By Natalie Smith
A focus on reducing your company’s environmental footprint is no longer just a nice to have – in today’s business environment, it should be a mandatory part of your corporate responsibility program. Not only do your external stakeholders expect you to care about your environmental impact, but your employees do as well – especially younger employees. Michelle Nunn, CEO of the Points of Light Institute, describes embracing environmental sustainability as a basic requirement for attracting and retaining younger employees as well as customers.
Most corporate responsibility initiatives are initiated at and driven from the top down, which means they often compete with other business concerns for attention. If you really want your environmental programs to take firm hold – water the roots. Ask your younger employees what they think is important, what they see that could be changed. Does your company use too much paper? Are your kitchens and coffee stations stocked with Styrofoam? Does the sales team waste gas with inefficient routes? Chances are, your employees have noticed. Ask employees what they are passionate about – or frustrated with – and use those areas as starting points for your efforts.
Like other company initiatives, environmental programs must have support from the top levels of the organization if they are to be successful. But once that support is articulated, green efforts will spread more quickly if they are driven by employees. Identify employees who are passionate about environmental sustainability and ask them to lead a Green Team. Identify a company leader to serve as a path-clearer for environmental efforts and put a loose structure for employees to generate ideas and put them in place. Then set your employees loose to develop goals and a path forward.
When employees are engaged in identifying areas for improvement and developing solutions, they’ll talk to their coworkers about what they are doing. This type of peer-to-peer discussion serves as subtle pressure for other employees to support the program. No one wants to be the only employee in a group who refuses to recycle his aluminum cans or turn off the conference room lights. The Green Team concept also can spur competition between units and locations, encouraging even greater engagement.
Finally, remember that employees – especially Millennials – like to be recognized for their contributions. Share the company’s progress; let employees know how much money, energy or natural resources you have been able to save. Offer a “green progress” award to work units. Ask employees to vote on the initiatives they think are the most creative. Recognition can be large or small, but if you ignore it altogether, employees will get the message that environmental efforts are not important to the company.
If a greener workplace is your objective, hand your employees the shovel and watering can and see what grows.
Photo courtesy of Haverford College – http://www.haverford.edu/