RESOURCES: The Proof is in the Sustainability Pudding

As you may know, this blog is focusing on sustainability education and engagement this month.  Last week we wrote about several of the ways that SSC can help you start a sustainability movement among your employees.  We gave you a couple of compelling reasons to join the party, but we didn’t go into great detail.  What do you expect us to do – write a thesis on the subject? 

Well fortunately, recent Harvard Masters of Liberal Arts grad Elissavet Psilou has done just that! 

Psilou’s thesis addresses how organizations can start thinking about employee engagement.  Furthermore, it explores how companies can use incentives to effectively motivate these employees to participate in the corporate sustainability efforts.  Psilou hypothesized that an institutional system of rewards – both monetary and non-monetary – would do the trick. 

We’re not surprised to see these results; in fact we see this every day with clients.  So we appreciated being interviewed, along with nine other global experts in sustainability business and consulting, for her research!

Psilou’s thesis looks at four key approaches to employee engagement: 

1)   Education

2)   Public demonstration of sustainability practices

3)   Activation of employee involvement

4)   Rewards for sustainability achievement

Psilou’s research identified some of the many positive consequences for firms that engage in sustainability:  It’s profitable; the core values of sustainability align with stakeholders’ requirements of transparent operation and clear accountability; employees are more productive, loyal, and safe; it enhances the company’s value and reputation.  The list goes on and on. 

And everyone else is doing it (70% of publicly traded companies, in fact!).  Major firms such as Intel, Walmart, GE, PepsiCo, Nestle, and Molson Coors all promote sustainability through workforce engagement. 

So what’s the problem?  Psilou found that of the four approaches to engagement listed above, the companies she studied almost completely failed to take advantage of the best incentive – rewards for sustainability achievement!  Companies aren’t evaluating or compensating their employees based on their efforts.  The biggest problem, Psilou writes, is that managers “don’t always have the case-specific facts on how to identify the range of sustainability changes needed.” 

(Shameless plug: Wouldn’t it be nice to have a global network of sustainability professionals to guide you through this process?

According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (in case it’s been a while since you took Psychology 101), an individual’s basic needs must be met before one can start thinking about subsequent levels of motivation.  In other words, if your employee hasn’t gotten a lunch break, you can’t convince him to walk to the recycling bin.  And even after he’s eaten, if he doesn’t feel good about his job or company, you still won’t be able to get him to recycle. 

So what’s the good news?  It turns out people are pretty easy to influence.  In fact, up to 80% of your employees can be motivated through incentives.  Whether you use prizes, certifications, time off, perks, or bonuses, a properly incentivized employee will be running to the recycling bin before you know it.  It would be interesting to track the companies that Psilou highlights in her work as they develop rewards programs to see this phenomenon of organizational behavior in action. 

So please take a look at Psilou’s thesis. We promise, it’s a fairly quick read that will give you some insights about how to become more sustainable.