CEF Spotlight

Four Keys to Leading-Edge Sustainability Engagement Initiatives

By Susan Stevens, Founder & CEO, Practically Green

The Chief Sustainability Officer of one of the world’s largest companies recently told me how excited he was that 13,000 employees around the world had joined their green teams.  “That’s great,” I replied—because it IS great.  But my next question highlighted the challenge anyone attempting to engage employees in their sustainability initiatives faces.  “How are you reaching beyond those 10%?” I asked.  He admitted it’s a struggle.  “Can you measure what they are doing and the benefit?”  He said no.

The great news is that there are emerging, exciting solutions to those problems. A combination of forces—ubiquitous digital access, big data, and the consumerization of corporate technology—are rapidly opening up exciting new opportunities for organizations to more broadly engage employees, measure the benefits of their actions, and influence what they do next.  In the sustainability field, this convergence is particularly valuable as companies increasingly recognize that they won’t reach their sustainability goals without broadly changing their organization. And that comes down to changing their people.

So what are the key components of a leading edge sustainability engagement initiative?

1. Make it accessible: It’s about engaging your workforce when it makes sense for them, and at the place they are already spending time—which for many employees is their inbox, their intranet, and their phone. For companies with line workers, field sales, retail employees or even workers on different continents, a successful sustainability initiative should make all employees feel like they can participate and contribute at a time and place that works for them. In many instances, that may mean tapping into the power of mobile platforms—as was the case with one company we’ve worked with whose casino workers don’t work in an office or sit behind a computer. Mobile solutions can also enable employees to participate when they have some downtime and access to their phone.

2. Make it social: Bring recognition to the everyday actions that may otherwise go unnoticed. Most people may not know that their coworker has reduced the power settings on their computer, or carpooled to work. By highlighting these individuals and the actions they’ve taken, it begins to create new social norms. This is one of the main principles behind the work of professor Robert Cialdini, author of “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.” Cialdini argues that people are more likely to do something that they see other people doing. This is one of the main attributes of our Practically Green platform, and one that continues to be a significant driver for our clients to help their employees take that first step towards sustainability, and then the next.  It also strongly encourages employees to invite and share their successes with colleagues, fueling growth beyond the 10% of “naturally inclined” employees.

3. Design it for behavior change:  Programs that are designed with behavior change at the core are much more effective than pure content-based or simple generic pledge programs.  We leverage BJ Fogg’s behavior design model that focuses on understanding when motivation is key for change, when ability is key and then identifying the right triggers for each user to drive action.  In the sustainability context, if you are trying to get people to turn off lights and shut down computers and equipment, our platform will focus on motivational elements to make that happen.  The elements range from game mechanics like points, levels and team challenges to more social elements like positive feedback and context based reminders—like seeing that 20 people you know have already shut down their computers.  When desired changes have ability-based barriers, we focus on developing content to help solve the problems—crowd-sourced “How Tos”, success stories, recommended solutions, and direct connections to peers who might be able to help.

4.  Measure the benefits:  These capabilities are still emerging, but a digital platform like ours can not only drive and measure participation and engagement, but also show how the actions of one user or group influenced others to take action.  And today, we can also show the environmental or other benefits of the collective actions and the return on investment.  To justify investing employee engagement, this data is really valuable.  However, we are even more excited about what’s coming.

We foresee a day when the engagement program connects to the real-time building and systems data to connect the dots into a great feedback loop that in turn, can drive behavior change.

Finally, we believe there is a very powerful network that is emerging when companies collaborate, similar to participation in the Corporate Eco Forum.  Our clients have started to share their programs with other clients, along with other best practices in program marketing and measurement that make the entire network smarter.

So the day is now here when Sustainability Officers everywhere can start to say that the majority of their employees are engaged, the changes they are making are vast, and the bottom and top line benefits are measurable.

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