Employee involvement vital to success in sustainability

Last month, Verizon launched an employee communications campaign designed in part to generate ideas on how the company can improve its sustainability efforts.

Last month, Verizon launched an employee communications campaign designed in part to generate ideas on how the company can improve its sustainability efforts.

As part of the initiative, the telecommunications company created a new internal Web site, with input from the company's first chief sustainability officer, James Gowen, who assumed the role in 2009 after being at Verizon for 15 years.

"Employees are a critical part of the whole sustainability initiative," says Harry Pfaff, director of employee communications at Verizon. "You need your employees to be innovating around green and sustainability. If they are, that will only enhance the success of the company's initiatives."

Verizon is using webcasts and e-mail to communicate with staff. It also created VZ Green TV, an internal video channel. 

In addition to providing energy and recycling tips for work and home, the site features interactive features, such as a "Go Green" Web page, where employees can make suggestions about the company's sustain- ability programs.

Verizon is not alone in engaging its employees in its sustainability efforts. Companies are increasingly recognizing the value that this audience can play in the ultimate success of such work. Finding the right way to inform and motivate staffers in this area has become a top priority.

Michael Neuwirth, senior director of PR at The Dannon Company, says the organization shares its progress with employees through an annual sustainability overview, which it has done since 2007.

Another way the company motivates them to have a stake in such issues is through financial incentives. One-third of Dannon's incremental compensation is based on social metrics, including safety and environmental performance.

"That's where the rubber meets the road," Neuwirth says. "It's not a priority for the company unless you make it a priority for the individuals in the company."

Effective motivation
Frank Mantero, director of corporate citizenship programs for GE, notes how his company, which has been dedicated to environmental sustainability for years, has taken several measures to get its employees involved and invested in the work it does.

In addition to its Ecomagination campaign, the company encourages employees across the globe to embark on "treasure hunts." These excursions ask staffers to examine ways in which the company can be more energy efficient. Tasks can range from something as simple as changing the type of light bulb in an office to finding energy-saving opportunities with equipment in plants.

The program, in addition to other GE greenhouse gas emissions efforts, helped contribute $100 million in savings last year.

In some areas of the country, such as Cincinnati, GE employees have taken the treasure hunt concept to the local communities after finding success.

"It gives the employees that type of ownership to effect the change that goes beyond the awareness of Ecomagination," Mantero explains. "From a morale standpoint, it has been a great program."

Culture of success
Mark Grundy, VP in Edelman's CSR practice, agrees that for those companies that are successfully transforming themselves in terms of sustainability, it is due to two factors: structure and culture.

Things such as financial incentives and mandatory recycling have proven effective in motivating employees to have an interest in sustainability issues, he adds.

"At the end of the day, it is structure and culture together," Grundy says. "Unless people buy into this, you're only paying lip service and not making the change. People have to want this to make this work. The structure helps you get there. If you get individual employees that believe and walk the walk, you will then have a great deal of credibility."

Engaging staffers:

Sustainability reports
Sharing the company's progress on sustainability goals on a routine basis helps staff feel as if they are part of the solution

Financial incentives
Tying bonuses to sustainability objectives and performance can keep staff invested in making sustainability work

Team projects
Devising interesting ways for employees to share ideas on sustainability can increase participation

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