The Playbook for Becoming a Sustainable Business

If your company is working toward improving its sustainability performance, you need a strategy, plan and roadmap. There are ten steps we’ve defined at Green Business Bureau to gear your company’s purpose, culture, focus and actions towards sustainability. All 10 steps below were summarized in the first article, The Executive Guide for Becoming a Sustainable Business:

  • Step 1: Define your vision, mission and values
  • Step 2: Create a sustainability committee or green team
  • Step 3: Benchmark and assess your current sustainability performance
  • Step 4: Engage your employees
  • Step 5: Plan, set goals and prioritize based on over 400 GBB initiatives
  • Step 6: Implement the plan, establish and communicate new policies and practices
  • Step 7: Leverage the GBB Scorecard to track progress and measure results
  • Step 8: Analyze your results and compare to goals and benchmarks
  • Step 9: Celebrate and communicate your accomplishments
  • Step 10: If you’re ready, get Certified or continue making improvements

Today’s article will cover Step 4.

Step 4: Engage Your Employees

The fourth step in your green business journey is to engage employees. Many companies make the mistake of waiting until they have a well documented sustainability plan before engaging employees. This is not ideal for several reasons. Your employees often have some amazing ideas and you may uncover some expertise you were not aware of. It’s also easier to implement a plan when more people were involved in defining it. Lastly, involving everyone early sends a strong message that sustainability is universally important to the company.

Let the Green Team Lead Sustainable Business Actions

As discussed in Step 2 of the Executive Guide for Sustainable Business, a green team is a group of employees that either volunteer or have been designated to lead your sustainability program. They get together periodically to identify opportunities that improve sustainability practices and develop actionable solutions for sustainable business goals.

Be sure Step 1 of our Executive Guide series is also completed. Having a well developed sustainability mission statement and vision is a critical first step and necessary for engaging and communicating with employees.

Create a Green Culture

Creating a green culture is one of the priorities for a green team and this starts with driving wider employee participation and educating employees about the why’s and the how’s of sustainability, ultimately encouraging engagement and participation. Have the green team reach out to as many people as possible in an informal way to gather information and evangelize at the same time. This is paramount to ensure a lasting culture of sustainability and a program that successfully drives change.

Spell Out the Economic Case for Sustainability

Employees need to see the economic case for operating in a more sustainable way, otherwise they will think that sustainability is just about ‘doing good’ and not also about ‘doing well’. While the triple bottom line (an accounting framework with three parts: social, environmental and financial) recognizes the importance of environmental and social responsibility, make it clear to employees that a business has to be profitable in order to run and continue doing good.

Involve All Departments

Green leaders, sustainable thinkers and environmentalists may come for any and all parts of your company. You may find them in the obvious places like engineering if you design sustainable products, but you’re just as likely to find people passionate about sustainability and climate change in every department. It’s also important to understand that every single employee can play a role in your company’s mission to be more sustainable, whether that’s eliminating paper in accounting or plastic in the cafeteria, working remotely, or carpooling. There are countless things that every employee can do to help your company become more environmentally and socially responsible.

Make Sure Executives Lead the Charge Towards Sustainable Business

It’s also important to have one or two highly visible executives involved. This gives the program more credibility but also entices people who want to make an impact that is aligned with the company’s priorities and goals. If you’re the executive leading the charge, actively engage with the leadership team, gather input and discuss plans, and help the team communicate this information to the rest of the company. If you’re a green team leader or just an employee passionate about getting this going, recruit an executive and present your case to make green changes in the workplace.

Take It Seriously, But Make It Fun

Becoming a sustainable business is serious business. There’s a lot on the line including the future of our planet and the wellbeing of all your stakeholders. But a sustainability program can also be exciting, fulfilling and fun. Sustainable projects on the weekend or meetings during the week are a chance for employees to get to know each other better outside of their daily grind and maybe even bond with each other. It’s a great team building opportunity. Some companies gamify their sustainability programs. Green Business Bureau assigns EcoPoints to every initiative and has established levels like Gold and Platinum for employees to aim for. Some companies even run contests across regional offices.  A little friendly competition can be fun and productive at the same time.

