Turn on the green light – Engaging employees in sustainability

There’s so much we all took away from the CIPR Inside Annual Internal Communication Conference, and still so much to share. Ellie Day from HarknessKennett has shared her post with us on her view of the workshop from Roland Burton from Marks & Spencer.

Over to Ellie:

In a society in which it’s increasingly popular to be ‘seen to be green’, the subject of sustainability in the workplace is becoming more and more relevant. Heading the workshop was Roland Burton, Senior Internal Communication Manager for M&S, a company who launched their very own sustainability initiative (‘Plan A’) in 2007 and won the Sustainable Business of the Year Award 2013.

Roland tackled the issue of engaging staff in sustainable behaviour, first asking, ‘why should companies have an eco strategy? What’s the benefit?’

• Reputation – it looks good

• Financial benefits – money can be saved through being more efficient

• Talent – generation Y want to work for a sustainable company – they expect it

• Motivated employees – people seek meaning in their jobs; they wish to feel that they are having a positive impact

More specifically, why should we in internal communications care?

• It’s a great story to tell – a good sustainability programme is highly visible and attracts a lot of positive feedback/coverage

• It can be fun – Fundraising events and inter-organisational competitions can make for enjoyable experiences

• Social media – it gives excellent material to tweet, Facebook and blog about

• It’s a quick win to engagement – people respond well to a company with a social conscience

Given these reasons why employees should be engaged in sustainability, why don’t people always get involved?

Roland identified three main reasons:

• “It’s too hard” – the idea that it’s too difficult, that someone else will do it

• “I’m too busy” – sustainability isn’t prioritised

• “It’s too boring” – the perception that being eco-friendly is dull

Often, people don’t get involved in sustainability projects because it’s hard to relate how CSR impacts on their role. It’s placed low down on priorities – when you’ve got a ‘to-do’ list as long as your arm, the chances are you’re going to make sure you complete the tasks which have the most immediate impact; or the most immediate repercussions if they’re not accomplished.

As with the implementation of any scheme, companies face challenges in keeping their employees motivated. So, we as IC people have to tell a compelling story on the impact of CSR; to make it relevant; and make it fun. Through identifying case studies, we add an element of personal interest, which means that employees are more inclined to play an active role in the scheme. So, by specifically referencing those who benefit from the project – fair trade suppliers, for example, or local communities who have been helped – we are more likely to engage colleagues in a sustainability initiative.

In the case of M&S, they try to make it, as much as possible, business as usual, incorporating these schemes into day-to-day roles. They also incentivise sustainability; there need to be benefits that people can measure their actions against. One example given was a particular M&S store who had done particularly well in a fundraising drive, and were rewarded with a visit from the celebrity face of Marks & Spencer, Joanna Lumley.

Roland also noted that it’s important to keep the topic fresh, by introducing regular milestones and events integrated with the business. M&S routinely hold events such as beach cleans and charity fundraisers in order to maintain the momentum of the Plan A strategy.

Companies should have people who tell these stories which galvanise employees to want to play a role in eco schemes. They need champions who are given the time and the tools to spread the strategy throughout the workforce. These champions should be given materials which are easily cascaded and shared with colleagues, and allowed to give updates in meetings in order to keep the initiative collaborative and moving forward.

Roland’s workshop highlighted the fact that that being a highly profitable corporate organisation and being sustainable aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, enjoying strong environmental credentials, as well as looking good and being financially beneficial, can create a more satisfying working environment, and, ultimately, happier employees.

Thank you, Roland, for an informative and engaging workshop!


Thanks for sharing Ellie. If you have a short post longing to be shared, let us know, and send it to us at ciprinisde@gmail.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *