Establishing employee engagement in retail sustainability

Employee engagement in retail is vital to effectively achieve your green goals – and to unlock this engagement you need to establish a green culture.

We know you’ve been working hard to create a sustainable retail business. You’ve drawn out your sustainability program, hired a Chief Sustainability Officer, and you’ve made a significant time and financial commitment to your green cause. Yet, what do you do when momentum fades?

According to research by Bain & Company, 98% of corporate transformation programs that declare sustainability as a top priority fail due to a lack of impetus.

This loss of momentum is a common problem across all industries, not just retail, and is causing sustainability programs to fall by the wayside.

Looking for a solution, research shows corporate culture is a critical factor in enhancing the attainment of organizational goals and objectives. With that in mind, in this Green Business Bureau article we argue this is because corporate culture is inherently linked to employee engagement. Hence, we propose that by creating a green retail culture, you’ll engage your employees to willingly bring about sustainable change, creating the momentum you need to achieve your sustainability goals. With this in mind, we will then detail how you can create a green culture for your retail business.

A Sustainability Program Checklist for Retail Stores

Sustainability Guide for Retail

The Sustainability Guide and Checklist for Retail Stores serves as a manual on how to launch and manage a sustainability program across all your stores. It is ideal for sustainability leaders and store managers.

Green culture defined: Why a green culture is critical for employee engagement in retail sustainability

The policies, procedures, ethics, values, attitudes, goals, code of conduct and employee behavior combine to define the culture of your business. A green culture is specific in that these sets of behavioral and procedural norms are deliberate in minimizing an organization’s operational impact on our natural world.

Employee engagement describes the emotional commitment an employee has towards your organization and your goals. A sustainable transformation needs your employees to be emotionally invested (engaged) with your green goals. And for that, you need to establish a green culture, as we explain.

An effective green culture will connect with, involve and support your employees, which serves to keep teams engaged. Your culture will outline the required behaviors and norms that support sustainability, meaning your workers understand what’s expected from them, enhancing engagement. According to author and professor in management Don Hellriegel, this link between culture and engagement depicts employee behavior when they’re not instructed on what to do. That is, by successfully establishing a green business culture, your employees will behave with environmentalism top of mind. For instance, employees turn off the lights in unoccupied rooms, walk to work instead of driving, and avoid printing paper when possible – all while acting autonomously. These are green behaviors that match your brand’s green policies and create an undertone of habits to support a sustainable transformation. It’s these autonomous behaviors that ensure your sustainable transformation never loses momentum.

Below we’ve identified 9 steps that will help you establish a green culture for your retail brand. Doing so will engage your employees, which in turn, will support your sustainability goals.

9 steps to create a green culture for employee engagement in retail sustainability

Follow our green culture guide to help your retail business drive employee engagement in retail sustainability.

Green retail culture step #1: Recruit based on your company’s green values

The good news: 94% of Generation Z and 87% of Millennials believe companies should address social and environmental issues. In addition:

  • 55% would choose to work for a socially responsible company, even if the salary was less.
  • 51% won’t work for a company that doesn’t have strong social or environmental commitments.

During your recruitment processes you want to make sure you’re hiring those who share similar green values. As generation Z and millennials make up the majority of the talent pool, fulfilling this step shouldn’t be too much of a problem. That is, today’s rising talent care about the environment, and establishing a successful green culture for your retail brand relies on your business capturing this talent.

Recruiting based on your green values will create a positive feedback loop in that, by hiring individuals who care about the environment, your green culture is strengthened, which in turn will attract more top talent who share similar values. Hence, we have a self-reinforcing cycle that ultimately supports your sustainable transformation.

Once you’ve hired the right candidate, your next step is to nurture their green values. When a new employee joins they’re more likely to participate in your green culture when they see it as part of your company’s job description and onboarding process. With this in mind, include a section in your employee handbook that explains your sustainability culture and its benefits.

Green retail culture step #2: Start the conversation around sustainability

Starting the conversation around sustainability could be as easy as sending out a monthly employee newsletter to discuss the importance of going green, and how your retail business plans to enforce those protocols.

Sustainable Purchasing
We now offer online green procurement training for employees who purchase products and materials for their companies. This online course will teach you how to create a successful sustainable procurement program that is environmentally and socially responsible.

Now, we all know that people can be lackadaisical when it comes to reading their emails, so to spread the word efficiently, think about holding specific employee training days and workshops for sustainability. Choosing a day when employees must commit themselves to learning about the cause is an excellent way to get them engaged.

Your employee education and training days will:

  1. Explain what business sustainability is;
  2. Explain why your retail business is working to make a sustainable transformation;
  3. Explain the key green initiatives your business intends to implement to achieve your green goals.

