After establishing sustainability goals and developing roadmaps, keep up the momentum! Follow these steps to engage staff and garner buy-in for an all-hands-on-deck effort.
During the pandemic, I planted tomato seeds in a large pot on my patio. After weeks of watering, I was ecstatic one morning to find the first few sprouts emerge from the soil. Over time, it grew into a beautiful plant and produced delicious fruits (or vegetables?). I even named the newest addition to the patio Tommy. (Yes, the pandemic drew many of us to extreme forms of entertainment)
Without the correct ingredients (seeds, water, sunshine, and time) I could not have produced the tomatoes myself. No amount of willpower or coaxing could change this fact.
The same principle applies to companies. Regardless of resources, senior leadership can’t “will” a culture of sustainability. It requires key ingredients to earn buy-in.
Let the People Grow
Long-term success requires ongoing sustainability programming and patience for organizational acculturation to take root. Dedicating time to espouse the virtues of sustainability goals to staff is key. Frequent reminders of goals and progress all contribute to widespread adoption over time. Here are a few tips to ensure you’re nurturing the seeds of sustainability.
Showcase staff contributions towards the sustainability goals to foster a sense of community around sustainability. Celebrate success stories. Disseminate wins across your organization and stakeholders. Highlight case studies on your website. Share one-pagers with customers and the public.
Make it Personal
To garner buy-in, relate the organization’s sustainability goals and intended results to employees. Show how the sustainability goals relate to their life.
For example, imagine an organization commits to purchasing 100% clean power by a certain date. Highlighting (particularly to parents) the correlation between cleaner energy and reduced childhood asthma rates would prove a strong motivator. Build personally-relatable engagements into regular company processes. Use science!
We are all social beings. We want to belong. Humans want to feel a part of something bigger than themselves. Share your vision with others. Ask others about their vision. Allow employees to share their stories with each other. Share with suppliers, vendors, and other stakeholders. Connect sustainability to the people it impacts. It will help grow bonds with each other and the organization.
Communicate openly and regularly on progress towards stated goals. Be proud when ahead of schedule. Use humility and honesty when lagging. Don’t sugarcoat it. Your employees will sniff it out, they’re smarter than that. Remember, you hired them!
Much like an annual employee review, the evaluation period is never the time to share surprising news. As managers know, regular check-ins with staff throughout the year allow for adjustments, learning, and growth. Sustainability goals are no different. Waiting to share progress until reaching (or missing) a milestone rarely helps anybody.
Provide a platform for staff to submit ideas and share their successes. Welcome all ideas. There’s no obligation to act on every suggestion, but leaders have an opportunity to prove they’re listening and value staff input. Continue to thank employees for their valuable feedback.
Be Humble. Be Kind.
For many, this is the first time incorporating sustainability in a corporate setting. With any company-wide venture, there will always be those who opt-out. That’s OK. Focus on reaching the masses, not on the few who have other priorities. We aren’t aware of everyone’s fears, concerns, or stories. Move forward with those who are willing to join and provide opportunities for those who aren’t to express why.
Remember, building a culture of sustainability takes time. Nobody built Rome or your company in a day. Be patient but assertive. Remember the end goal(s). Don’t be afraid to admit when things aren’t working and course-correct. Place incentives for staff to contribute to the goals. Setting strong communication channels from the outset will garner buy-in and lead to acceptance over time.
The simple truth is that most employees value working for sustainable organizations. Building a culture of sustainability is the catalyst for improving brand loyalty, workplace culture, employee satisfaction and retention, and operational efficiency.
Like the original tomato seed, your hard work will soon begin paying dividends.
Check out the next article in this series for tips for tracking progress towards your sustainability goals.
You just read article number eight in a ten-part series titled Nine Beacons to Chart Your Business Towards a Sustainable Future. To start from the beginning, check-out the first article in the series. For the entire picture, download the full publication (PDF).
Are you ready to chart your sustainability journey? Could you use help developing engagement strategies? Contact Solutions in Sustainability today to share your long-term sustainability goals. Let’s find the right Solutions in Sustainability for you.
About the Author
Alex Kaufman is a science communicator, clean energy specialist, sustainability nerd, professional engineer, travel enthusiast, and resident of San Diego, California. When not helping clients, you can usually find him cycling, hiking, reading, spending time with loved ones, or planning the next big adventure. He is open to speaking engagements. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.