“The suggestions from building occupants can get pretty overwhelming – how can I be responsive, as you recommend, when we can’t address everything immediately?”

Solicit Employee Suggestions

I did a talk last week at the Behavior Energy and Climate Change (BECC) conference where I shared the results of our analysis of participant suggestions in 2016. (We looked at the thousands of suggestions for reduced organizational waste and financial savings that participants submitted via our platform; you can access our related white paper here.)

In my talk I emphasized how important it is for green teams and sustainability leads to solicit and act on employee suggestions. The company’s big goal to reduce water usage by 20% is easily undermined by the dripping faucet or always-running toilet that employees encounter on a daily basis. Yes, the bathroom fixtures might be trivial compared to other water usage but it’s what people see and every time they see it they doubt that their company’s commitment to reducing waste is real. And that means it’s important for sustainability leads to hear and act on employee suggestions.

BECC draws a great combination of practitioners and researchers so I was delighted that the first question I got was from a sustainability lead who appreciated my point but struggled to see how it could happen in her real world where she had limited resources to address big goals.

Hear and Heed to Engage Employees

Ultimately I suggested that she think about it in terms of engagement rather than resolution. It is impractical to think she can address every employee idea immediately. She should, though, heed these ideas and, as much as possible, engage with the people offering suggestions. In the case of easy fixes like bathroom fixtures, quick resolution and a ‘thanks for letting us know!’ can reinforce that the bigger commitments are real. When issues are more complicated (related to bigger processes or energy sources, for example), a good first step is a thanks coupled with a quick summary of the company’s current priorities. Something like:


Thanks for suggesting we address waste in procurement—I appreciate the examples you provided! Right now we’re focused on reducing our own water consumption but I’ll share your thoughts with our team as we look at priorities for next year. If we decide to create a team to look at procurement would you be interested in participating?


Thanks for reaching out! You’re right that it would be amazing if we could power all of our corporate operations with solar power from the roofs of our buildings. At the moment, though, our overall energy usage is about 3X what we could produce on our roofs so our #1 focus is on reducing energy consumption. That way, ideas like yours can become reality longer term. If you have thoughts or ideas on how we might reduce our energy consumption, do let me know. And thanks again for taking time to share your thoughts!


Responses like these reinforce that you heard the suggestion and that you’ve thought about how it fits into current priorities. These responses enable the person making the suggestion to see how their ideas can fit into the bigger corporate sustainability goals, helping them to see how they are part of the solution.

Sustainability leads have opportunities every day to empower their colleagues to see how they can be part of the company’s sustainability efforts. If you have questions about how you could make this happen in your organization, get in touch—we are happy to share ideas!

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