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Alex Annaev

Why engage employees on sustainability

In 2016, Paul Polman, the CEO of Unilever co-authored an inspiring article, where he discussed “ways to get all employees—from top executives to assembly line workers—personally engaged in day-to-day corporate sustainability efforts”. This, in his opinion, is “the key to creating a vibrant and sustainable company”.

 

 

 

 

To start, you need a business case.

Our ‘Sustainability from within’ survey identified that the key drivers for communicating internally on sustainability are culture, engagement, behaviour change and risk minimisation.

 

Supporting proactive, values-driven culture

Building a shared culture around the organisation’s contribution to society can help companies reinforce their values, improve cross-functional collaboration and create a feeling of belonging. This is especially relevant for businesses with diverse employee groups working remotely or in the field.

The leadership of a company plays a vital role in the communications strategy. Sustainability messages coming from the CEO can also help harmonize culture with a newly acquired entity.

Culture starts with simple things, such as an induction training or welcome package that includes embedded messages on sustainability.

Driving employee engagement and loyalty

According to Global Tolerance, the majority (62%) of millennials want the company they work for to make a positive impact. That is why career websites increasingly feature sustainability policies and case studies. This is one of the many trends we are investigating in our upcoming flagship digital research publication.

The public demand for sustainability also explains the fact that some CEOs are ‘taking sides’ on burning issues in the context of polarised political climate and science denials. A recent example of this is Patagonia suing Donald Trump.

Driving employee engagement and loyalty

According to Global Tolerance, the majority (62%) of millennials want the company they work for to make a positive impact. That is why career websites increasingly feature sustainability policies and case studies. This is one of the many trends we are investigating in our upcoming flagship digital research publication.

The public demand for sustainability also explains the fact that some CEOs are ‘taking sides’ on burning issues in the context of polarised political climate and science denials. A recent example of this is Patagonia suing Donald Trump.

Advancing sustainability objectives

According to Bain’s research, employee engagement and interest is the second greatest factor contributing to success of sustainability programmes. This factor depends on whether employees understand what a particular sustainability initiative means for them whether they are empowered to make a difference. You need something that would excite people and stick to their minds over a long period. Objectives need to be supported by an effective engagement communications plan to help deliver success.

Minimising risk

After the infamous United Airlines dragging incident, the company lost over £250m in capitalisation and had to run an apologetic campaign. To prevent such incidents from happening, companies should go beyond informing and training employees on ‘the right things to do’. With the CEO leading by example, employees should be empowered to be advocates of ethics, health and safety rather than fear to be penalised for misbehaviour.

To build the business case, sustainability communicators should focus on clearly articulating ‘reasons’ or drivers for doing it. Identifying hard KPIs on sustainability communications is a difficult exercise, as they are unique to each company and its goals. However, placing tangible value on it has a transformative impact when it comes to building the case with senior managers.

How can we help? If you would like to build a business case to engage employees on sustainability, or run a campaign, get in touch with Alex Annaev

Read the full Sustainability from within report here.