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Sustainability training for employees

So you want to train your employees on sustainability but not spend money on sustainability training courses, such as those given at The Green Office Academy, or bring in outside expertise, like Ensight Consulting, for consulting or workshops. Well, never fear – there are ways to accomplish sustainability training effectively and inexpensively.

Before we begin, there is some work you must do in advance to ensure success.

List all of the sustainability initiatives that you already do

First things first. You must know where you are and where you want to go. If you are not sure how to identify the sustainability aspects of what you do, use an assessment like Green Business Bureau to baseline your existing initiatives.

Next, make sure that all of your employees are aware of your sustainability initiatives. An easy way to do this is to make your interactive Green Business Bureau Profile available to all of your employees by making the clickable GBB seal easy to find and access. That way they can reference your progress at any time. Better yet, publicly publish your GBB Seal on your website or in your newsletter so all of your stakeholders can see your sustainability commitments.

Now evaluate which initiatives are not getting enough traction and which of those depend on a segment of employees to implement. As an example, the decision to include more plant-based meals in your catered food only requires training for those responsible for sourcing and ordering the food. Of course, educating all staff on the importance of eating more plant-based meals and sourcing sustainability is always valuable.

There are some initiatives where everyone will need to be trained for it to be successful, such as recycling. Almost everyone disposes of something during the workday. Therefore a broad training effort is needed to run a successful recycling program.

Explicitly describe company values that drive your specific Corporate Responsibility actions

You want to clearly communicate what the company already does and what the company intends to do around sustainability and social responsibility to rally your troops and fit your everyday sustainability actions into the big picture. Refer to this article for guidance on how to write a sustainability statement.

Now on to the four ways to provide in-house training.

1. Host learning sessions

To get your training efforts started, you may want to enlist some outside help in an informal way. For example, you can host a monthly “lunch and learn” with a topic expert or show sustainability videos and then have a group discussion afterward. Here is a great list of The 20 Best Climate Change and Sustainability Documentaries and Videos.

2. Make a competition that involves some self or co-learning

Creating healthy competition can not only help you to reach your goals but can also make the process fun for employees. There’s nothing like the promise of a prize to get people figuring out ways to win! And if you award prizes to groups or departments, those teams must co-create and share strategies to achieve the best performance. As an added bonus, you are also building teamwork and collaboration in the process.

Gamifying or incentivizing your sustainability program is a great way to create a thriving green culture. And giving recognition to employees makes them more engaged and productive.

3. Have employees train their peers

After you have completed initial employee education, repeated re-enforcement will be needed. Often enthusiastic employees, who are well-trained in their sustainability topic, can become the ones who maintain momentum. Several companies have found that peer-led training makes for a more convincing message as it was being delivered by fellow employees and not top-down HR or consultancy-led. BAM Nuttall’s Beyond Zero training program is given to employees by their peers – and the approach has proved so successful it is now inspiring new ways to engage employees across the business.

4. Create just-in-time communication

Sharing useful information that is immediately actionable will serve to reinforce what employees have already learned. And that type of just-in-time learning is very effective at behavior change. Here are some examples:

Hang Up Signs

Reach employees where they are; in break rooms, conference rooms, visitor waiting areas, washrooms, parking lots, etc. Washrooms can have reminders to limit the use of water, conserve energy and minimize waste.

More examples include reminders near light switches to turn them off, tips for reducing waste in the kitchen and other common areas, visuals at recycling bins of what items go in each bin. Signs are a way to effectively reach out to employees throughout the workday.

Send Emails

If you’re having a recurring issue, such as lights being left on or too much waste being generated, send emails with clear instructions on what the issue is and how it can be improved. Be sure to be instructive but not patronizing.

Or create email newsletter campaigns to deliver bite-sized amounts of education. Email campaigns can also foster two-way information delivery and communication if they are also used as a feedback platform to receive opinions and suggestions from employees.

Employee sustainability training is a valuable tool

Remember, sustainability training helps overcome employees’ resistance to change and uncertainty about what they should do and how they should do it. It is not a one-and-one proposition but rather needs continuous reinforcement to succeed. And if you’re able to accomplish sustainability training in-house, then you’re not only saving money by using the resources at hand, but creating a powerful opportunity for your employees to find purpose and drive the cause.

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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