Corporate sustainability leads often spend a lot of time on technology—identifying the upgrades that will reduce water, energy and emissions. At one level that focus makes sense, especially right now when there’s so much emerging opportunity around smart devices.

Amid the enthusiasm for technology, though, it’s important to remember that people—employees—are at the core of every operation.

People Can Build a Culture of Sustainability

  • An entity might do amazing things to reduce its carbon footprint but if salespeople can’t talk about those results with curious customers the company might well miss business opportunities.
  • Similarly, if HR doesn’t talk about the company’s efforts it is likely that the company will lose out on potential recruits, especially millennials who prefer purpose-driven work.
  • And most importantly, if rank and file employees aren’t engaged in corporate sustainability goals they won’t help sustainability leads identify the innovations that will making achieving those goals a reality.

In addition to achieving outstanding reductions in energy and water use while reducing landfill waste and emissions, the ideal corporate sustainability lead must capture hearts and minds internally in the process. Sustainability leads ought to be on a quest to build a culture where sustainable practices are the new normal, where everyone understands the corporate objectives and employees throughout the organization are committed to doing their part to achieve those objectives. Leads need to build a culture where everyone is proud of what the company has accomplished and excited to be on the team that will achieve the next round of milestones.

Employee Engagement is a Process

If that sounds like a huge challenge, we’ve good news for you: inspiring people is easier than you might think.

  • To get people excited about what the company’s already done you need to make sure they know what’s been done—which means providing a compelling story. The trick here, of course, is telling a story that’s compelling to the audience versus the one that’s compelling to you. While your ears might well perk up when someone mentions BTUs, it’s likely that the folks in sales and HR have different interests. Tell the sustainability story in a way that’s compelling to them, so that they are excited to re-tell it. That might mean talking about energy savings in terms of the annual usage of a nearby community, for example.
  • To increase understanding of corporate objectives, similarly, you need to make efforts relevant to rank and file staff. In our experience it’s helpful for people to look at reducing waste in their personal lives and then to connect that to the company’s efforts—very often this creates an “aha” moment where employees feel connected to CSR objectives.
  • To engage people in being part of the solution, provide very visible celebrations of the good work some folks are already doing to help. Positive reinforcement is the absolute best motivator—if you call out one person for their contributions it will motivate others to contribute, while also reinforcing the behavior in the recognized staffer. The more you recognize people the more you’ll find opportunities for recognition, which means more and more people will be vying to be part of the solution.
  • To keep the motivation going, eliminate contradictions that undermine your message. If you are on a quest to cut overall energy usage then you will want employees to see all kinds of evidence that the company is reducing its usage. Too often silly stuff—lights left on in storage areas, wasteful procurement practices—can undermine the message you are promoting. When employees point out these anomalies thank them and address the issue, even if it’s minor. Yours is a quest for consistency.

Engaging hearts and minds is, of course, a process. It won’t happen overnight and ultimately you’ll never be really done. It’s critical, though, that you get started so that you can achieve the aggressive goals ahead of you.


For more information on changing hearts and minds, check out our related webinar or contact us to talk about how Cool Choices can help you engage employees around sustainability.

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