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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. 

Best Practices for Virtual Teams

The SSC Team June 16, 2016 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SSC archives. 

A growing number of companies allow employees to work from home some or all of the time. That's great for many reasons (less time spent in traffic, lower commuting emissions, happier workforce!), but also presents challenges. Today, we're inspired by three articles on how to create, manage, and inspire the best virtual teams. Enjoy!

Tips for Transitioning an Office-Based Company to Remote Work: This Fast Company article includes an interview with an organization that recently went virtual (4 days a week) and 10 tips for companies considering a similar move. (Our favorite is #7!)

How to Be a Family-Friendly Boss: This Harvard Business Review article is focused on ways that bosses can help staff be great employees and great parents. Not surprisingly, allowing some form of virtual work, or telecommuting, is high on the list of recommendations. Our favorite part about this piece is the discussion about how to measure job performance.

How Virtual Teams Can Create Human Connections Despite Distance: This Harvard Business Review article provides great ideas for developing and maintaining highly effective teams when members are in different offices around the world (or just working from home a couple miles away). 

Curious about the environmental benefits of commuting (and how much telecommuting can help)? Download our free white paper, Reducing Your Organization's Carbon Footprint: Addressing Commuter-Related Emissions to learn more about it!

Best Practices for Virtual Teams

The SSC Team June 16, 2016 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SSC archives. 

A growing number of companies allow employees to work from home some or all of the time. That's great for many reasons (less time spent in traffic, lower commuting emissions, happier workforce!), but also presents challenges. Today, we're inspired by three articles on how to create, manage, and inspire the best virtual teams. Enjoy!

Tips for Transitioning an Office-Based Company to Remote Work: This Fast Company article includes an interview with an organization that recently went virtual (4 days a week) and 10 tips for companies considering a similar move. (Our favorite is #7!)

How to Be a Family-Friendly Boss: This Harvard Business Review article is focused on ways that bosses can help staff be great employees and great parents. Not surprisingly, allowing some form of virtual work, or telecommuting, is high on the list of recommendations. Our favorite part about this piece is the discussion about how to measure job performance.

How Virtual Teams Can Create Human Connections Despite Distance: This Harvard Business Review article provides great ideas for developing and maintaining highly effective teams when members are in different offices around the world (or just working from home a couple miles away). 

Curious about the environmental benefits of commuting (and how much telecommuting can help)? Download our free white paper, Reducing Your Organization's Carbon Footprint: Addressing Commuter-Related Emissions to learn more about it!

Practice Persuasion Techniques to Get Your Sustainability Effort Launched

The SSC Team May 24, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Hearing “no” can be demoralizing, especially when you’ve worked hard to build a program that may not only bolster the organization, but, in the case of sustainability, can often also result in meaningful progress on reducing environmental and social impact.

So, when you get a firm negative, how can you persuade the decision makers to change their minds? Disrupt their foundation of belief.

Psychologists have determined that our “strongly held beliefs form a network of consistent concepts.”

If mind-changing were simple, one could present a single strong argument against a belief to disrupt the consistency of the network of concepts, but it’s obviously not that simple.

Individuals are able to hold inconsistent beliefs simultaneously, as well as disregard strong challenges to their beliefs simply by drawing on the network of concepts that has been built over time.

To truly change minds, one needs to attack the problem in multiple ways, simultaneously.

Develop counterarguments to their strongest positions

For example, if a decision-maker can’t see the value of investing resources in your sustainability effort, work to develop strong counterarguments to disrupt the foundation of their “no-ROI for sustainability” belief.   

Increase exposure to supporting evidence for the new belief

Your counterarguments should be consistent and frequent, such as case-studies of companies that implemented projects similar to the one you are proposing. Showcasing the positive results will continue to undermine the belief that your program “isn’t worth it” or “won’t work.”