Look to keep your educational efforts light so that your employees don’t feel lectured. You could show an environmental documentary, run mind mapping sessions and hold environmental quizes.

For documentry ideas, have a read of our article: The 20 Best Climate Change and Sustainability Documentaries and Videos.

Thinking about taking a lighter approach to sustainability, another option would be to gamify eco-friendliness by organizing daily or weekly challenges your employees can get involved with. Your employees can compete with their peers to be the most environmentally friendly team and earn rewards.

Employee education is an initiative that’s championed by Starbucks. The brand kickstarted its Greener Apron program, developed in partnership with Arizona State University. This program gives employees information and tools to help them learn about sustainability and how they can take action. Employees are empowered with a personal plan that identifies how individual passions can be used to advance an employee’s sustainability journey. Employees are also sent a free pin to proudly show they’re a program member. For Starbuck’s, this is an effective strategy that ensures employee engagement in retail sustainability.

Green retail culture step #3: Explain the benefits of sustainability

Start with how the company foresees its future in sustainability, and explain the economic advantage of “going green.” Economic benefits come from increased business value, meeting investor and customer demand, slashing business costs, and improving brand reputation. To learn more about the benefits of sustainability read: Why Is Sustainability Important In Business?

Ultimately, if your employees can see how implementing sustainable practices will benefit the company – which will, in turn, benefit them – they’re more likely to support it.

You must adopt a holistic view when grappling with the benefits sustainable development gives. For instance, let’s say you introduce a cycle-to-work scheme. Such a scheme will lower business emissions, while also benefiting the health and well-being of employees, helping them save money and ultimately improving employee attendance.

Green retail culture step #4: Support the well-being of your employees

Well-being support will decrease presenteeism and absenteeism, boost productivity, increase employee morale and create a more resilient workforce. As it’s your employees who will be rallying a company-wide sustainable transformation, keeping your workforce happy and healthy is paramount for succeeding in your sustainable development goals.

According to an O.C. Tanner Pulse survey, 79% of employees reported they were experiencing mild, moderate, or severe burnout. And those within the retail sector are no exception. 82% of retail workers stated they experienced more work-related stress in 2022. According to the Harvard Business Review, the business cost of burnout is $125-190 billion each year (from healthcare spending). Stressed employees are less productive, and will provide lower levels of customer service – negatively affecting business outcomes.

As a retailer, you need to focus on improving the overall well-being of your workforce. This means introducing social initiatives along with your green goals. The Green Business Bureau‘s EcoPlanner and EcoAssessment host a range of social initiatives that will support the well-being of your workforce. We’ve highlighted a selection of the type of social initiatives your business should introduce below:

  1. Allow for schedule flexibility, with adaptable start and end times.
  2. Focus on personal development, and enable workers to try new tasks, departments, or locations to help them gain new skills and create variety in their workload.
  3. Hold regular 1:1 meetings with your team members to gain feedback on their work and well-being.
  4. Encourage physical activity by offering a cycle-to-work scheme, offering a gym membership, or setting up company-wide out-of-office sport teams.
  5. Do not support continued over time. Remember the importance of a healthy work-life balance.

Exemplifying this step in action, retailer Amazon has implemented robust social responsibility policies to support the business’s workforce. Policies include allowing dogs to work, giving free bus passes to employees, and private dental and medical insurance.

Green retail culture step #5: Run a culture assessment

A culture assessment will help your retail business define the difference between your ideal green culture and your real culture. From this assessment, you’ll gain an understanding of your workplace’s unique strengths, challenges, and opportunities for improvement. In this assessment, questions you should put forward to your employees include:

  • How do feel about the organization?
  • Describe your current employee experience.
  • Do you feel stressed and at risk of burnout?
  • Do you value environmental protection and do you want to see a successful sustainable business transformation?
  • Do you feel sustainability is a core value to the company?
  • Do you feel your values align with the values of your employer?

Using the results from your culture assessment, you then want to plan, activate and optimize initiatives that are in line with specific and measurable company goals.

Green retail culture step #6: Communicate successes by formalizing sustainability in corporate reporting

Embed your social and environmental successes into your regular reporting. This will demonstrate that you’re a business that takes an interest in these wider issues beyond the profit line. By “reporting” we’re not only refering to your annual reports, but also other communication streams such as the company blog, social media channels, and an email distribution list.

We’re seeing a global shift whereby companies that traditionally reported Profit and Loss within their annual reports are branching out with an Environmental Profit and Loss account. This gives a monetary measure of the business’s environmental impact. For instance, according to a Vogue Business report, major luxury fashion and fragrance brands’ 2018 annual corporate reports used sustainability-related terms six times as often as they did 12 years ago.

