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Friday, March 5, 2010

Employees Should Be Part of Any Green Solution

A report published by the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) last week highlights the business benefits of environmental and sustainability education for employees. According to the study, these business benefits include improving operational efficiency, strengthening customer and community relations, innovation, supply chain management, and attracting and retraining employees.

I would agree with the assessment of these business benefits, and emphasize that the value of sustainability education and engagement of employees is as a means to an end, not as an end in itself. Engagement in environmental programs increases awareness of and sensitivity to key sustainability issues.

Often, employees take that heightened sensitivity back into the workplace and apply it in their day jobs, as well as at home and in their communities. For example, the McDonald's project cited in the study shows how restaurants and their employees worked with customers to reduce 3 million pounds of CO2; BT and Hewlett-Packard have created programs to support employees who want to install solar installation in their homes.

While the report highlights several very tangible business benefits of employee engagement in sustainability initiatives it neglects one key intangible benefit: trust. Authenticity is the key here. I maintain that trust is driven by authenticity and distrust by lack of authenticity.

We judge whether a person is authentic by the consistency with which they apply their values. The public judges companies in the same way. If we declare a corporate responsibility value through our environmental investments we are expected to apply that value consistently. Therefore it is important that environmental values are applied consistently throughout the company and incorporated into the work of all employees -- not just Corporate Social Responsibility professionals.

What would you think of an IT company building a solar installation on top of an inefficiently run data center? Unfortunately, this is a plausible scenario in the absence of the involvement and coordinated efforts of employees throughout the company.

However, when employees are engaged, they can help align practices throughout the company, resulting in outcomes like Baxter's "lean" energy program for its 63 key manufacturing facilities. At BT we have tackled core operations by widening the operating temperature range of our network data centers to significantly reduce HVAC usage.

This report provides good news in a down economy. Companies should be encouraged by examples of the linkages between sustainability education and engagement of employees and clear business benefits. However, we still have work to do.

A recent study from Brighter Planet finds that 86 percent of firms fail to engage employees on sustainability. And, true skeptics are likely to question the scarcity of quantifiable measures of impact of engagement of employees in sustainability initiatives. I agree with NEEF that next steps include gathering data further linking employee engagement to environmental outcomes.

This post was originally published on March 4, 2010 on at


  1. Kevin, I really enjoyed your article. I am a career changer and recent grad interested in the CSR field. I am reworking my resume to pull out my previous skills that would match up with CSR skills. It is such a new field that I find it difficult to even find job titles to investigate. Do you have any advice? Thanks, Pamela

  2. Hi Pamela, The BCCCC has recently written a paper on the competencies for a CR practitioner. I think the ISSP is about to publish one and the CROA is looking at the subject too.
    You can find job titles through the usual job search engines. Just put Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability in the search terms. I receive one from but I am sure there are others too.
    The key question really though is how to get into those jobs. It is a growing field, but will always be narrow. Rather than limiting yourself to being a CR practitioner you might want to think about roles in which you can leverage, or even remain in, your previous field but apply corporate responsibility values. I hope that helps a bit.