Provide information from multiple sources

Deliver multiple bits of counter-evidence from a variety of sources that are both recognized as authoritative and respected by the decision-maker. Knowing that the decision-maker built his or her belief system through evidence, try and break down the belief further by presenting evidence from the same sources that he or she builds other belief systems from. Having evidence from a respected, trusted source helps further destabilize the belief.  

Address the emotional attachment

With strong counterarguments and solid evidence from trusted sources, the belief should be in a state of incoherence. But be cautious. It’s possible that the feeling of “being pushed in a corner” or a sense of being manipulated will cause a rebound from the boss where her or she doubles down on the original decision based on the discomfort of having a belief network shaken. Tread firmly, but don’t make it personal and don’t push too hard, too fast.

“What's key, at any rate, is to recognize that people's active resistance to efforts to change their mind doesn't mean that those efforts aren't working. Belief change is a war of attrition, not a search for the knock-down argument that gets someone to see things differently in one fell swoop,” said Art Markman, professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas, Austin.

Have you heard “yes,” but can’t get the team to act? Are you struggling to be assertive in your role as a manager? We’re always looking for ways to apply smart management principles to the sustainability field. Do you have a recent article that caught your eye? Let us know in the comments.

 

Practice Persuasion Techniques to Get Your Sustainability Effort Launched

The SSC Team May 24, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Hearing “no” can be demoralizing, especially when you’ve worked hard to build a program that may not only bolster the organization, but, in the case of sustainability, can often also result in meaningful progress on reducing environmental and social impact.

So, when you get a firm negative, how can you persuade the decision makers to change their minds? Disrupt their foundation of belief.

Psychologists have determined that our “strongly held beliefs form a network of consistent concepts.”

If mind-changing were simple, one could present a single strong argument against a belief to disrupt the consistency of the network of concepts, but it’s obviously not that simple.

Individuals are able to hold inconsistent beliefs simultaneously, as well as disregard strong challenges to their beliefs simply by drawing on the network of concepts that has been built over time.

To truly change minds, one needs to attack the problem in multiple ways, simultaneously.

Develop counterarguments to their strongest positions

For example, if a decision-maker can’t see the value of investing resources in your sustainability effort, work to develop strong counterarguments to disrupt the foundation of their “no-ROI for sustainability” belief.   

Increase exposure to supporting evidence for the new belief

Your counterarguments should be consistent and frequent, such as case-studies of companies that implemented projects similar to the one you are proposing. Showcasing the positive results will continue to undermine the belief that your program “isn’t worth it” or “won’t work.”

Provide information from multiple sources

Deliver multiple bits of counter-evidence from a variety of sources that are both recognized as authoritative and respected by the decision-maker. Knowing that the decision-maker built his or her belief system through evidence, try and break down the belief further by presenting evidence from the same sources that he or she builds other belief systems from. Having evidence from a respected, trusted source helps further destabilize the belief.  

Address the emotional attachment

With strong counterarguments and solid evidence from trusted sources, the belief should be in a state of incoherence. But be cautious. It’s possible that the feeling of “being pushed in a corner” or a sense of being manipulated will cause a rebound from the boss where her or she doubles down on the original decision based on the discomfort of having a belief network shaken. Tread firmly, but don’t make it personal and don’t push too hard, too fast.

“What's key, at any rate, is to recognize that people's active resistance to efforts to change their mind doesn't mean that those efforts aren't working. Belief change is a war of attrition, not a search for the knock-down argument that gets someone to see things differently in one fell swoop,” said Art Markman, professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas, Austin.

Have you heard “yes,” but can’t get the team to act? Are you struggling to be assertive in your role as a manager? We’re always looking for ways to apply smart management principles to the sustainability field. Do you have a recent article that caught your eye? Let us know in the comments.

 

Don’t Insult Employees With Sustainability “Nudges”

The SSC Team May 19, 2016 Tags: , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Just a few years ago, everyone seemed to have a signature block pleading for the trees – “Don’t print this e-mail for our planet” or “Think before printing this email.”

And then those tree-loving messages mostly disappeared.

