The Importance of Employee Engagement in Sustainability

While you may have recognised the work needed to make sustainability a priority in your organisation, setting goals and implementing company-wide practices to achieve these can be challenging.

engaged employees in an organisation

Getting your employees on board and aligned in working towards your sustainability initiatives will be vital to your success, but where do you start?

In this article, we’ll explore the following:


Why Communication Is the Key to Sustainability Success 

As the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aim to create positive change for everyone, working towards these goals should be a collective and unified effort.

Unfortunately, the discussion on climate change and sustainability has, up until now, been led by an exclusive audience. It lacks the diversity of opinion, stance and voice needed to encourage big-picture thinking and positive action.

If companies are now prioritising making positive changes for all, then a crucial part of their mission should be to inspire every team member to work towards these shared goals. The only way to facilitate this is by building an inclusive community where everyone feels equally supported, providing a platform for open and respectful communication.

By communicating clearly and working together, company sustainability initiatives can be delivered more effectively, efficiently and in a way that benefits everyone.


How to Create Alignment Between Personal and Organisation Goals 

Research conducted by the National Environmental Education Foundation shows that almost 90% of employees engaging in their organisation's sustainability efforts say it enhances their job satisfaction and general feelings about the company.

If an employee can find alignment between their values and the company’s collective goals, they're more likely to be happy in their role and more likely to be invested in seeing the organisation succeed on the sustainability front. 

Executives and owners must lead by example when delivering sustainability initiatives. It's common for employees to initially be sceptical about the organisation's motivations for promoting sustainability. As a result, leaders' actions to impart best practices will speak much louder than words and will play a significant role in demonstrating the core values to employees. 

Here are some actions you can take to help bridge the gap between your employees' values and your organisation's practices to develop a culture that values sustainability.


Tips for Boosting Employee Engagement

Define Your Long-Term Purpose

One of the best ways to help employees close the gap between their values and work duties is by clearly outlining the organisation's larger purpose and long-term goals. 

It's a good idea to be as specific as possible when outlining your purpose. While making improvements for global communities, the planet and the economy are all positive actions to strive towards, citing this as your organisation's purpose isn’t enough. 

If you’re hoping to empower your employees to actively participate in and support your company’s sustainability mission, you need to ensure the goals you outline are measurable, time-bound and achievable. 

Your long-term purpose can be built into your strategy and brought to life through the service you provide. Your aim will naturally be built upon several factors, including:

  • Your model and value chain
  • The service you offer to the public 
  • Your organisation's scale and influence in the industry
  • Your core competencies
  • The concerns and aspirations of your organisational leaders, stakeholders and employees

Now more than ever, people yearn for purpose in their work. They want to feel like they’re making a difference and companies can achieve greater success by delivering this for their employees. With your social purpose clearly outlined and carried forward through branding, employees are given something more tangible to hold onto in their efforts to improve sustainability. 


Clarify the Economic Impact of Your Environmental Goals

To make sustainability a success in your organisation, employees must see the potential for these initiatives to help do good for the planet while simultaneously achieving organisation-wide goals. 

You can do this by making some changes to your planning process, including: 

  • Engaging all employees in addressing universal environmental challenges 
  • Conducting an in-depth analysis of the ways your organisation's processes impact the environment 
  • Draft goals which consider your environmental objectives and your targets for sustainability 
  • Ensure everyone is allowed to review your goals and objectives, and the underlying analysis 

By following a process that offers transparency and a sense of unity for all employees and stakeholders, everyone can understand the environmental drivers behind each goal and the business and societal benefits. 

When IBM adopted this approach, they found that facilitating this level of understanding helped generate sustained support from leadership and increase employee engagement. 


Empower Your Employees to Learn More About Sustainability

Many sustainability initiatives require specialised knowledge and expertise. For example, when talking to suppliers about sustainable sourcing or using an eco-efficiency tool to evaluate a new product.

But it's important to remember that all aspects of business are impacted when working towards sustainability goals, from energy consumption to procurement.  

To see your sustainability goals reached, you must empower employees across all business areas by providing sustainability training and development. You should also address your processes and make changes that make it easier for employees to incorporate sustainable practices in their everyday work. 

Brands such as BASFIBMMarks & Spencer and Nestlé are already ahead in this area and now enable sustainability decisions to be made on a larger scale. 


Create Sustainability Champions

While organisation leaders need to drive their sustainability initiatives with action, it's equally crucial that sustainability as a purpose is valued at all levels. Actual change doesn’t just come from the top; it has the most significant impact when it receives widespread support. 

To successfully deliver your sustainability agenda, you need team members who believe in it. For example, Unilever’s commitment to sustainability and training has encouraged almost 80% of their 170,000 employees to believe their role enables them to contribute to the company’s sustainability goals. 


Work Together to Cocreate Best Practices

Engaging employees in the early stages and encouraging co-creation regarding company practices is a great way to embed sustainability in your ways of working.

Allowing ideas to bubble up from the bottom and receive support from the top will lead to greater variation and higher deliverability. One example is Marks & Spencer's in-store clothes recycling boxes — an idea put forward to the company board by an employee, successfully generating support for Oxfam.

Once your employees begin to see their ideas can positively impact the company's social and environmental investments, they'll start to believe in the role they have to play and will likely gain more confidence in pursuing and submitting creative ideas. This can only happen if you provide a support framework where employees feel their thoughts and opinions are welcomed.


Encourage Healthy Competition

Another method for generating a can-do attitude among your employees is to create a culture of healthy competition between colleagues. Competition can stimulate creativity and the qualities needed to thrive in competition — such as a willingness to push boundaries, trust team members and work together to solve problems — are the same as those needed for delivering sustainability and innovation goals.


Aim for Total Transparency 

Once you've outlined how your sustainability initiatives will be tracked and measured, it's important to communicate internally and externally how the organisation is performing in these areas. 

Remaining transparent about your efforts externally will encourage public trust. Internally, it'll act as a means of motivation, opening the discussion for potential areas of improvement when things don’t quite go to plan and enabling employees to be praised for their efforts when things go well.


Learn More From the SUSTx Community  

Looking for further advice on how you can boost employee engagement for your sustainability goals? 

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