Embedding sustainability and making it stick

By Jos Hill, Sustainability Consultant, EDF

There’s nothing like an inspired workforce to boost a company’s productivity and returns. While many factors can affect job satisfaction, employees increasingly want to help the environment while on the job.

This summer, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) gathered together sustainability leaders from 23 companies to discuss ways to embed sustainability into their employee’s jobs. Green teams are a common strategy to engage employees in a wide range of activities from greening the office to identifying ways to minimize waste across company facilities. Volunteer green teams exist in many companies, but these activities often compete with people’s formal role making it difficult to attract and sustain engagement.

One solution is to find ways to integrate sustainability into people’s jobs and some companies have come up with some creative ways to do so.

At Boeing, employees use “continuous improvement programs” to identify ways to improve company processes and products. Boeing employees also use the process to improve the company’s environmental performance. In order to integrate environmental continuous improvement into people’s jobs, Boeing’s environmental team has developed a tool that walks employees through a process to identify the environmental impacts of their job, ways to use their role to reduce these impacts and how to create continuous improvement projects to address the issues they have identified.

HP integrates sustainability across its whole workforce, regardless of role, by offering every employee four hours of company time per month to volunteer for an external or internal cause they are passionate about. Employees who enjoy making local connections can join HP’s Eco Advocate Program and represent HP’s sustainability work at customer sites or public events. A smart feature of this program is that it fosters individual leadership and skill development, while minimizing HP’s carbon footprint by deploying local staff to local events and this year HP has deployed approximately two to three Eco Advocates to local events every month.

To celebrate World Water Day this year, Levi Strauss & Co. employees became water conservationists and brand ambassadors by participating in the Go Water<Less™ Challenge:  They wore the same pair of Levi’s jeans for a week without washing them. Employees had great fun uploading more than 5,000 creative photos of themselves wearing their unwashed jeans each day and simultaneously increased internal awareness about global water issues – and the significance of Levi’s innovative Water<Less™ products that are manufactured using up to 96 percent less water than standard processes.

The key to this approach is to take the time to understand the different roles different employees play within a company and to figure out how each can add value both to the company – and the environment. With a slice of creativity, can we move beyond “volunteer green teams” to an era where everybody’s job supports sustainability.

Visit our case study database to see how EDF Climate Corps fellows are engaging employees to transform the way organizations use energy.