Training and Support
- Forty percent (248 companies) engage employees on sustainability issues, up from 30 percent in 2012.
- Only six percent (37 companies) are in Tier 1 for systematically embedding sustainability in company-wide employee engagement, including executive-level involvement.
Engaging employees in a corporate sustainability mission is essential for success, but employees are often an under-utilized resource in a company’s development and implementation of sustainability programs and strategies. Employees should be aware of a company’s sustainability position and goals and should be seen as partners and innovators, proactively nurtured for ideas and feedback. It is often employees on the shop floor, loading dock, laboratory or store front who see first-hand the immediate impacts a company’s operations can have on the environment and community—whether it’s trucks idling for hours or customers asking questions about the sustainability attributes of the product they are buying.
Educating and inspiring employees to look for ways to improve operations, and providing them the tools and opportunities to communicate their observations and ideas to management, is a first step that all companies should take. Training for sustainability, from needs analysis to goals and strategies, should be undertaken just as they are for other aspects of an employee’s job. In short, sustainability shouldn’t be ancillary to employee training, but an integral part of it.
Robust employee engagement not only helps to meet sustainability objectives, but can help drive business success through improved employee morale, recruitment, retention and productivity. The Net Impact study, What Workers Want in 2012, found that among the recently employed college graduates surveyed, 55 percent are currently in jobs where they can make a social or environmental impact. Those respondents also reported higher job satisfaction than those who are not.1
We evaluated all 613 companies for this expectation. We first determined whether companies develop and implement engagement programs and formal training on key sustainability topics for executives and employees and, if so, how those programs are implemented and how far they extend. At companies that performed well on this expectation, employees at every level of the business are trained on the broad sustainability challenges facing the company such as energy use and diversity and inclusion, and on the handling of specific sustainability issues they encounter in their individual roles.
The results of our assessment show that since 2012 there has been greater recognition of employee engagement as a key lever for successfully implementing sustainability strategies: 40 percent (248 companies) are engaging employees on sustainability issues to some extent, up from 30 percent in 2012. Only six percent (37 companies), however, are in Tier 1 for company-wide engagement and job-specific sustainability training and education.
The Food & Beverage sector (18 of 24 companies) and the Materials Sector (27 of 36 companies) are leaders for this expectation with 75 percent of the companies in each sector engaging employees on sustainability. For example:
- Molson Coors has developed a framework called “Our Brew” to discuss corporate responsibility with all stakeholders, including employees. The company conducts an annual employee survey, which includes a number of ethical, social, and environmental questions. Based on the survey results, each regional business unit and global department creates targeted sustainability action plans. Scorecards are used to measure progress on those action plans and are delivered to the executive leadership team quarterly.
Sustainability-focused employee engagement sometimes emanates from a highly engaged CEO or other senior management and sometimes from employee-led “green teams.” No matter how they begin, it is necessary to embed sustainability within the culture of the organization and across all functions of the business to ensure they last. For example:
- Baxter International engages and communicates with employees about its sustainability efforts through various channels, including quarterly all-employee webcasts, during which CEO Bob Parkinson discusses the company’s sustainability values and programs; and a sustainability Intranet site, which provides success stories, tips and other tools to help engage employees on the company's sustainability priorities, including the opportunity to provide feedback and ask questions about the company’s sustainability efforts.
- Staples has appointed a Chief Culture Officer responsible for raising awareness of the company's sustainability commitments and fostering the integration of sustainability into the company’s culture. The company has also implemented a national Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) taskforce to improve internal and external communications about its sustainability programs. Quarterly management forums, where employees can discuss sustainability issues with management, provide an additional channel for employee engagement.
- General Electric is using its Human Resource department to integrate sustainability into the company’s culture—from hiring practices to job education and training to employee well-being programs. GE’s human resource department has helped to incorporate sustainability topics into the company’s training courses at its Leadership Development Institute—including its senior leadership business management course. GE Senior Vice-President and Chief Marketing Officer, Beth Comstock, has stated, “GE needs a new generation of ambidextrous leaders committed to both profits and purpose.”2 And the human resources team at GE is committed to seeking out job candidates that will help the company achieve that goal.
- Intel has created a diversified approach for ensuring that its employees are not only educated on sustainability topics, but are also empowered to take action. Through the company’s Sustainability in Action Grant Program, Intel encourages employees to take local action by funding environmental project proposals. The company also provides tools for employees that help facilitate the integration of sustainability into business decision-making and then incentivizes its employees by linking employee compensation directly with sustainability performance targets.
1. Net Impact. “Talent Report: What Workers Want in 2012.” May 2012. Retrieved from: https://netimpact.org/docs/publications-docs/NetImpact_WhatWorkersWant2012.pdf
2. Savitz, Andrew and Karl Weber. Talent, Transformation and the Triple Bottom Line. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2013.