Empowering sustainable business culture: An employee engagement cheat sheet

In today's fast-paced business world, sustainability has shifted from being a mere buzzword to a cornerstone of organisational strategy. As part of Business Leadership Month, edie outlines three actionable insights on engaging employees for sustainability action.

Empowering sustainable business culture: An employee engagement cheat sheet

Sustainability transcends individual efforts; it demands collaboration across all facets of society. From individuals to teams, sectors to industries, institutions to society as a whole, every stakeholder plays a pivotal role in driving meaningful change.

Yet, becoming a more sustainable organisation goes beyond setting environmental, social and governance (ESG) targets; it requires growing a skilled and knowledgeable workforce capable of translating vision into action.

A survey found that more than half of workers in the UK feel that their company’s climate action impacts their job satisfaction, with one in ten ready to leave their position for one that offers sustainability-related training.

To retain talent and foster long-term growth, businesses must embed sustainability into their culture, operations and business growth models.

Here are three strategies businesses can employ to achieve this goal, while actively engaging their employees in the process.

1). Consider Carbon Literacy training

Earlier this week, edie hosted an interactive webinar on upskilling staff and promoting green jobs, with a curated lineup of businesses that presented concise, action-oriented case studies highlighting their efforts to identify and address green skills gaps within their operations or supply chain.

Among the speakers, Rahul Mohan, the net-zero carbon lead at the Environment Agency (EA), discussed the effective implementation of a Carbon Literacy programme at the EA, to bridge the gap between the organisation’s net-zero ambitions and the existing knowledge and skill levels of its workforce.

The EA has introduced Carbon Literacy training for its staff in collaboration with the Carbon Literacy Trust. This training aims to provide employees with a clear understanding of the organisation’s environmental impact, their individual and collective carbon footprints, and actionable steps for mitigation at work and in personal life.

The training consists of three modules covering climate science, policies, the EA’s net-zero goals, and practical strategies for reducing carbon footprints. Data assessments were conducted to evaluate training effectiveness and identify areas for improvement. Leadership alignment was ensured through similar literacy training for executives to translate discussions into actionable outcomes.

As a result, more than 10,000 employees engaged in voluntary training, with 9,000 completing all three modules and 7,000 achieving Carbon Literacy within approximately two years.

Mohan highlights that the training programme has normalised conversations about the climate crisis, leading to increased resourcing for sustainability roles and empowering staff to propose innovative carbon reduction ideas within their roles.

Building on this success, the EA is now focusing on incorporating nature literacy and exploring ways to engage with other sectors to promote green skills.

2). Clearly define roles and responsibilities

During the webinar, Tom Ebbutt, the Director of Impact at B Lab UK, emphasised the importance of cultivating a culture of sustainability within organisations.

Ebbutt highlighted that drinks brand Innocent utilised effective communication strategies to engage its employees in the B Corpcertification process.

Non-profit B Lab verifies companies across the globe to showcase that they are meeting high environmental and social performance standards, not only through their product or service, but across all aspects of their internal and external practices.

During the certification process, Innocent shared regular updates on its B Corp progress during company meetings. Additionally, Innocent integrated B Corp information into new employee inductions, emphasising the importance of considering environmental and social impact in decision-making processes.

Giving inductions on sustainability to new employees can help strengthen the role of sustainability in the brand’s culture and ensures that all team members understand and contribute to the organisation’s sustainability goals.

To visually reinforce this commitment, Innocent installed two empty chairs in meeting rooms as a reminder to consider stakeholders in all decisions. The company also established a team of employees responsible for updating its B impact assessment (BIA) score annually and serving as ambassadors internally and externally.

3). Incentivise action and reframe conversations

During the SPARK! Net-Zero Action Workshops hosted by edie in November 2023, energy and sustainability leaders from various sectors, along with decarbonisation experts and industry bodies, convened to discuss effective strategies for engaging employees in sustainable practices at one of the roundtable discussions.

In addition to education, participants emphasised the importance of integrating sustainability seamlessly into daily operations rather than treating it as an additional task. One proposed approach involved incentivising employees through pay when they go above and beyond to incorporate sustainability both at work and in their personal lives.

However, caution was advised to ensure that incentivisation does not compromise quality standards, highlighting the need for data-driven approaches to assess the effectiveness of such incentives.

To make sustainability more relatable to employees, the panel recommended reframing narratives. For example, instead of framing sustainability efforts solely as a means to mitigate climate change, pitching ‘climate resilience’ as an investment in ‘future comfort’ could resonate more with employees, emphasising the benefits of sustainability in their daily lives.

This approach not only resonates with employees on a practical level but also instils a sense of ownership and empowerment.

The panel concluded that ultimately, by connecting sustainability efforts to tangible benefits that employees can experience firsthand, organisations can foster a culture of engagement and drive meaningful change from within.

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