Your aim is to keep employees fully updated on your sustainability goals and progress. This means collecting quantitative and qualitative information, such as your organization’s carbon footprint, employee satisfaction, and waste reduction measures. You could share success stories to boost internal morale and show appreciation for employees that have adopted and promoted your green culture.

Green retail culture step #7: Center your business model around sustainability

It isn’t enough to simply introduce sustainable initiatives into your business if your fundamental offering is harmful to the planet and people. Environmental protection and social justice need to be top priorities.

Take the outdoor clothing retailer Patagonia for example. Patagonia declared environmental protection as principle to the business. Demonstrating this is the brand’s mission statement: “We’re in business to save our home planet“.

Patagonia has a strong track record of funding environmental causes and gives 1% of business sales to support environmental organizations around the world, which totals $89 million since 1985. Company programs such as Worn Wear helps customers extend the life of Patagonia products by providing repair, reuse, and recycling resources. Garments are made using innovative, green technology and material solutions for a reduced environmental impact. The brand even goes as far as asking consumers NOT to buy their products as part of their marketing campaigns. In addition, employee activism is encouraged with the Patagonia Environmental Internship Program. Within this program, employees can take up to 2 months away from their regular roles to work for an environmental group of their choice.

As you can see, sustainability is embedded into the business model meaning the brand leads by example.

Green retail culture step #8: Designate a champion and create a green team

A green team is a group of employees that either volunteer or have been designated (usually volunteered) to get together periodically to identify opportunities that improve the sustainability of their organization and to develop actionable solutions for these goals. – Sam Harris, 10 Best Ways to Build and Manage a Green Team or Sustainability Committee

Your company’s green team must include employees who are passionate about sustainable change, and who will act as green ambassadors to drive employee engagement in retail sustainability. You want your green team to be diverse and include members from different company departments. Your green team will make sure your business is implementing changes in day-to-day operations and will work with other employees to ensure they’re on board with the company’s mission.

You want everyone within your workforce to be involved in the planning and the creation of company-wide green policies and processes. With this in mind, leadership and your green team need to create a safe and open space to collate observations and suggestions for improvement. Individuals – when empowered with education and actionable outlets – can look for ways to weave sustainable change into their day-to-day operations. Hosting regular and consistent meetings will allow you to collect the observations and suggestions for multi-departmental, cross-collaboration. Make sure to keep a regular cadence for these meetings to keep the momentum high.

Green retail culture step #9: Showcase your commitment to sustainability with green business certification

Green business certification will communicate to your employees you’re business is taking sustainable change seriously, and you’re committed to making such a transformation. Green business certification will validate your green efforts, by providing a third-party objective assessment that measures and communicates the effectiveness of your program – in a means that’s easily understandable for your employees. For instance, the Green Business Bureau awards companies with aware, silver, gold, and platinum seals based on their performance against recognized sustainability standards. This gives a visual representation of how well a company is performing against environmental and social criteria. This understanding breeds commitment to a common cause and your employees will be able to see the fruits of their efforts as you accumulate EcoPoints(TM) with each green goal that’s achieved.

With the Green Business Bureau you can gain certification at your own pace, on your own time. Once a member, you’ll complete our online EcoAssessment and earn the respective Green Seal. You can then use our online EcoPlanner to set green goals as you work to improve your sustainability metrics. Display a tangible seal on your storefront, as well as your virtual clickable seal for any website or social media page. This GBB seal is an extraordinary way to catch potential new employee interest as they walk in the door for an interview, and also gives a daily reminder to your current employees that you’re a business committed to being green.


Sustainability Guide for Retail Businesses: Getting Started

Learn about the key first steps your retail business can take on its greening journey in the first installment of GBBs new Sustainability Guide for Retail Businesses.
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Employee engagement in retail sustainability starts with a green culture

In this Green Business Bureau article, we’ve explained how, through the establishment of a green culture, your retail brand can engage your employees to drive momentum behind your sustainability goals. With employee engagement, you stand a higher chance of seeing your sustainable business transformation through.

Establishing a green culture is a fundamental dimension of your sustainability program, and must be achieved above all else, as without this, sustainable improvements are likely to fall by the wayside. Using the 9 steps given in this article, you can integrate sustainability into your current retail culture, to create the green culture you desire.

Need help instituting an effective retail sustainability program? Download our Sustainability Guide for Retail which presents 40 industry specific initiatives to help you create an enviornmentally and socially reponsible retial store.

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