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Motivating Employees in the New Year: Three Tips to Increase Participation in Sustainability Programs

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Leadership & Transparency
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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.

Avoid one-size-fits-all programs


Workplace needs are constantly changing and so must employee engagement programs, especially those related to sustainability. Sustainability programs are not “set it and forget it,” but should be amendable and reflective of ever-changing workplace needs. While you may initially see high levels of enthusiasm at the launch of the program, like anything, there can be a shelf-life and employees will lose interest if you don’t constantly incorporate easily digestible ways to blend sustainability into their daily work routines.

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.

Celebrate actions taken and goals met


To my previous point, employees need and want to know their individual actions matter. When employees are positively recognized for participating in sustainability programs, it makes even the most mundane process and infrastructure improvements throughout the organization feel gratifying and rewards team work. In fact, countless studies have shown when people feel appreciated and are recognized, they are more engaged, more motivated and more productive; this goes for participating in sustainability programs, as well.

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.

Make the economic case for sustainability

Research shows that a sustainable and energy-efficient business is a profitable business. Your company’s sustainability program will be successful if you can show employees how sustainability efforts directly produce ROI for the business. Continually measuring and communicating progress on key indicators of your company’s sustainability program will reinforce to your employees that achievements in sustainability goals are meaningful for the company’s bottom line, and make smart business sense.

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.

New year, greener work environment


In today's increasingly competitive landscape, many more companies are realizing that being sustainable is more than an environmental gesture — it makes long-term economic sense. Implementing environmental practices is also a great way to let your employees, customers and partners know that your organization takes sustainability seriously and that you really care about the environment.

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.

Image credit: Pexels

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.

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