How to engage employees in sustainability
According to a recent study, 84% of employees believe companies are responsible for addressing environmental issues; yet despite this clear desire to see their employers do more to reduce their footprint, engaging employees around sustainability has proven incredibly challenging for many businesses.
Decades of corporate inaction and greenwashing have led to scepticism, while an influx of ever-evolving and complex information has left employees confused about where and how they can drive change.
In our latest webinar, People Made co-founder Brook Calverley teams up with our partners Toni McKee (Director of Stakeholder Engagement) and Richard Dixon (Chief Digital Officer) at Black Sun to discuss how businesses can better engage and motivate their employees around sustainability. As part of the Positive Change Group, both agencies are passionate about driving change through engagement and culture, to create real impact.
Here are the top 5 learnings from the session:
1. It all starts with a plan.
It might sound obvious, but the first step to engaging employees is to know, as a business, where you truly are now and where you want to go. That means having a clear and considered sustainability strategy, one that aligns with your overall business strategy to define clear goals and benchmarks on the way to impact. This will set the direction and context for future employee engagement and help to ensure the consistency of your sustainability messaging.
2. Next, develop a sustainability narrative.
A sustainability narrative is a clear, compelling and engaging way to help you communicate your strategy. By tapping into the power of story, you can bring focus to your sustainability communications and help a range of audiences understand what you are doing to become more sustainable and why you are doing it. Importantly, your narrative should set the sustainability context, declare your ambitions and targets, detail the initiative for reaching those targets and surface proof points. Even better is if your narrative can flex to cut through to different roles and departments.
3. Turn words into action.
It is important to remember that engagement, on its own, is not the end goal. While we want employees to be interested and informed, ultimately, we are trying to inspire change and encourage people to do things differently for the long-term.
Turning employees from passive audiences to active participants requires involving them and giving all employees a sense of ownership and the ability to make an impact. Making the link between what employees do daily and the business's broader sustainability goals will build motivation as they can see how their contribution makes a difference.
4. Embed your strategy deeply across the employee journey.
In order to ensure longevity, it is essential to go beyond communications and engagement to a place where sustainability initiatives are embedded into the wiring and processes across your employee journey.
To do this, map out the key stages across your employee's journey - from recruitment to exit – and the key employee touchpoints within each. Then, ask for each stage, how can we ensure sustainability comes to life here? And what can we do to encourage and reward the right behaviours from our employees?
5. Tailor your measurement to your audience.
One thing that makes measuring sustainability engagement among employees so tricky is that it can look very different from one department to another. Take an automotive company, for example; how an employee in an office base role would engage with sustainability might be completely different from those on the showroom floor or those in manufacturing building the cars – so it’s essential your measurement can account for this variation.
This means making sure you are covering all bases, and tailoring your measurement to the various audiences in your organisation. If you are unsure whether you are currently doing this, or how, or even where to get started, ask yourself: are we reaching all the different employee audiences we need to? For each audience, how do we know if we are influencing employee conversation and perception? How will we know if employees' behaviours are evidencing deeper engagement? And finally, how will we know if our sustainability initiatives are creating the desired outcomes?
In summary...
A final word of advice and encouragement: remember to keep at it. Don’t be disheartened if you need longer than you thought to bring everybody on board. While you can generate a lot of awareness and interest quite quickly through communications, longer-term embedding and behaviour change can be slow and require consistent messaging and sustained efforts. Two great ways to keep the engagement flame alive is through manager role-modelling so employees can visibly see leadership taking sustainability seriously and signposting milestones on the way to achieving your goals, evidencing to employees that their everyday efforts drive you towards your goals – so to keep at it!

This is one of a series of webinars, where we share knowledge and ideas through joint Positive Change Group expertise. If you would like to learn more about engaging your employees around sustainability or join any future webinar in the series, please contact Kat Norman ([email protected]) at People Made.