Tips for mainstreaming sustainability among employees

  • 9 Dec 2022
  • 3 Mins Read
  • 〜 by Leah Waweru Kakai

To enjoy success, every organisation must ensure that its employees understand, own, and support its sustainability agenda. Companies must, therefore, engage their employees and carry them along the journey as ambassadors and champions of the sustainability agenda.

As Doug Conant – former President and CEO of the Campbell Soup Company – said, “to win in the marketplace you must first win in the workplace.”

Engaging employees in your sustainability journey will offer multiple benefits such as improved loyalty and productivity among others.

Ultimately, this will translate to employees contributing to the achievement of the company goals through participating in initiatives and making innovations in line with the company’s sustainability agenda.

It is important to build psychological ownership of sustainability initiatives among employees. Psychological ownership refers to feelings of possessiveness and connection that we develop toward an appealing object, person, company, or idea. Research proves that organisational ownership leads to greater job satisfaction, engagement, productivity, and profits – making ownership a powerful concept for those seeking to galvanize a company around sustainability.

You can build this psychological ownership through various ways such as demystifying sustainability so every staff can understand. While there is increased knowledge and understanding about sustainability among business leaders in the region, terms like sustainable, circular economy, carbon footprint, SDGs, and ESG remain buzzwords among employees who are still wondering what these jargons mean. Take time to explain the meaning of such terms in your communication messaging and material.

Secondly, position sustainability as a solution to global and local challenges around you. Confronted daily with evidence of climate change and other issues that harm our well-being, most employees yearn to do something but don’t know what or how. Your company can fill this need and gain a competitive advantage by transforming its employees from bystanders into solution providers and champions of social and environmental good. Position sustainability as a means for purposeful living.

Thirdly, provide proper training and set the necessary systems in place to enable everyone to make sustainability part of their job. Desist from creating a little department in the corner and mainstream sustainability into all countries, all brands, all divisions, etc. As Keith Weed, CMO at Unilever, says, “The sooner you have an exception, everyone thinks they’re the exception.”

Fourthly, set clear goals and define measurements of success that will be used to evaluate progress frequently. Companies should provide ongoing feedback on sustainability targets and the employee’s contributions toward achieving them. This will help to gradually move them to own sustainability as indivisible from their jobs.

Fifthly, enliven the sustainability ownership experience through initiatives that allow employees to actively participate, away from their work. For example, invite staff to tree planting initiatives or pair employees with jobless young people whom they can help mentor and upskill. Several corporates in Kenya are doing this already.  For example, EABL’s Kijani and KCB’s Ubuntu programmes through which the company staff plant trees and educate needy students respectively.

Sixthly, recognize and award outstanding employees for their contribution to championing sustainability initiatives. Rewarding employees helps boost motivation and encourages friendly competition among them. The result is a rich, healthy, and high-performance business culture.

Seventhly, offer incentives to encourage active participation. For example, green-commuting incentives can probe employees to take the bus, carpool, or cycle to work. Back in 2006, Clif Bar and Company in America created its “Cool Commute incentive” through which employees received points they can redeem for cash, credit at the company cafe, and other perks.

Lastly, encourage feedback from employees and respond or act on their suggestions to keep them motivated. Actively seek employees’ ideas and co-create sustainable practices with them. You may even set up a Fund that will be receiving funding ideas from employees every year.

This list cannot be exhausted but goes on and on into the furthest horizons of our imagination and creativity. We encourage you to make deliberate efforts to carry employees along with you in your sustainability journey. The shared best practices are a good place to start. All the best!