Greening your operations and facilities is a great way to capture cost savings from eco-efficiencies, but these activities often happen behind-the-scenes and are invisible to employees, students, customers, and suppliers. Holistic sustainability encourages you to look at three other aspects that are often neglected in the world of sustainability, but offer real business value. If you are leaving out any of these quadrants, you are leaving value on the table:
- Social Responsibility: How socially responsible and resilient is your supply chain? How are your relationships with the communities where you operate?
- Engage Employees: Andrew Winston, sustainability author and strategist, recently spoke on a Harvard Business Review Facebook video about the intangible value of employee engagement, including attracting and retaining talent; according to Winston, the measured value of retention can be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. One case he points to is Unilever, a large sustainability-minded company that has become one of the top companies to work for, in part due to its sustainability initiatives. An article in Fortune on Uniliver concluded, “… in an era in where cultivating talent is increasingly essential, building a deep and authentic sense of purpose could be a company’s ultimate competitive advantage.” Are your employees aware of your commitment to sustainability and engaged on a day-to-day basis? Have you created a culture that cultivates creativity and innovation? Are employees looking for ways to build revenues from a sustainability lens?
- Tell Your Success Stories: Winston also argues that companies tend to undersell the good they are doing. “They want to do first and then talk about it… But then they have done a lot of good and maybe haven’t talked about it enough,” he said. This gets to the upper right quadrant—the value of communicating externally about your successes and (perhaps your challenges). A recent article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review on how to engage employees in sustainability recommended, “Make sustainability visible inside and outside the company.“ It reported that “several social cognition models point to the important role that visibility and salience play in changing people’s beliefs and attitudes and influencing behavior.” Are your success stories and best practices visible to your employees, customers, community, and other stakeholders? Is your sustainability message integrated into your communications channels?
Seven Tips for Making a Bigger Impact
What does the holistic sustainability framework look like in action? Green Impact offers seven principles for making a bigger, greener impact:
- See the Big Picture
- Build Off Your Brand
- Stress Action
- Tap into Values
- Put a Face to Your Story
- Share Success Stories (internally & externally)
- Identify and Empower Green Champions
1. See the Big Picture
One of Ronald Heiftetz’s key principles in Leadership Without Easy Answers is adaptive leadership. His work on leadership includes the concept of getting of getting off the dance floor and gain perspective from the balcony. A key element to holistic sustainability incorporates this concept and encourages organizations to step back and assess the system they are part of. Take the time to step back and see the big picture. Who is missing from the table? Who are the key players? Who are potential allies? The sweet spot, according to Heifetz is to go back and forth between the dance floor and the balcony.
USF started its process by stepping back and looking at the whole picture. Since the new Office of Sustainability was located within Facilities, as a team we sat down with staff and assessed the bigger system they are part of. It was clear that Facilities could not just hunker down in the lower-left quadrant and focus on operations of its facilities. Success would require a strategy that engaged faculty, staff and students as well as externally to the community and other stakeholders. We crafted a strategy that identified partners, channels and outreach tactics.
Questions to explore at this stage include:
- Who are the key players?
- Who is missing from the table/discussion?
- Who are potential allies/partners?
- What are potential strategies and channels for engaging key stakeholders?
- What is your organization’s tolerance for discomfort? Is it ripe for change?
- What action/intervention (strategies) can you take to move things forward?
- What metrics can you use to measure success?
Go HERE to read more on this step.
The sweet spot is to go back and forth between the dance floor and the balcony. After you take the time to step back and see the big picture, you take action.
2. Build Off Your Brand
To increase visibility and impact, stay true to your core brand, yet create a memorable green message.
In 2013, ecoAmerica launched MomentUs, a strategic cross-sector communications initiative designed to build support for climate change solutions. MomentUs created unique brands and messaging for each key sector.
For example, to engage business leaders, it created America Knows How with the tagline “Better Business, Better Climate.” To engage health care leaders, it created Climate for Health, with messaging targeted around the link between health and climate. Both programs built off ecoAmerica’s core values, but use targeted branding and messaging to engage specific audiences.
3. Stress Action
Real change can’t happen from the balcony. Once you gain perspective and develop a strategy, you need to get back onto the dance floor and test things out. As explained in Leadership on the Line, “You take action, step back and assess the results of the action, reassess the plan, then go to the dance floor and make the next move.”
A key component to holistic sustainability is to create an actionable strategy that can be implemented within six months. USF’s strategy included creating values-based messaging and collateral that could support the launch of the Office of Sustainability, with a focus on strategies that would inspire faculty, staff and students to take action action, helping USF to execute its Climate Action Plan. USF committed the staff and resources to transform the strategy into real action–it didn’t just sit on the shelf.
4. Strengthen Your Message: Tap into Values
To capture attention, connect with your audience, and inspire action tap into the values of your target audience and use values-based messaging. The more you can hone in on who you want to reach and what they care about, the more successful engagement efforts will be.
Here are four examples of this idea in action:
- MomentUs’ Climate for Health campaign recently released Let’s Talk Health with suggestions on how to message climate change. Understanding your audience’s priorities and talking about their values, including of family, community or even fairness, can open hearts and minds.
- Another health-related example is University of California, San Francisco’s most recent campaign, Climate Changes Health. To reach faculty, staff and students, working to promote world health, the messaging makes the connection between climate solutions and improving people’s health.
- Building on USF’s Jesuit roots, USF leveraged the timely release of the Pope’s encyclical, stressing the message that we are part of nature, not separate from it and emphasizing his call for stewardship and action. While tapping into faith might not work for all organizations, it was an appropriate emphasis for USF and an opportunity for USF’s President to make his environmental message more visible in a short video, Beloved in Nature.
- Be it health, family, bird watching or outdoor recreation, sustainability is no longer about just saving money or saving the planet. It needs to be visible and connect to the values employees and customers care about. Take REI’s recent campaign #optoutside, which gave employees the day off on black Friday to explore outside and closed its doors on this big shopping day. In addition to the customer loyalty this day inspired, it showed employees that REI is living its brand and values.
5. Put a Face to Your Story
To amplify your impact, make sustainability visible internally and externally: Put a face to it and highlight success stories.
Several social cognition models point visibility and salience playing a role in changing people’s beliefs and attitudes and influencing behavior. Here are a few ways to make sustainability more tangible and visible:
- Highlight success stories and green champions: Consistently integrate success stories and best practices into communications. For example, each month the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) posts three such highlights on its sustainability website.
- Put a face to it: Use images and stories that spotlight personal connections to sustainability and put a face to it. America Knows How‘s website highlights success stories and figures, such as Leilani Münter, race car driver, and Tachi Kiuchi, chairman and CEO of Mitsubishi Electric America. For Earth Day a few years ago, USF executed an interactive booth that encouraged faculty, staff and students to share “I love the earth because…” and “I take action for the Earth when I…”. By responding to these personal questions, the values of USF’s community became more visible, ranging from connecting to nature, time spent with family and health. The photos were posted on social media and widely shared on Instagram. Look for opportunities to make sustainability more visible, tangible and interactive.
- Use video: To promote sustainability to faculty, staff, and students UCSF created a fun sustainability video built on its core mission to protect world health. The main character, Dr. McGreeny, delivers the message, “A healthy planet means healthy patients.”
6. Share Success Stories
A key strategy for USF was to bring sustainability alive by sharing its success stories. Through a Website hub, brochure, success stories and video we stressed six material issues: transportation, green building, carbon footprint, zero waste, sustainable food and water use. The challenge was how to bring this issues alive.
A cross-section of USF’s community was highlighted in written success stories: faculty, students and alumni. To bring USF’s story alive and capture the short attention span of busy students, part of the strategy was to use video. We spent considerable time finding the story we wanted to tell and casting the video. Green Happens Here will be used for new student orientation, employee orientation and outreach to the community. An unexpected benefit was the opportunity to engage USF’s president in the project, showing top-down support for USF’s green initiatives.
Four key questions to explore during this phase include:
- What is the story you want to tell?
- What members of your community can help you tell the story?
- What images best communicate your message?
- What existing channels exist for getting the word out about your successes?
7. Identify and Empower Green Champions
Identify employees with a passion for sustainability and empower them to move into action. Top‐down vision and commitment is critical. However, all employees should be engaged.
An effective strategy for embedding sustainability deeper into your organization is to identify green champions or ambassadors, employees who can help support new sustainability initiatives. Clothier Marks & Spencer, for example, has sustainability champions in its 1,380 stores. Here are a few more such programs:
- Bloomberg’s BCAUSE program includes ambassadors to support green initiatives; Bloomberg also has extended its program and events to employees’ families, engaging spouses and dependents to increase impact.
- At Genentech, 500 GreenGuides volunteer to serve as a peer resource to support new green initiatives.
- Mattel has identified green champions at over half its American Girl stores as part of a green team effort know as SEEDs: Sustainability for Employee Engagement and Development. For Mattel, a key to effectively scaling green teams to multiple locations has been to empower green champions to take action by providing them ongoing resources, activity ideas, collateral and support.
- One of my favorite activities to activate green champions is to ask a values-based question. This gets employees thinking about why environmental stewardship matters to them. Learn more about this activity HERE.
- Other great entry points for engaging employees include promoting sustainable food, reducing waste, recognizing green champions and engaging employees’ kids.
Some ideas to consider:
- Identify your green champions and empower them with tools and resources to make it easier for them to move into action and engage employees.
- Use friendly competitions and fun (green) prizes as a way to inspire action and to maintain momentum;
- Provide monthly or quarterly activity ideas;
- Create monthly or quarterly content that highlights best practices, spotlights a green champion, or announces a new green offering.
- You will get some of your best green ideas from employees—organize a way to gather and screen employees’ suggestions.
- Ask a good question. See Engage Green Champions: Ask a Good Question for a free template. Or download HERE.
And Start All Over Again
If the ultimate goal is a true transformation in how we do business, eat, live and get around, one must remember to step back and reassess. What is working? Where are you stuck? Are you simply asking someone to recycle a can or to reassess their relationship to nature? These deeper transformations will lead to the deepest changes, but will also be met with more resistance. So back to step one to be your most strategic, successful self.