Employee Engagement for Sustainability

Your Company's Biggest Competitive Advantage: Employee Engagement for Sustainability.

Your board is talking about sustainability. Your management is talking about sustainability. But what about the people that really matter? Forgetting to involve employees can quickly become costly for those looking to build a competitive advantage in the green shift.

It doesn't do much good if every top-level executive in your company is onboard if the people working directly with your customers aren't familiar with the company's work with sustainability. When customers start looking for something more when they purchase, worst case, it means that they will choose to take their business elsewhere. And who knows? Maybe it's already happening.

A Successful Customer Experience begins with ...

... empowering frontline employees. If you put your employees first,  your ability to create emotional connections with customers increases. I remember my dad sharing the story of why he'd always shop at the same grocery store for months, regardless of how many other convenience shops there were nearby. The guy sitting at the check-out was always smiling, incredibly polite and chatty, making him the sole reason for why my dad made an effort to shop there every time.

When this man stopped working there, my dad stopped shopping there. This is of course not the same in every case but illustrates the importance of employees in direct communication with customers. 

Because you see, there aren't any shortcuts to creating emotional connections with customers. It requires more than just great products and services. It requires motivated and empowered employees. And there are many ways to build employee commitment to creating exceptional customer experiences. Sustainability is one of today's untapped areas.

Sustainability is moving away from being just personal initiatives and personal commitment to generations of people becoming more informed and more demanding. Therefore, it's no longer good enough to just be better than your competition. Tapping into this opportunity allows for autonomy and responsibility as a way to stimulate innovative thinking in your employees. 

Almost nine of out ten employees consider it important that their employer takes social responsibility seriously
According to an IPSOS MORI Survey in the UK.

Here are three things to keep in mind when engaging employees in your company's sustainability strategy:

1. Provide Meaningful Involvement for Employees.

Offer something true and meaningful, as opposed to a side note when engaging employees in sustainability. Make sure your investment in employee engagement provides value - for your employees, your customers, and your company. 

More often than not, this means:

  • Being truly purposeful.
  • Being better than the sources of inspiration setting the standards for more informed customers.

And these standards can be set across the board - through family members, neighbors, online communities and interest organizations.

2. Link Individual Goals and Effort to Business Objectives.

Asking employees to take an actionable part in your sustainability strategy, whether it means educating themselves, executing tasks or sharing hands-on insights, link their efforts and goal to the business objective. A direct impact can encourage accountability as well as better the overall performance. It will also help place us as individuals in the bigger picture. 

Imagine how meaningful it will be for your employees when they can actually make a positive impact on society by working at your company.

3. Make your Strategy Real-Time.

A lesson from barriers of climate communication as told by Per Espen Stoknes tells us that for sustainability to be relevant for you as an individual it requires context both in time and space.

Sustainability has to be a part of every conversation in an organization. A very simple way of looking at it is that you need to get to a point where you have an ongoing conversation about sustainability in your organization throughout the whole year and across every department.

As an example: Annual reports on emissions will rarely create much engagement beyond reviewing company performance. Instead, experiment with integrated reporting that is engaging and customized to different stakeholders. Footprint visualizations could, for example, be integrated and updated live on the webpage.

With all of this in mind, these are not initiatives you do as a favor to your employees. It will provide a real, durable value for your company if implemented and harvested correctly. Not only will your employees be loyal and have a longer-term commitment to your company, but it will also reflect on your prospects and your customers.

Astrid Norum

Climate Action