Marketing and behavioral research may be indicating that “nudge” marketing, or deliberately manipulating choices to change behavior, may backfire.

Nudges can be condescending If your employees need to print a report, then they need to print the report. Using an email signature line to signal to one another that individuals aren’t capable or committed enough to make green choices without constant reminders can come off as condescending and put employees on the defensive about sustainability communications.

Even when nudges “work,” they may not achieve the ultimate goal To print or not to print, that isn’t the question. When the formerly ubiquitous email signature became popular, maybe companies did see a decrease in paper use for a time. But did the nudge truly make a difference over the long term? Was there a paper use policy in place to create lasting institutional behavioral change? Were employees motivated and engaged enough to carry the behavioral change over to their home lives or their next job? That’s sustainability. Nudge marketing is a blip in the radar.

Nudges may backfire! Imagine putting up a sign in the office restrooms over the paper towel dispenser (100% post-consumer recycled paper towels, mind you) that reads: “Remember: Paper towels were trees once.”

Although you’re trying to nudge employees into using less, thus landfilling less, you may immediately find that employees not only aren’t using less paper in the restrooms, but they’re also not participating in any other office sustainability efforts. What went wrong?

Look at the bigger picture. Employees may be infuriated that the air conditioning is still set at 60 degrees and the building lights are on all night, but “you want us to walk around with wet, clammy hands all day so you can save a few dollars on paper towels?”

Just stop nudging altogether in sustainability efforts. Don’t rely on a potentially condescending, ineffective tool to alienate employees. Instead, try educating employees, involving them in the process, and using motivational tools to create lasting change.

Have you seen workplace or marketing “nudges” that backfired? Let us know in the comments.

 

 

Don’t Insult Employees With Sustainability “Nudges”

The SSC Team May 19, 2016 Tags: , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Just a few years ago, everyone seemed to have a signature block pleading for the trees – “Don’t print this e-mail for our planet” or “Think before printing this email.”

And then those tree-loving messages mostly disappeared.

Marketing and behavioral research may be indicating that “nudge” marketing, or deliberately manipulating choices to change behavior, may backfire.

Nudges can be condescending If your employees need to print a report, then they need to print the report. Using an email signature line to signal to one another that individuals aren’t capable or committed enough to make green choices without constant reminders can come off as condescending and put employees on the defensive about sustainability communications.

Even when nudges “work,” they may not achieve the ultimate goal To print or not to print, that isn’t the question. When the formerly ubiquitous email signature became popular, maybe companies did see a decrease in paper use for a time. But did the nudge truly make a difference over the long term? Was there a paper use policy in place to create lasting institutional behavioral change? Were employees motivated and engaged enough to carry the behavioral change over to their home lives or their next job? That’s sustainability. Nudge marketing is a blip in the radar.

Nudges may backfire! Imagine putting up a sign in the office restrooms over the paper towel dispenser (100% post-consumer recycled paper towels, mind you) that reads: “Remember: Paper towels were trees once.”

Although you’re trying to nudge employees into using less, thus landfilling less, you may immediately find that employees not only aren’t using less paper in the restrooms, but they’re also not participating in any other office sustainability efforts. What went wrong?

Look at the bigger picture. Employees may be infuriated that the air conditioning is still set at 60 degrees and the building lights are on all night, but “you want us to walk around with wet, clammy hands all day so you can save a few dollars on paper towels?”

Just stop nudging altogether in sustainability efforts. Don’t rely on a potentially condescending, ineffective tool to alienate employees. Instead, try educating employees, involving them in the process, and using motivational tools to create lasting change.

Have you seen workplace or marketing “nudges” that backfired? Let us know in the comments.

 

 

Motivate Your In-House Team to Meet Your Sustainability Goals

The SSC Team March 1, 2016 Tags: , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Convincing employees to work hard and work well is a millennia-old management challenge. Hundreds of studies point to proven motivational tactics, such as goal setting, feedback, and incentives, but all of these tactics can (and will) backfire.

