The Benefits of Sustainability Employee Engagement

Why should you engage your employees in sustainability? Employees are a company’s essential stakeholders, its “most valuable assets” as often stated in mission statements. John Drummond, the CEO of Corporate Culture who will be speaking on employee engagement at  the Economist Sustainable Business Summit on March 17 in London considers that “an organization is its employees“, and therefore, a natural component of its sustainability strategy.

In a recent blog post, CSR Consultant Celesa Horvath offers an interesting insight into the benefits of employee engagement in sustainability.

She writes that in her experience,” early employee engagement enables the development of a bespoke approach to CR and sustainability that is relevant and sensitive to the realities of each specific organization, and which enjoys a high degree of support and buy-in from the outset.”

Engaging employees in sustainability is a perfect opportunity, especially for SMBs, to initially define – or measure the efficiency of – a company’s sustainability strategy.

Other benefits of employees engagement are:

  • Identify and promote internal talent and drive loyalty
  • Inspire staff and impact individual and collective behaviors within or outside the workplace
  • Find solutions to specific sustainability issues
  • Help achieve specific business targets
  • Impact employees motivation
  •  Help attract and retain talent
  •  Make your employees your most valuable “sustainability ambassadors”

Both John and Celesa, acknowledge the fact that the first step towards a successful employee engagement in sustainability is to ensure a clear commitment at the  Board level and a consistent message across the company in case of a “top-down” initial approach. I’ve written in a previous post how important, and under-estimated, is the role of middle management in this process. 

In a recent round-table about employee engagement, participants highlighted the interest of  “an integrated approach, blending top-down & bottom-up ideas” in order to improve sustainability management across departments, employee communications and to inspire the change.

The main idea here is that top management should define the strategic roadmap and then involve employees in defining the ‘how to’, a topic that I will address in a next post.

 Top-down roll out may also be appropriate to meet specific ‘efficiency’ goals. Expert Glennon Franklin, Director of Strategic GreenSource, writes in a recent blog post that “in this stagnant economy, everyone is focused on cutting costs to drive higher profitability” and that  “getting your employees engaged in sustainable business practices is a quick and efficient way to achieve those savings.”

I usually find it hard  to engage employees & change behaviour around “dry goals” such as ‘cost-saving’, rules or restrictions (‘don’t; ‘use less’…).

 What do you think?

Book Review : CSR for HR

Book review: CSR for HR by Elaine Cohen.

I’ve been following Elaine’s work for a while, mostly through her Twitter account – @ElaineCohen – and by attending a couple of virtual events on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) where she was a speaker. So when her book was recently published I didn’t miss the opportunity to read it. Full disclosure: I was one of the lucky winners of the CSRwire Book Giveaway last month. I’m a follower of their @csrwire Twitter account, and I received a copy of Elaine’s book signed by the Author.

CSR for HR is a very meaningful book by a knowledgable author whose effective storytelling provides the compelling evidence that “a partnership” – between HR and CSR – is needed to advance “responsible business practices“.

Although the Author has included few fictional characters to support her point, the situations, comments and people described in the book are absolutely realistic and will sound familiar to most of the readers. Along with those fictional characters, Elaine Cohen mentions and quotes some of the most well-known experts working in the fields of HR, CSR and Sustainability such as Julie Urlaub, Founder and Managing Partner at Taiga Company, Chris Jarvis from Realized Worth or Cathy Joseph. Finally, it’s nice to see that the Author has managed to stay away from any technical jargon and smartly uses humor and anecdotes all along the narrative.

The main character of the book, Sharon Black, is a young HR Director at a medium-sized software company in the UK. During a flight to the USA, where she’s going to attend a Learning & Development conference, Sharon meets Arena, a senior HR professional, on her way to the same conference, who engages her in a passionate conversation about CSR and Sustainability. Arena explains to Sharon, new to those concepts, why HR professionals’s involvement is not only important but also essential to develop a successful sustainability strategy and how HR people can elaborate and drive CSR actions that deliver both business gain as well as positive social and environmental impact.

Sharon, fascinated by Arena’s demonstration, quickly realizes that this meeting is one of those life-changing events. During the following weeks, we follow Sharon as she begins her professional and personal journey to CSR, becoming, according to her own words, a “CSR evangelist“. The book, as the author puts it, is a “wake up call” for the HR profession and a toolkit to help members of that profession becoming Corporate Social Human Resources (CSHR) Manager.
It’s also a perfect introduction to CSR and sustainability for anyone willing to develop their understanding of those concepts through concrete examples and support the advance of “responsible business practices”. However, for HR professionals, Elaine’s book is much more than an introduction: it’s a practical guide for designing and conducting specific actions that aim to build CSR credibility, which is, as the book points out, “dependent on delivery and not on rhetoric.”

The book describes a comprehensive range of actions that HR professionals can take to deliver sound CSR results, from Ethics, Human Rights, Employee engagement and reward to Green Teams and Volunteering Programs. For each of those topics, the Author offers real life examples, thoroughly presented, including useful facts and links for who’d like to get into further details. But the book should not be seen as a manual or a recipe book only. It highlights, in my opinion, something critical: what is essential is the process of building a sustainability strategy and defining the CSR activities that support it. Simply copying what others are doing is not an option, for the strategy, to be successful, must be authentic, not driven by PR considerations and therefore developed by each company based on their particular internal and external situations.

However, there’s no need to “reinvent the wheel”, as the achievements of the pioneers and practitioners in this field constitute a solid set of references for HR professionals who understand that, not only CSR is “here to stay”, but is an essential part of their job. The Author demonstrates through the book that cooperation and teamwork, both internal and external, are key in order to build a successful CSR roadmap and that what matters, as Arena tells Sharon, are “small steps and small wins“.

Yesterday I met up with my friend Victoria, a young and talented HR manager, working with a multinational IT company and I asked her what she knew about Corporate Social Responsibility and if it was part of her role and responsibilities. She, almost literally, answered: “I have to admit that I don’t know what corporate social responsibility involves. I’m not sure why it’s important. ” We enjoyed our Cookie Dough ice cream, chatting about other topics, before having a walk along the sea in Barcelona. When I went back home I ordered a copy of HR for CSR. It will be the perfect Christmas gift for Victoria and, hopefully, the beginning of a great journey!

CSR for HR can be ordered at : www.greenleaf-publishing.com/csr4hr