By Amber Nicholson, Director, Corporate Sustainability
Following the lukewarm results of COP27, the global alarm has been sounded as the world gets closer to surpassing the 1.5-degree target needed to prevent the worst impacts of climate change. Year after year, more commitments are made to lower emissions, conserve resources, reduce waste, clean up air and water quality, prevent deforestation and overfishing, conserve biodiversity, and the list goes on and on, without enough action. You might read the news and understand that we need to do something, and fast. You might think that there’s probably someone, somewhere working to address these challenges, or even hope that there’s a corporate sustainability team at your own organization that’s fighting the good fight. But here’s the thing: building a more sustainable future is a team effort – it’s time for everyone to hop on board.
While there are major benefits to having a dedicated sustainability team or even a Chief Sustainability Officer – a role that has seen major growth, tripling across companies in 2021 alone – it’s the broader employee base that often goes unleveraged. Unlocking this potential is key to achieving meaningful impact and transformation, no matter the size of your business or where you are in your sustainability and climate journey.
We’re here to untangle the process of how to strengthen your company’s sustainability efforts without leaving anyone behind.
Top 3 reasons why you should engage your employees on sustainability
- Improve processes and foster transformational change from the inside out
Your employees have a unique point of view and intimate knowledge of your business operations and procedures. Engaging with employees from the get-go provides the opportunity to approach sustainability from new angles with fresh perspectives and diverse opinions. This can result in process improvements and cost savings. Take your production-line employee who knows your manufacturing processes inside and out; this is the best person to tell you if there are opportunities to change the way your product is made, like turning equipment off during down times to save energy, or flagging if there are any water or air leaks. They may have ideas for the product or packaging design, reducing the required inputs or waste that result from the creation of your product. By engaging employees from across your organization, you open the door to creative solutions.Employees want to help: eight out of 10 employees are ready and willing to take action on climate in their job, and 45% are willing to go further to become climate and sustainability champions. You and your team don’t need to be climate scientists or sustainability experts to make a difference. Your biggest asset in the fight against climate change is your team of allies who are willing and ready for change.
- Create space for cross-company collaboration and creativity
Sustainability teams are often small but mighty. Even if you already have a corporate sustainability team, they may lack the resources they need. Recruiting other colleagues to join the larger conversation is a major benefit to taking the first steps in implementing company-wide change. Facilitate this effort by creating the space for cross-company collaboration. And if you don’t already have a sustainability team, start the important effort yourself! When employees get together to work on this common goal, it helps to reduce silos and infuses sustainability and climate action into your company culture. Employees can also drive widespread change by sharing their learnings and efforts with other team members, families, and friends. It only takes one drop to create a ripple!
- Attract talent, retain employees, and amp up your competitive advantage
Purposeful engagement is also a great way to attract and retain employees, because sustainability is in the forefront of employees’ minds and will only become more so in the future. We are in a very tight labour market and the war for talent is on, so it’s important to recognize that job seekers are increasingly seeking out organizations with sustainable practices and climate goals. In one survey, 40% of respondents said they had accepted their job from multiple offers based on how their chosen company performed on sustainability. This differentiating factor is only continuing to grow. With Millennials and Gen Z now making up more than 50% of the workforce, it is vital to reach this demographic as well as other purpose-driven folks. 64% of Millennials wouldn’t accept an offer from a company that isn’t socially responsible. It is also crucial to keep the loyal workforce and talent you have for long-term success. Nearly 70% of respondents said that if a company had a strong sustainability plan, it would positively affect their decision to stay with that organization. From a competitive advantage, it only makes sense to align with this expanding desire to prioritize climate and sustainability from current and prospective employees.
How to engage your employees on sustainability
The advantages of engaging your team and aligning on climate actions are clear, but how can you help grow sustainability champions within your organization? Below are a few top tips on how to get started.
- Create a shared language
Start by amalgamating the educational tools you need to advance your team’s sustainability literacy. Creating a pool of shared resources will allow everyone to build a common baseline of knowledge. This will help your team get on the same page about your overarching sustainability goals (the why) and what each individual can do to contribute (the how).
Key action #1: Incorporate introductory sustainability and climate training into your onboarding process and make sure all employees have access to the learning materials on an ongoing basis. This doesn’t need to be complicated: a short video can communicate the message loud and clear, and help employees understand their role in the larger picture.
Key action #2: Hold targeted listening sessions and conversations to meet your employees where they’re at in their own sustainability journeys. An open approach will help give you insight into your employees’ values and how that relates to their roles. This will provide you the chance to make important linkages between your team’s work and the climate and sustainability efforts you’re undertaking. For the employee, it connects the dots between how they are best suited to contribute to your common goals and shows how they can infuse sustainability into their everyday work.
- Develop a sustainability performance metric
You have an opportunity to engage on sustainability from the very start of the hiring process and through annual or ongoing performance reviews. Embedding sustainability into your company’s culture is a sure-fire way to keep everyone motivated and aligned on your climate targets.
Key action #1: Add a sustainability pillar into your company’s mission, mention it in your job descriptions, and even incorporate a few sustainability-focused questions in your interviews when hiring. This will help you attract talent that is engaged on these topics and driven towards a common purpose.
Key action #2: Include sustainability as a performance metric on annual evaluations to embed it into everyone’s role and give them the opportunity to tailor it to their own level of expertise. This helps to align the performance metric against your company’s mission, vision, and/or values, which should include sustainability. For example, Delphi client, The Co-operators, uses this language: “All staff that are directors or above should exhibit the ability to make strategic decisions that have social, economic, and sustainable impacts to the organization.”
- Communicate and motivate
Transparency is key. Employees need to see what work is being done to know how they can participate. Communicate openly and frequently about the good, the bad, and the ugly. Share your successes and failures so that your team can grow from the lessons learned – and don’t forget to celebrate the “small” wins!
Key action #1: Develop employee-wide communications, such as a newsletter, to share these stories on a monthly or quarterly basis. Here you can highlight sustainability champions in your organization, provide resources on climate action, and share noteworthy news updates.
Key action #2: Start developing your internal resource hub where employees can go to find best practices, success stories, and external learning tools. Check out Project Drawdown’s Table of Solutions, Climate Solutions at Work, or WWF’s Living Planet @ Work as examples of what to include.
Key action #3: Remember to have fun! Climate change doesn’t have to translate into climate grief. Keep employees engaged through sustainability contests, communication campaigns, and creative conversations. Reward those who participate in activities related to your mutual purpose, such as online courses, volunteer time, and carbon removal activities.
To adapt in a rapidly changing environment, we need to meet our targets for a more sustainable world. Moving the needle on sustainability and climate requires collective action and ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard. It’s not only possible but ideal to get everyone on board. Leveraging the wide breadth of skills, ideas, and passion from within your organization will drive purposeful impact that is designed, driven, and home grown – making a better world for everyone.
Amber Nicholson is a Director of Corporate Sustainability at The Delphi Group. Learn how we can help you meet your corporate sustainability, net-zero, and ESG goals by reaching out to Amber at firstname.lastname@example.org.