“Chances are that you (at least sometimes) are using the wrong tools under the wrong circumstances,” writes Juliana Schroeder, a behavioral economist and psychologist.

Using feedback effectively

  • Use positive feedback to enhance personal commitment. For example, if you’re ramping up the arduous data collection process that goes along with a complex, detailed life-cycle assessment, that’s when you want to use encouraging words. We can do this!
  • Use negative feedback when you’re nearing the finish line. So data collection starts off well with everyone ready to get going and get the project done, but you get into a lull midway as the engineers and logistics folks are tired of taking your calls, that’s when you might want to roll out some stern warnings about being a team player and calling your supervisor.

Goal Setting

“Typically, a shorter distance between you and your goal is more motivating than a longer one,” writes Schroeder. “It feels within reach, and it’s easier to feel that you’re making progress. This means people should set closer targets or sub-goals.”

Using the same example from above, don’t kick off your LCA talking about the mountains of data we shall climb, instead map out with a consultant who has experience with LCA reporting a reasonable set of milestones for data collection inside of various processes identified. And when you see a big knot to untangle, break it into smaller pieces and set goals based on achieving the sub-goals.

“Focusing on the least amount of distance—either from the start or from the end of your project— is more motivating,” said Schroeder.

This means, don’t look up when you’re at the bottom, and don’t look down when you’re at the top.

Focus on the middle stages

“Research has found that people are more likely to slack off or behave unethically around the middle of a project,” said Schroeder.

Take this into consideration when project planning. If your team can quickly identify what the onerous parts of the job will be, and take on those early wince folks will still be motivated to perform well. In the middle, focus on the low-hanging fruit, like collecting the utility or transportation data or info you can get from third party vendors. If big obstacles pop up in the middle, try and work around them and save them to the end to tap into the motivation folks feel right as a project is wrapping up.

Incentives

If your company has the structure to provide incentives, don’t hesitate to use them. But don't go overboard.

“People will work harder for incentives they can get sooner—even if they are smaller than those they would get after waiting longer. The lesson here is simple: To motivate people, use immediate incentives,” said Schroeder.

If a team has a goal, structure small incentives for the manager or team member that help validate the hard work put in. Consider an extra day off for completing the work on time or a group luncheon after every major milestone.

“People also seem to value intrinsic incentives more when they are in the middle of pursuing a goal than when they have not yet started,” said Schroeder.

When working on sustainability projects, help frame the work in terms of the intrinsic benefits to the team members, to the company, and to company strategy focused on reducing environmental impact. Ideally this will already be a part of the company’s strategic plan, but capitalize on the feeling that employees have when they can take pride in working on a project that goes beyond the bottom line.

Selecting motivational tools can be complicated, especially keeping them fresh and appealing to meet the changing needs of employees. But, if you haven’t yet taken a strategic look at motivation, now is a great time to start.

Need to launch a life-cycle assessment or carbon footprint in 2016? We can guide you through the process and help keep your team motivated along the way.

 

Are You Giving Your Employees Too Many Green Choices?

The SSC Team February 4, 2016 Tags: , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

Enjoy this post from the SSC archives.

You might think that it's helpful to provide employees with dozens of tips to help them green their home and work. But some new research about decision-making suggests that offering fewer choices may be the better option. 

In a recent Fast Company article, Your Choice Of Paper Towels Shouldn't Cause An Existential Crisis, author Patrick Kayser recounts his personal story of having too many choices of paper towels at the supermarket. His research has uncovered some interesting findings about how people make decisions:

Barry Schwartz, in his book, The Paradox of Choice: Why Less Is More, maintains that too much choice can lead to the paralysis of decision making. He cites a study where the more options employees had in choosing their 401k plan, the less likely they were to actually make a choice--often leaving up to $5,000 of free company matching on the table. 

