by Tim Wirtz
Our annual Inner Circle Symposium was held last week in the good ol’ Honky Tonk city, Nashville. The theme was Engagement and a wide range of companies attended – everything from building product manufacturers to a wine maker, CPGs to an MRO, and utilities to large retailers. Despite the inherent differences in categories represented, the challenges faced by members of the group in initiating and implementing effective sustainability and energy efficiency initiatives were strikingly similar.
In discussing each others’ paths to engagement in sustainability and energy initiatives, we began to hear some common themes – themes not entirely new to the Shelton Group team. Here’s what bubbled up:
A catalyst is required to initiate sustainability efforts.
In the absence of top-level management’s commitment to energy and environmental initiatives, there must be strong consumer/customer demand within the product/service category. Without either, these initiatives are hard, if not impossible to move forward. The common thread was that getting management buy-in is essential. Having someone in the C-suite on board makes implementing these initiatives more palatable. And it helps that those responsible for the initiatives – be it sustainability directors or program directors – gather momentum and ultimately drive success for the initiatives.
Employee engagement is key.
Employees are often overlooked when it comes to corporate sustainability or energy initiatives. In reality, they’re the front line for these programs, your walking billboards, so to speak— and not engaging them in what’s being done at the corporate level is a crucial mistake. In fact, one of our clients shared how the employee engagement program we worked with him to create has been foundational to moving his overall sustainability efforts forward.
A key to engaging employees is first understanding employee perception of words like sustainability or energy efficiency. Often we work with our clients to survey employees and ascertain that level of understanding (or in many cases, lack of understanding). It’s all a part of addressing where they are in the learning curve and then crafting messages that empower them to make sustainable practices a part of their everyday lives.
A real investment must be made.
Financial support for sustainability or energy initiatives is still lacking. To create a little more funding, focus your efforts where you can demonstrate bang for your buck and ensure budget decision makers understand the impacts of a sustainability story. We know from our research, for instance, that 46% of Americans say corporate environmental reputation impacts product choices. So work with your decision makers to understand the very real bottom-line impact your energy and environmental programs can have.
By all accounts, the 2012 Shelton Group Inner Circle Symposium was a great success. All who attended left with a reinvigorated sense of optimism – and an understanding that they are not alone in their good fight to engage customers, employees and value chains in sustainability and energy initiatives. In 2013, I hope we’ll have them all back to hear how things are going, one year later.