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Fostering a Sustainable Minded Workforce

This blog is part of our Inspired Ethonomics series. Patti Prairie is the CEO of Brighter Planet, a startup whose purpose is to help manage our environmental footprint, you can follow via their blog

Walmart reportedly spent $30 million to get employees involved with the green movement.  It, and other Fortune 500 companies, are seemingly always in the news with their green teams and employee programs.  So it's a bit surprising to learn in Brighter Planet’s recent nationwide survey that small businesses, not corporate giants with deep pockets and sophisticated consultants, are in fact leading the charge on employee engagement in sustainability.

A record-setting 1,055 respondents from 44 states and Washington, D.C. and from all sizes and types of organizations told us that outfits with less than 100 employees are twice as likely to promote sustainability.  And that their efforts are twice as likely to be effective at changing employee behavior and producing results. 

Given the prevalence of sustainability directors, carbon footprint monitoring, and official sustainability policies at bigger companies, you’d think they’d have the edge.  Not so. 

The #1 difference-maker in work force sustainability effectiveness is communications – both frequency and method.  More is better than less.  Small companies communicate twice as frequently about sustainability as large companies do.  And that’s what it takes. "It's a cultural shift.  It does not and will not happen overnight, but we must work towards it," one survey-taker implored. 

Meetings and social media are better than email.   Respondents ranked email as least effective channel.  Yet companies of more than 1,000 employees primarily use email and internal systems. Small companies use meetings and conversations as well. One-third of respondents said their organization has a method to share sustainability ideas among coworkers.  These respondents are nearly five times as likely to rate their employer’s efforts as very effective at changing employee behavior. 

Employers that encourage the use of social media are twice as likely to be rated very effective in engaging their work force in sustainability.  Some large companies are trying innovative social media practices, as with Pew's Make an Impact or AngelPoints' Personal Sustainability Practice.  But small organizations don't require as much infrastructural investment to promote dialogue.  As one survey-taker noted, "Creativity and information and inspirational leadership are keys to all of this"— and those valued commodities can be more thinly spread at larger organizations.

So what, you ask?  Well, it's not just about sustainability. A recent Gallup study concluded that companies that effectively engage employees outperform others by wide margins, demonstrating 2.6 times higher earnings-to-share growth rates. For any organization that's serious about folding sustainability into its culture, it's becoming clear that engaging employees on the issue can be a major boon for the bottom line.  

See the complete survey results here

[Image: Office Now]

Picture 1Brighter Planet ( helps people manage their environmental footprint.  The clean-energy start-up is pioneering fresh green solutions that are accessible to everyone, fit one's lifestyle, and are fun to share.  To date, more than 150,000 customers have used the company's climate change solutions, the Brighter Planet Visa debit and credit cards and Offsets by Brighter Planet, to invest in reputable American renewable energy projects. 

This is the first post in a series we'll be doing about a new era of climate action, one that is driven by data and values hard information over corporate slogans and press releases. Have an idea for us? Something to investigate? Shoot us a note at