Numerous studies show that more and more companies are investing in employee engagement around sustainability. In many companies, sustainability often starts with some ad hoc efforts by passionate individuals or small green teams. Now, savvy companies are seeking to translate that personal passion into organizational practice. As exciting as this path is, it comes with some hurdles to clear.
We hear from many of our clients that no one within their organizations “owns” sustainability. Instead, it’s a multi-headed hydra, crossing into multiple departments from human resources to IT to facilities to operations to EHS to internal communications. You get the picture.
This can create a leadership void, calling for sometimes unprecedented amounts of collaboration and cooperation to achieve the smallest of results. But to truly engage employees, those leading the initiative must think systemically — across the whole footprint of employee engagement opportunities — and bake in sustainability at every touchpoint.
Human resources firm Aon Hewitt offers an engagement model that sustainability marketers would be wise to study. Across the six dimensions, there are ample openings to include sustainability and encourage all employees to engage in their daily work and lives. From quality-of-life issues to company practices, rewards to opportunities, sustainability is a natural fit for all, no matter what each individual’s work responsibilities may be within the organization. Will it be a challenge to get all these distinct functions working together? Likely so, but it’s the best way forward.
Here’s the corollary: sometimes, when the necessary collaboration doesn’t occur but the sustainability initiative is still expected to yield results, it’s easy to take a shortcut. It’s easy to retreat into the relative comfort of simply launching a communications effort instead of a true engagement effort. Posters and emails are not a substitute for employee engagement. Stickers and microsites won’t create change by themselves. Competitions and pledges might make a short-term improvement, but won’t impact long-term actions.
Yes, communications are an important part of any employee engagement initiative, but it’s no substitute for a well-planned, integrated approach that touches every staff member no matter what role he or she plays. And with sustainability, everyone needs a role.