Now apply that thinking to your sustainability program--and specifically to initiatives in which you encourage employee engagement. Is it possible that people are feeling overwhelmed by the options and instead choose to do nothing? What would happen if you narrowed down the sustainability-related programs to the top three company priorities, and asked people to join one? 

Sheena Iyengar, author of The Art of Choosing, conducted a study featuring free samples of jam in a supermarket. Every few hours, she would switch her offering of jam from 6 samples to 24. 60% of all visitors were drawn to the larger assortment of jams, but they were significantly less likely to actually purchase jam. Iyengar’s study found that only 3% of people who visited the larger assortment of jams bought a bottle--whereas 30% of visitors to the smaller assortment ended up making a purchase. 

We've actually written about this study before, and what it means for green programs at work. Essentially, the more specific you can be in focusing your sustainability priorities, the more likely it is that you'll get employee participation. And by focusing on fewer programs, you'll have more time and resources to take those programs to the next level.

Schwartz goes on to paint an even bleaker picture for marketers. He holds that the abundance of choice causes us to dislike whatever it is we do end up choosing because of the opportunity cost associated with the other options. So, if we can break through the paralysis that too much choice presents us and actually buy something, there is a good chance we won’t like whatever it is we bought because we’ll be dreaming about how great the other options could have been? 

Ack! You don't want employees feeling disappointed with their green decisions, or wondering if they should have chosen something better. (Notice we are carefully avoiding any reference to the grass being "greener" on the other side). Instead, reduce your employee-led sustainability programs and make sure that you do a terrific job at capturing each one's winning stories, awesome metrics, and audacious goals. You'll make it easier to demonstrate the value of each program, and keep employees motivated to do more. 

Did you like this article? Follow SSC President Jennifer Woofter on Twitter (@jenniferwoofter), where she tweets about employee engagement strategies that work for sustainability-minded companies. Want a more meaty bite on the topic? Download our white paper on Engaging Employees in the Company's Sustainability.

How NOT to Choose Green Team Members

The SSC Team March 3, 2015 Tags: , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments

By: Alexandra Kueller

What are some of the qualities or behaviors you look for potential green team members? Dedication? Team player? Can see the big picture? These are all great reasons why someone should be on the team, but have you thought of reasons why someone should NOT be selected for a green team?

Entrepreneur wrote an article discussing some behaviors that could lead to trouble in the long run, and we thought that these 8 behaviors and qualities could be applied to selecting green team members:

1. They’re late

Being a member of a green team is rarely ever anyone’s only responsibility and people are always busy, so it is important to have members that will not be late to allow the team to maximize all of their time.

2. They see only problems

A good member of any team should not only be able to help find a solution, but also be able to identify the problem. It is NOT helpful if a green team member is pessimistic, because teams need to work towards solutions not just focus on all the problems.

3. They’re easily distracted

Focus is key. Green teams don’t always have the luxury of meeting often or for a long duration, so it is imperative that the members are focused so they can dedicate their time to the task at hand.

4. They criticize others

Teamwork is centered on the ability to work with others. If you have a member of your green team who is spending their time criticizing the other members, work will not get done and members of your team might start to doubt themselves.

5. They rush to make judgments

Projects take time, and the first idea isn't always going to be the right one or the best one. It is important to have people on your team that will listen to all options and work to find the best solution - NOT rush to make judgments on every idea that is put on the table.

6. They’re inflexible

Meetings and plans can change last minute. You want your green team members to be able to adapt to changes, because if they can’t, then you have a member of your team that could slow you down.

7. They don’t seem particularly enthusiastic

With green teams being an extra task a person might take on, it is important that they really care about the matter at hand. If you have a member that isn't enthusiastic about the work your team is doing, it can set back the progress of the group.

8. They don’t accept their mistakes

Being a good member of any team means accepting your mistakes, and if there is someone on your green team what won't own up to their mistakes, there is a chance that they’ll just repeat those mistakes down the line.

Are you a member of a green team or looking to start one? Be sure to check out our green team toolkit!