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 viability.
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 counterparts.
- 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]