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Consider an employee-driven sustainability effort, but weigh cost and benefit

The SSC Team October 18, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Building effective green teams, motivating employees, channeling creativity and harnessing energy among employees can be difficult during the implementation of a sustainability program that pushes employees to change behavior.

Recently, an article published by CH2M provided an excellent series of “steps” for sustainability managers to consider when pushing for distributive leadership in the sustainability area – creating a strong program that is employee-driven versus manager-driven.

The steps are centered on the company’s efforts to match the company’s material goals with the employees’ material goals and then encourage the employees to “run with it.”

CH2M’s list of steps is an excellent resource for those organizations with the flexibility and opportunity to engage employees in specific ways that empower employees and align their efforts with corporate sustainability goals.

However, when strategically allocating sustainability resources, it is important to weigh the cost benefit of any and all sustainability activities with regard to their investment versus real impact.

CH2M’s program is unique – and powerful – because the investment in this type of employee-driven program directly aligns with the material needs of the corporation – reducing energy use, rehabilitating watersheds, reducing water consumption, reducing waste.

However, not all industries align so closely to benefit from employee-driven sustainability programs. It’s important when developing sustainability programs that employees do have a way to provide input and also understand why the company is making efforts in this area, but spending half of the sustainability budget – in dollars or in time investment – on a program that makes employees “feel good” or “feel committed” may not actually result in meaningful change on sustainability metrics.

Following CH2M’s example, we would propose adding an 8th step (and placing that step in the top spot), performing a materiality assessment. By doing this first, a company can clearly see where its strategies will be directly aligned with its employees priorities (as well as other stakeholders) and will rate those priorities in order of most to least impactful on the overall business. Then, harnessing the energy and developing the programming will be both successful and valuable in terms of sustainability metrics.

Are you interested in figuring out what your stakeholders are most concerned with and how those concerns match up to your organizational strategies? Contact us about performing a materiality assessment to help align your sustainability strategy and optimize it for the most impact. 

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