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Do any of these situations sound familiar?

You are a business that is interested in sustainability but doesn’t know how to start. Or you have tried a few initiatives, such as recycling, here and there, but you haven’t really gotten things going. Or you have one or several teams who have taken on sustainability in their departments, and you see promise in broadening that effort throughout your company.

Sustainability Training for Employees

Wherever your business lies in the path to becoming a sustainable business, employee engagement and training is a must. Employee education is the way to make effective headway in sustainability because it provides the factual knowledge to make informed decisions as well as cultivate behavior change.

Training Is Essential For Any Corporate Transformation

If you look back to how other waves of corporate change succeeded, training was at the forefront. Take safety, for instance. Successful programs soon learned that simply adopting a couple of guidelines or rules for the workplace did not significantly dent worker safety records. It wasn’t until it was coupled with training that safety became embedded in how workers went about their jobs.

But sustainability training is different from the employee training of the past. It has additional hurdles to overcome. Looking at safety training, it’s not hard to imagine the effects of poor safety practices. In hazardous industries, such as construction and manufacturing, employees have probably witnessed accidents and their consequences. However, for sustainability, the results of inaction are far more remote and intangible. And the term itself is highly politicized.

Sustainability Training Starts With the Company’s Vision

Therefore sustainability training has to start with the What. Sustainability is a charged term that means different things to different people. For some, sustainability may mean conserving forests. For others, it’s recycling. And for others, it’s improving worker and community conditions. So the first order of business is to define what sustainability means to your company. It could mean getting a particular certification such as Green Business Bureau certification. For others, it may be achieving a certain standard such as net-zero waste, reducing their carbon footprint, or simply keeping up with leaders in their industry. If you are having a hard time getting started, the Roadmap course at The Green Office Academy would be a quick way to acquaint yourself with sustainability and chart a path.

After the What has been defined, it is much easier to decide which initiatives to pursue to support that vision. Sustainability training can help that vision in two ways. First, it can serve as a broad introduction to aspects of sustainability to support the decision-making process. Or it can provide supplementary technical information as well as guidance on implementation once the sustainability initiatives have been established. Either way, good corporate training guides employees through the range of sustainability topics relevant to their company’s goals, business strategy, operations, and ultimately their own jobs.

Types of Sustainability Education and Courses

The variety of employee education types can be overwhelming. The trick is to find a balance that might give the best result with minimal work time lost or cost. Of course, that decision depends on what you want to achieve. To parse out this puzzle, here is an overview of options.

In-Person

The old-school version of training consisted of some variation of in-person instruction. A company would support employees as they sought degrees, certificates, or continuing education from higher ed and other institutions. Or they created in-house offerings held at the company, or during a retreat. They were one-hour to multi-day events. When tailored to a company’s needs, they had good value but were expensive. Another option was to support employees as they sought degrees or certificates from higher ed and other institutions

Online and Hybrid Delivery

In the past decade, new forms of education delivery have emerged online. While much of it tends to be self-study with generic content, some companies offer more tailored and interactive education. Some of these providers also offer certified continuing education.

To view this education through the eyes of an organization consumer, here are possibilities – broken into two categories.

Practical

These courses tend to tackle smaller and more specific topics and focus on specifics to implement sustainability initiatives. They fall into two categories:

Knowledge and professional development – These courses are designed to develop sustainability competence for all employees, from office and remote workers to sustainability committee members and leaders. Topics covered often include:

  • Recycling and waste management
  • Resource use reduction and efficiency
  • Sustainability communication and reporting
  • Sustainability team leadership
  • Employee engagement and wellbeing
  • Procurement and supply chain management
  • Financial impact and metrics

Individual sustainability certification – These courses lead to a certificate for a particular system or to a professional certification such as LEED. These types of courses are generally provided either by academic institutions or by private organizations that often require membership in that organization.

Academic

These courses tackle more significant subjects that require a more comprehensive approach. Therefore, the curriculum is more broad than deep, and the purpose is to teach how to think so you can create programs and then gather more information to implement them. Incorporating academic courses into your sustainability training can lead to a generalist degree or certificate, and can be taught by colleges and universities or by companies that team with them to give courses online. Other institutions provide complete curriculums on corporate responsibility and sustainability (similar to a mini MBA) or climate change.

In our next blog, we will explore these types of online courses in more depth.

About the Author

Julia Craighill

Founder & President
Ensight

Julia Craighill is the founder and president of Ensight. She is a driven, award-winning sustainability expert committed to helping organizations build value through green strategies. With more than three decades of experience in architecture, construction and sustainability, she collaborates with her clients to align green goals with business goals. A frequent speaker and prolific author on issues of sustainability and resiliency, Julia is known for her solid, pragmatic guidance that helps organizations make the leap from good intentions to long-term, profitable performance. Since starting Ensight Consulting seven years ago, Julia has helped dozens of companies, from large multi-national corporations to a two-person yoga studio, reduce their environmental impact and demonstrate corporate responsibility.

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