Offer Sustainable Business Training, Tutorials, Certifications

The green team should also be providing regular opportunities for training and education. After all, employees need to understand what sustainability is and why it’s important in order to be able to support the company’s sustainability initiatives effectively. This may be formal training with an expert third-party training organization that is funded by the company or simply a list of free YouTube tutorials available. Six Sigma offers some free certifications as part of their White Belt program that indirectly improves sustainability. Employees taking the training consider how to be more efficient and how to eliminate errors and waste.

“Lunch and learns” and “town hall” meetings are another great way to engage employees and create sustainability knowledge and competence. Companies often train one expert who then becomes the internal expert and evangelist.

You might also consider funding green employee training and certification. For example, there’s a management and leadership course called Sustainable Business Strategy Course available from HBS Online that illustrates how businesses can thrive and grow while simultaneously solving some of the world’s biggest challenges. Takers of this course will understand and analyze the business models that drive change and explore the competitive advantages of being a sustainable and purpose-driven company.

Gather All Ideas and Identify Interested Employees

Once word begins to spread about your newly established green team and recruitment opportunities, people passionate about the cause will come forward and begin to volunteer ideas and time. It’s important to capture their input and feedback either in a formal shared document or within an intranet web page designated for sharing sustainability information with employees. You can also use online tools like Tricider to capture ideas and votes.

Create an Online Community and Discussion

If your company uses a group collaboration and messaging tool like Microsoft Teams or Slack, be sure to create a channel or group designated for your sustainability efforts. Feel free to give it a straightforward purpose-driven name like “Save the Planet” or “Fight Climate Change” or come up with something creative that captures your company’s green mission. Some companies will also use Teams or Slack to manage their meetings, projects and weekend events. If you’re looking for ideas, check out this Slack Group, Crowdsourcing Sustainability, that is focused on green initiative collaboration.

Start Working On the Plan

Once the green team is up and running and actively meeting employees interested in the cause, you can start to establish priorities and set goals. We’ll discuss the process for creating a sustainability plan in Step 5. That includes understanding all the possible initiatives that are practical and possible. For example, Green Business Bureau offers a library of over 400 initiatives in their EcoPlanner. Although the green team will do most of the heavy lifting, it’s important to maintain employee engagement during planning, implementation and quarterly checkpoints. Later on in our Executive Guide series, we’ll discuss creating some internal competition and gamifying some of the activities.

Co-Create Sustainable Business Practices with Employees

Creating initiatives as a team is one of the best practices when it comes to engaging employees in sustainability. Give them a voice in identifying priorities and creating the company’s actual sustainability initiatives and program. As your sustainability program expands and becomes more complex, green teams can often grow rapidly and lead to the creation of sub-committees. Everyone gets involved in the end.

Institute Sustainability into Your Hiring Process

In addition to engaging with your current employees, companies should have conversations about sustainability with candidates interviewing for positions at your company. It’s both an opportunity to assess if a candidate is aligned with your company’s culture and purpose, as well as a chance to promote your commitment to sustainability with potential new hires. A 2018 Neilson survey reported that 79% of potential employees look for companies with positive environmental credentials.

Make Everyday Earth Day

Held annually on April 22nd, Earth Day is a worldwide event that raises public awareness and encourages individuals, companies, communities and whole nations to participate in environmental protection activities. The international celebration is an excellent opportunity for companies to reflect on their environmental and social responsibility, and support and work with organizations that are explicitly involved in protecting and restoring the planet. Use the day to launch new initiatives or reinforce your sustainability goals. These are worthy efforts to make on Earth Day but of course it is also critical that Earth Day employee engagement is undertaken year-round to be a truly green company.

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