Engaging Employees in Going Green
Discover ten ways to develop a workforce that values good business ethics and corporate responsibility.
Develop a workforce that understands the importance of good business ethics and corporate responsibility.
Improving employee engagement in greening your business can lead to a more motivated, productive, and dynamic workforce – one that understands the importance and value of good business ethics and corporate responsibility.
This guide presents ten proven ways to engage employees in your company’s environmental and social goals. It is based on 30 years of academic and industry research and is designed for HR managers, trainers, and employees responsible for health, safety, and the environment.
Why Go Green?
Companies have at least four reasons to improve their impacts on the environment and the community:
1. Cut costs. Replacing lighting fixtures alone can reduce a company’s energy use by 25 to 30 per cent.
2. Increase revenues. Customers will pay up to 10 per cent more for products that are green (e.g. made from recycled materials) or ethical (e.g. fair trade).
3. Find and keep great employees. Employees look for social responsibility and environmental commitment when selecting employers. Because finding qualified workers is a top priority for Canadian small business owners, being good to people and the planet is no longer just “nice to do.” For further reading, view "Three Reasons Job Seekers Prefer Sustainable Companies."
4. It’s Good Business. Governments, suppliers, customers and employees are talking about the role companies play in the environment and society. Smart business leaders want to be part of that conversation.
What Success Looks Like
Signs of Engaged Employees
Engaged employees understand that financial, environmental, and social issues are connected, and believe their organization is addressing all three. These are signs employees are engaged in environmental and social goals:
The HR manager hires people who are committed to customers, employees, and the environment.
Employees are rewarded for reaching environmental targets, such as reducing waste or energy use.
Employees build the company’s sustainability values into their personal lives, choosing to carpool or bike to work, volunteer in the community, pack lunches from home, etc.
Salespeople know the environmental and social impacts of the company’s products or services (e.g. their carbon footprint or energy consumption, whether they were produced locally or are fair trade). They use these qualities to distinguish their company’s products or services from competitors’.
Front-line staff regularly identify ways to reduce energy or water use.
Staff make business decisions based not only on profit potential but on what is “the right thing to do.”
Employees engage in community initiatives such as park beautification projects and fundraisers.
When considering products from new suppliers, purchasing managers automatically screen the products to see if they meet the company’s environmental or ethical criteria.
The president (or another senior employee) drives industry-wide efforts to improve the environmental or social impact of the entire sector.
Ten Ways to Engage Employees in “Going Green”
Begin where you can and continue to add activities. More tactics will help you make environmental and social concerns a central part of your workplace and enable you to find and retain great employees.
1. Be a Role Model
Don’t just say it, do it. Be the first to ride your bike to work. Sort your lunch waste into garbage, compost, and recyclables.
2. Start at the Top
Signal the importance of environmental and social commitments by putting senior people in charge of projects. Ensure company-wide environmental committees include senior staff members. Assign major projects, like going carbon neutral or environmental auditing, to the most senior operations person.
3. Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
Allocate time and money to environmental and social initiatives. Give employees company time to participate in volunteer projects. Buy energy efficient equipment or lights. Buy carbon credits to offset your firm's greenhouse gas emissions. Offer employees flexible work hours or mobile work options.
4. Put It into Writing
Policies make your corporate values explicit, clarifying expectations and helping employees make better decisions. Update your corporate values to include social and environmental goals. Publish “green” goals on your website. Create policies and codes of conduct that support your goals. Include “green” successes in your annual report.
5. Build Sustainability into Day-To-Day Operations
Set thermostats one degree closer to the outside temperature. Reduce paper use by printing less. Turn off lights and electronics when not in use. Conduct life cycle assessments on key products and work with consultants or industry peers to reduce their impacts.
6. Make It Someone’s Job
Ensure employees are responsible for environmental and social performance. Create a new role dedicated to sustainability, or build the duties into an existing position (e.g. in health and safety or human resources).
7. Provide Training
At new employee orientation, teach employees about the company’s environmental goals and why they matter. Train employees on issues specific to their jobs, such as waste management, health and safety, and sustainable procurement.
8. Explain How It Affects Them
Employees may view environmental or social programs as unwelcome additions to an already-full workload. Explain how the programs relate to their roles. For the financial officers: show the dollar savings you expect to get from investments in energy-efficient equipment. For the sales reps: explain how volunteering with a local community group will improve customer loyalty.
9. Assemble Champions
Engage employees of varying seniority throughout the company. Programs that are not just “top-down” get more employee buy-in. Find employees who are already passionate about your environmental or social goals and encourage them to build a “Green Team” that reports to you or senior staff.
10. Let Employees Experiment
Encourage employees to figure out how they can make a difference and let them try out new ideas. Let them organize zero-waste lunches or toy/food drives, sponsor local sports teams, raise money for disaster relief, serve meals to homeless or at-risk youth, or participate in a fundraising walk. Encourage employees to suggest ways of saving energy or reducing waste in their day-to-day work.
Armed with these 10 tips, your company can boost engagement in sustainability issues and benefit from a talented and committed staff.
Successes in Canadian Retail, Services, and Manufacturing
The full guide (PDF) presents three success stories from Canadian firms who have succeeded in engaging employees in sustainability.
Kal Tire built environmental and community stewardship into its culture since the company’s founding nearly 60 years ago. Learn the specifics of Kal Tire's approach to greening its workforce.
Canadian football team, the Montreal Alouettes, formalized its commitment to environmental sustainability in 2008. Learn how the organization drove employees to make sustainability the standard way operating.
Artopex Inc., a Quebec-based furniture manufacturer, was on the path to sustainability well before its first official sustainability report. Learn how environmental management systems and certifications like ISO 14001 helped shape the company's sustainability culture.
About this Guide
This guide is based on research by our team and Dr. Stephanie Bertels, Associate Professor, Beedie School of Business, Simon Fraser University.
The following people contributed to this guide:
Jean Barbeau, Artopex Inc.
Marc Brazeau, Automotive Industries Association
Diane Brisebois, Retail Council of Canada
Rob Grand, Grassroots Store
Brenda Jones, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers
Bob MacDonald, Wakefield Canada
John MacDonald, Ideal Supply
Kevin McCarty, Kal Tire
Derek Nighbor, Food & Consumer Products of Canada
Cheryl Paradowski, Purchasing Management Association of Canada
Rémy Paré, Montreal Alouettes
Michael Vandenbergh, Vanderbilt University