once an individual understands how his or her role directly contributes to the sustainability program (e.g. turning off all unused equipment when you leave the office for the day) and the overall well-being of the organization (e.g. electricity costs in the plant were down six percent after one quarter), they are more likely to be productive and passionate contributors to the program. In addition, with the better use and conservation of company resources, operations will be streamlined and business costs will decrease.
The new year provides a great opportunity to revisit your company’s sustainability programs and, by avoiding a one-size fits all strategy, celebrating actions taken and goals met, and clearly spelling out the business case for sustainability, you’ll find yourself with a motivated workforce in 2017.
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Gretchen Digby serves as Director of Global Sustainability Programs at Ingersoll Rand, where she establishes world-class internal and external energy efficiency and sustainability training curriculum for the company's 47,000 employees. She also oversees the company’s global network of employee volunteer Green Teams, which have helped reduce the company’s overall environmental footprint, improve employee engagement scores, and increase recognition in communities where they operate.