Last month, a Green Research report
on the results of a sustainability survey of large companies revealed that 88
percent plan to invest significantly in employee engagement in 2012. That’s a
striking statistic, especially at a time of belt-tightening in response to
continued economic woes.
But what it reveals is that leading companies are waking up
to the reality that employee sustainability engagement holds promise not only
for an organization’s environmental sustainability, but also for its economic
The motivations behind sustainability programs are telling.
In a recent survey of close to 1000 employees, Brighter Planet found that
organizations’ emerging drivers for these initiatives include investor
pressure/corporate accountability, and product development. While PR/marketing
still tops the list of motivators, the shift signals a deeper integration of
sustainability beyond simple lip service.
Of course, the recipe for green engagement isn’t necessarily
intuitive. While the vast majority of employers promote staff sustainability in
some way, few do so with much success. And in fact, while more and more
employers are promoting conservation in the workplace, some measures indicate
they’re actually becoming less successful–the number deemed “very effective”
or “somewhat effective” dropped 8 percent between our 2009 and 2011 surveys.
There’s a wide gap between the green engagement programs
that are actually providing return and those that are proving ineffective. Three
key differentiators of the most successful programs are:
- Leadership. While many employees said they
thought bottom-up sustainability organization would work best, the reality is
that top-down initiatives are far more successful. Organizations where
management is the main sustainability advocate twice as likely to have very
effective programs, and organizations with official employee sustainability
engagement policies are three times as likely.
- Subject matter. The most effective programs
focus more on emerging green issues like procurement, water use, and business
travel than programs that promote sustainability just as frequently but less
effectively. But they’re no more likely to promote traditional sustainability
issues like recycling, energy use, and commuting than their less successful
- Quantification. Sustainability is no exception
to the maxim that management requires measurement. Employers that collect data
on the organization’s footprint and employee sustainability efforts are roughly
three times as likely to have a very effective program. And this group is
growing, with the number of employers collecting these data increasing 15%
since 2009, to three in ten.
[Image: Flickr user simonpais]