Want your employees to go green? Offer a reward.

Want your employees to go green?  Offer a reward.

We’re a green advertising agency, pretty obvious if you pay attention to our blogs and our work.  So we recycle paper, plastics and aluminum. We have agency bikes so people don’t have to drive their cars to grab some lunch. And we walk on carpet squares that are made of recycled soda bottles.  Yet despite all that we know about how to do the right thing for the planet, and all that we actually do, I noticed that sometimes we don’t.  Sometimes we unconsciously throw paper that could be recycled into the trash can, or leave the lights on at the end of the day.  Just like mainstream consumers.

As our research has clearly shown, rewards are essential to motivate behavior change. So I announced a reward and a challenge:  a department vs. department green contest. Whichever department greened-up the most over three months would receive $1,000.

And the results are in:

  • Several folks stopped drinking bottled water and canned soda, eliminating the need for recycling or any waste whatsoever. Our Client Consultation team cut back their coffee intake (which may explain why they didn’t return phone calls as quickly), saving 56,000 liters of water in three months.  (It actually takes 140 liters of water to make one cup of coffee.)
  • Our Operations and Accounting department actually saved 13,000 pieces of paper — which is the equivalent of 1.5 trees.  They also upgraded the operating system on everyone’s computer so they all go to sleep more often and draw less energy — amazingly reducing our energy consumption 10%.  And they figured out how to operationalize the purchase of carbon offsets for all agency travel.
  • The Creative team invented a character names Savesy who started popping up around the office on stickers reminding us at the point of decision to make greener choices (at the towels in the bathroom he says, “Do you need three paper towels when one will do?” and at the trash can he says, “Could that item be recycled?”)  They also created a Savesy Employee of the Week for an extra reward.  Lastly, they started carpooling, saving 1,082 miles of driving over the course of three months.
  • Not to be outdone, the Research Team created a baseline study to track all of our behaviors — green or not — in order to create a collective carbon footprint.  They’ll re-survey twice a year to track our progress.

Best of all, everyone had a great time, they got an experience of what it actually takes to make greener choices (so they can better understand what works and doesn’t with a consumer we’re targeting), and they created behaviors that appear to be permanent.  That piece remains to be seen, but my money’s on these guys.  And speaking of money, I was so impressed by everyone’s efforts, I doubled the money and gave $500 to each department.  Just like your kid’s soccer team coach — everyone went home with a trophy.  But everyone also went away a little changed for the better.  And that’s the real reward.

About the Author

Suzanne Shelton

Where Suzanne sees opportunity, you can bet results will follow. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of both the advertising world and the energy and environment arena, Suzanne provides unparalleled strategic insights to our clients and to audiences around North America. Suzanne is a guest columnist in multiple publications and websites, such as GreenBiz, and she speaks at around 20 conferences a year, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and Green Build.

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