5 ideas to extend employee engagement and mainstream sustainability
Sustainability often becomes a buzz word among governments, businesses and even within households.
‘’I do practice meat-less Mondays’’
‘’I only ever use reusable mugs for my coffee’’
‘’Our company has a CSR policy’’.
Yes, these things matter, and yes, these things are positive contributions to sustainability. But it may be edging towards something to make you look good, as opposed to doing the Earth good.
The world is waking up and realizing that sustainability matters, but is it becoming a term used to appease shareholders, appeal to activists or attract consumers?
Or are businesses actively incorporating sustainability within their agendas? Integrating it across business operations, employees’ radars, and internal processes?
The answer is yes and no. I know, bit of a cop out. The truth is that so many businesses are doing so many great things to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals, to ensure they are being sustainable and fighting climate change. But often, it’s an afterthought, something they do to comply, an added extra, a nice to have.
But this focus needs to transition away from a particular department, often put on the health and safety managers agenda. Towards an integration across a business’s operations. Embedded within their core agenda and strategy, not a side hustle.
Now I know this is easier said than done. Businesses require improved government support, enhanced legislation, and clarification on the actual meanings of sustainability, net zero, greenwashing.
While the government plays catch up, here I suggest employee engagement as one step in this environmental tool kit towards mainstreaming sustainability, something which most businesses have the capacity to implement themselves.
5 ways to effectively engage employees in sustainability:
Educate your employees on sustainability, the Sustainable Development Goals and how they can actively contribute to reducing climate change. It is important to remember that everyone learns in different ways, so it is always best to provide your employees with a variety of different educational materials and tools. This can include online learning materials, webinars, educational modules and quizzes or even presentations.
Once employees understand a bit more about sustainability and certain actions to contribute, as a business it is imperative to provide them with the tools and resources to fulfil those actions. This may require things such as financing, internal policies and improved work culture, but may also require more creative and innovative ways to facilitate action. This may include setting up dress up days, photography competitions, team volunteering days, foodbank drives. The list goes on and on.
As a business, it is important to inspire your employees. This often comes from top-down leadership. Businesses are often in the unique position to inspire, influence and instigate action across a large scale. Be a role model not only for your employees, but for other businesses. The best way to do this is by not just talking the talk but walking the walk. Effective leadership will transpire into effective action, and your employees will want to do good too.
As a business, it is imperative to communicate and collaborate with your employees. Employee engagement goes beyond merely talking at your employees but talking with them. Having open and transparent conversations allows employees to feel included, willing to share ideas about how to integrate sustainability across the business. This may even extend further than just employees. Collaborate with other businesses, consultants, even charities. Get your employees involved in these external partnerships. Your business can never fully mainstream sustainability without the collaboration and support from your employees. So get talking!
Lastly, it’s important to understand that sustainability is everchanging, and as such it may be a long process to fully mainstream across a business. But that doesn’t mean it cannot or should not be done. Thus, it’s important to develop processes and frameworks to continuously engage employees, as opposed to one off conversations or events. Within this, it’s important to show employees the progress your business is making, to monitor success and identify improvement areas. This will keep them motivated and show them the continue support from the business.
Employee engagement isn’t a panacea, but rather an effective starting point for businesses to mainstream sustainability and away from buzzwords. It can help ensure everyone across the business understands the importance of integrating people, planet and profit, to ensure we continue doing the Earth some good.