Employees want to be part of an organization that cares about environmental sustainability in the workplace.

I once worked for a renewable energy business, and the executive team was all in agreement that environmental sustainability in the workplace should be a key focus for our organization. The rationale from the executive team was to ensure that as a renewable energy company, we wanted our brand to clearly represent our industry and our workplace had to support that image.

In order to sell renewable energy, we needed to lead the way in a susatainable workplace. We were, however, not sure our employees cared enough about our efforts and investment in these programs.

Armed with a healthy dose of skepticism, I gathered a cross-functional team of employees appointed to develop a new corporate mission statement and value proposition. My part was to facilitate the discussion and be sure the team stayed on track with the CEO's vision. As the CHRO, my uncertainty with this task was in the knowledge that senior management already had their view and this team may walk away with a lot of hours invested in a task that was already predetermined.

Engaging this team in the process would be a good way to measure whether our efforts over the years had truly become part of our culture.

Our environmental sustainability in the workplace program had the following initiatives in place:

  • Annual environmental symposium where high school science students worked with company representatives to research local environmental concerns, report on their findings, and recommend or implement a remedy.
  • Corporate office move to a green space with more natural lighting, water filtration system to reduce the use of bottled water and sensors to turn off lights when office space was not in use.
  • Strong public and community relations programs highlighting our efforts in environmental sustainability. This was aligned to our recruitment and hiring processes.

Here is what I learned:

  • Our employees were actually already engaged in our practices. They all wanted to work for a company that had strong workplace sustainability practices and wanted the programs to continue.
  • As an HR leader, I wanted to be an effective partner with our leadership and drive the messaging with this team. We needed to use this program to attract talent to our organization.
  • There was a cost to running our annual environmental symposium. We may not ever completely understand or see the return on this investment, but our employees saw the benefit in their communities. They were energized by the program and saw the opportunity to attract a new generation into renewable energy and science programs.

Takeaways for HR leaders:

  • Work with your executive team to clearly define how a sustaininable workplace supports the company mission.
  • Engage the workforce, have a focused effort on a few simple and achievable objectives, and demonstrate how they improve your workplace.
  • Tie these efforts into HR programs like talent acqusition to attract employes that will emrbace your culture.
  • Don't be afraid to reevaluate your program and reintroduce new measures.

As we wrapped up the project it was very clear to the senior leaders of the organization that they had to continue to support the workplace and environmental sustainability programs. ROI was tough to measure, but our investment would be returned in an engaged workforce.

Tags: Employee Engagement Corporate Social Responsibility Sustainability