This is a question that I get asked by the senior management team of some businesses that I work with. Having the responsibility to use your business for good, for progress, is a wonderful thing, but without the cooperation of everyone involved, or without having support from certain pockets or departments within the organisation, an environmental or sustainability strategy can really suffer.
In this article, I am going to look at ways or at least concepts that can encourage employee engagement in environmental management and sustainability.
HSE is everybody’s responsibility
Many businesses take the wrong approach to their Health, Safety, and Environmental obligations (HSE). They see them as a legal or compliance issue, and certainly not something that can be used to bring their workforce together, to engage them, and to work as a collective to bring improvement.
The truth is that by sharing the responsibilities for health, safety, and environmental obligations throughout the organisation, you can collaborate to bring about better ideas, making the workplace safer, and making working processes both easier and less time intensive.
Environmental management is everybody’s responsibility
Instead of placing the responsibility of environmental management in the hands of one department, which could be waste, sustainability, estates, or facilities management, it should be introduced as company culture. Whether that change is made through policy or through education is down to the business in question, but by sharing the responsibility of the environment, the impact that all team members can have becomes a tool for empowerment, for teamwork, and for pursuing solutions. Why should only one department ask questions?
Action or inaction, it’s more about being conscious and engaged
I ask you again, why should only one department ask questions? With a large workforce comes a large diversity of employees, many from different cultural and professional backgrounds, and so naturally there will be many questions and curiosities held. Some organisations like to stick to a certain structure and remain rigid with what works, but by developing the curiosity and engagement of employees, a whole new world of possibility can be opened up. I’m not saying that every individual should take action, but that the organisation should take action to make sure that every individual is engaged, aware, and willing to ask questions.
Transform your sustainability culture
So, making your organisation’s culture more sustainable sounds great, but, how do you actually do it? Working with an environmental consultant is probably a good start, they can assess all of the low-hanging fruit to get the early momentum, plus the best opportunities for long-term culture and behaviour change.
- What you can do right now to transform sustainability culture is to think about what an engagement platform for positive actions might look like or entail in your organisation.
- Do people normally get involved and participate, or is it like drawing blood from a stone to make a change?
- How easy is the internal communication system, and do different departments engage with each other regularly?
- Are employees aware of the current sustainability measures, or is it handled quietly by one team?
- Can employees see any tangible benefits to their working lives by engaging in sustainability – or do they need a different incentive?
There are so many questions to be asked to help shape your culture.
7 Easy wins: employee engagement in environmental management and sustainability
- Define the long-term purpose of the strategy and what it could achieve
- Provide the financial reasoning behind sustainability
- Create educational documents and opportunities to learn
- Make it so that anybody in the organisation can be a sustainability champion
- Get the employees involved in the sustainability strategy design process
- Encourage competition and collaboration between departments
- Communicate sustainability and make the impacts visible internally and externally
Demonstrating leadership by leading from the front
This last section is for the leaders, for the people who see the idea of progress and diligently pursue it. When asking ‘how do I encourage employee engagement in environmental management and sustainability?’, the answer is simple.
You start doing it yourself.
- Not everyone in the organisation can be a leader, it’s something that some people have, and some people don’t. So, what can you do to lead from the front?
- Be accountable to the rights and wrongs of the business
- Make sure that the strategic goals are compatible with the organisation and carefully adhere to them and communicate in an intelligible way
- Make sure that there are easily understandable resources available to everyone in the organisation, and that you can be a platform for discussion and engagement
- Take responsibility for meeting goals and objectives, and not being afraid to direct and delegate
- Look for opportunities to make continual improvements
- Be a good leader, listener, and supporter to those who support you
- Be a strong and transparent communicator, sharing not only the successes but the losses too.
- Know your objectives inside out.
The problem remains for many businesses that they cannot understand how to link the business’ and employees’ values and support for sustainability to their actual processes, products, services, and daily work.
This is an answer that an environmental consultant can provide, the ‘how’.