Employee Engagement and Climate Change – Creating an Organisational and Environmental Win-Win

Sustainable life media logo2 Sustainable Life Media breaks down the best way to increase employee engagement in environmental initiatives. Many of the strategies the author recommends to communicate with, educate and measure the employees can, in a broad way, be used as tactics in engaging any audience in climate or environmental issues.

Posted May 27, 2010
By Thomas Miner, Sustainable Life Media

When organisations think about designing a suitable sustainability or
carbon management strategy, more often than not the primary emphasis is
placed on the external communication of these initiatives. Whilst no one
is denying that external stakeholder audiences, especially customers,
are important groups for tailored communications, this article examines
how companies should effectively engage with internal employees as well.

The five pillars of employee engagement

We have found through our work with clients over the last decade that
there are five key principles that need to be addressed in order to
achieve maximum employee engagement.

  1. Consultation
  2. Communication
  3. Education
  4. Measurement
  5. Participation

There is no short cut or quick fix to building and maintaining an
effective employee engagement strategy, but by integrating the
activities outlined above, companies can create comprehensive and
compelling reasons for employees to get involved in climate change and
truly change behaviours.

Consultation – creating a feeling of ‘buy-in’

When dealing with internal audiences creating a feeling of ‘buy-in’ is
key to the success of any organisational climate change campaign. To
really obtain commitment to achieving success, it is vital that
employees are represented at the very beginning of the process, e.g.
when outlining the environmental objectives of the organisation, and are
continually updated throughout the entire campaign.

For example, when carbon offsetting is part of a climate change
strategy, employees can be part of the ‘decision making’ team that
selects the types of emission reduction projects a company invests in.
Increasing the likelihood that employees will feel connected with the
development of the project and the surrounding communities that benefit
as a result.

Communication, communication and more communication!

It’s imperative that from the outset of any organizational initiative
the objectives are clearly communicated to employees. This is also true
for a company’s climate change strategy – if you want to instigate real
change throughout the organization, everyone needs to understand the
goals and what behavioural changes are required to make significant
reductions in carbon emissions. The environmental goals must be
continually evaluated and reassessed, and there must be an ongoing,
two-way communication between senior management and employees.

For any communications strategy to be truly effective it will need the
input from a host of different organisational functions and an
integrated mix of communication channels and tools. A great example of
mixing communication channels is Sony, who distribute an in-house
environmental magazine called ‘Eco Press’, as well as holding regular
‘Environmental Summits’ attended by the organisation’s most senior
management team and other international exhibitions, events and web
conferences in order to communicate Sony’s environmental initiatives
across its entire business. Furthermore, Sony launched an employee tour
of a consumer electronics recycling factory – helping engineers learn
about environmental design.

Education – filling the knowledge gap

In recent years, environmental issues have risen up political and
corporate agendas and employee knowledge levels relating to climate
change have significantly improved, however it is still a complex topic
that in many cases requires further education.

Companies that instigate climate change initiatives and educate their
employees about the complexities often have the highest level of
engagement. For instance, NEC, the global IT Company, believes that all
of its employees should conduct their work with a high level of
environmental awareness and has implemented various education and
awareness raising programs to get them involved. In particular, all new
employees experience environmental training which is then customised to
their specific job function. This training ensures that employees
understand how their own jobs directly relate to the wider environmental
goals of the organisation and their unique contribution to the process.

Measurement – if you don’t know your environmental impact how
can you change it?

If employees don’t understand how their activities impact the
environment, how can they be truly incentivised to change? Monitoring,
recording and communicating the company’s impact on the environment are
very important, alongside promoting employee change outside of the
organisation.

InterfaceFLOR has implemented a programme that recognises that
organisations have a role to play in changing employee commuter habits
and have thus extended its ‘Cool Carpet’ initiative, by adding another
programme called ‘Cool Co2mmute’. The programme provides employees with a
carbon calculator that allows them to measure the level of carbon
emissions resulting from their commute and take measures to reduce them.
For the proportion of emissions that cannot be reduced, employees can
purchase carbon offsets and InterfaceFLOR provides a contribution to the
overall cost.

Participation – Reinforcement, recognition and reward

The concept of reducing emissions needs to filter through the whole
organisation in order to achieve a company’s defined carbon emission
objectives. If real behavioural change is to be achieved and sustained
over the longer term, reinforcement, recognition and reward of those
behaviours needs to continually take place.

WSP was the first company in the world to develop a personal carbon
trading program for its employees called the ‘Personal Carbon Allowance
Trading’ (PACT). This involved employees signing up to the program on a
voluntary basis, whereby WSP gave each employee a carbon allowance of
5.5 tonnes, together with an online tool to measure their carbon
footprint from home, energy and travel over the course of the year. At
the end of the year, staff that fall under this target, and so are in
the carbon ‘black’, are paid 5p per kilo under the threshold, up to
£100. Those in the carbon ‘red’ pay into the fund on the same basis.
Spare funds are used to help staff be green at home and to make the
scheme carbon neutral.

Every organization is different, and to engage employees effectively
around a climate change and carbon reduction program a company needs to
tailor a strategy that ultimately works for them.

  • However, there are ten clear elements
    that must be considered:
  • For employees to really ‘believe and
    buy-in’ the drive needs to come from the board level.
  • Be clear about the organization’s
    motivations and ensure every claim will stand up to scrutiny.
  • Get the mix and the timing of internal
    communications right.
  • Be consistent, logical and holistic –
    eliminate contradictory signals.
  • Ensure that the messages conveyed to
    employees are coherent and that your internal and external faces are
    aligned.
  • Educate employees to guarantee buy-in
    and stimulate real behavior changes
  • Make it simple and easy for employees
    to understand and appreciate.
  • Be open, honest and transparent.
  • The positive impacts from changes in
    behaviour must be communicated to the staff.
  • Make it fun! Reducing your emissions
    should be an enjoyable uplifting experience.

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