Making corporate sustainability a grassroots effort?

| by Lee Clark-Sellers
Making corporate sustainability a grassroots effort?

A company's employees can be its greatest advantage in helping to achieve sustainability goals. While engaging employees in corporate sustainability isn't a new idea, a recent study by Green Research reported that 80 percent of major corporations plan to increase employee engagement in 2012.

There are a number of ways which can be used to gain employee involvement.

Employee awareness and understanding is probably the first and most important element for any company. By defining sustainability and explaining how will it be measured, reported and put into practice at an individual or team level, a company is more likely to engage willing participants. Ideally, this awareness involves the full sustainability model of social, fiscal and environmental strategies. Wal-Mart is a great example of this. They created a toolkit to help employee's live greener lives at home so they could better understand and relate to the company's goals. Today's technology can help to assist with increasing awareness. Software and other tools are now available to integrate into standard business operations and make sustainability education more accessible. I suggest researching to determine which tools can best help you to measure, aggregate and report results. This will be an ongoing journey for most businesses, but will be worth the effort as better-informed employees begin to pursue practical ways to help achieve corporate goals and contribute to the company's long-term operations.

Online venues (such as PGH) and social media are expected to continue to play a role in sustainability education. With about 52 percent of all American's using Facebook, companies may want to consider this or other social media venues when planning their communication strategies. Many grass roots efforts can be energized and sustained via social media. Facebook, itself, made the decision to use renewable energy instead of coal-burning electricity for its data centers. This choice was based on a two-year social media campaign from Greenpeace. Now imagine how your company can create its own grass roots movement among its employees to create new, best practices to impact corporate sustainability. Intranets, Twitter and Facebook can be excellent internal marketing tools.

Sustainability as a common practice has begun to shift — no longer is it an executive mandate. On the contrary, many associates are interested to find out what the company is doing to improve environmental stewardship. This expectation by employees reflects a positive change in culture. Recently, as I visited one of Ply Gem's manufacturing locations, the plant manager was excited to show me how they were recycling heated water from the manufacturing process to heat the facility — almost completely eliminating the need for electric heat. When I asked the plant manager why he focused on that, he responded with "it's the right thing to do". Along these lines, the company's charge going forward is to communicate these results in such a way as to encourage the identification of other comparable projects. And who better than hands-on, front-line employees to help pinpoint potential areas for improved efficiencies.

For any company serious about making a difference, consider looking to your most valuable resource — your employees — as you make sustainability a priority.

Topics: Sustainability Trends & Statistics

Lee Clark-Sellers
Lee Clark-Sellers is the innovation officer for Ply Gem. She leads the effort to take innovation from a concept or catch phrase to a resourceful approach to how Ply Gem does business overall and transitions to a culture that’s rooted in innovation. Lee is founder and chair of “Innovation in RTP,” and also serves on the Industrial Board of Directors at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering. She is also an Industrial Fellow at NC State's Center of Innovation Management Studies. www

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