How to Engage Employees In Your Carbon Management Strategy

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If your CEO walked down the hallways of your organization and popped his or her head into a dozen offices, how many people would be able to answer these questions?

  • What are the key business activities driving our carbon footprint?
  • How has our carbon footprint changed over the last five years?
  • How is your department contributing to our corporate emissions profile?

If you're like 99% of other businesses, you probably have not been engaging employees on the issues of climate change, carbon emissions, and greenhouse gas reduction. At least -- not in a meaningful way. If the main answer you get from employees is, "we turn off the lights and shut down our computers at night," you are missing the boat. There is a much bigger role for employees to play and by fully engaging them on the topic, your organization can reap big benefits.

(You should know that this blog entry is part of a 6-step framework that explains our approach to developing an effective carbon management strategy. We put it together as an outline when we walk prospective clients through the process, and thought that it might be good fodder for a larger audience on our blog.  While the level of time and effort required for each step will depend on the size of your organization and your industry (and hiring a sustainability consultant can make the process more efficient), all organizations should follow basically the same path. We've already covered step #1 (clarify your goals), #2 (decide on a carbon measurement process), and #3 (beta test your system), so today we're talking about the next step.)

#4. Engage the workforce.

There are dozens of articles and guides on how to engage employees in sustainability -- and we've listed some of the best below. What we want to talk about today, however, are the three things that MUST be present in order for people to change their behavior. Want to get people on board with your carbon reduction goals? Can't figure out why staff can't remember to shut off the lights when they leave? Keen to encourage more "out of the box" thinking around carbon management? Here's what they need:

1. Motivation

Employees need to have a reason to participate. Because not all people are motivated by the same things, smart companies must provide multiple "motivators." Some of our favorites:

  • Create simple prompts -- put up signs, posters, and quick tips where they are highly visible. This can be in the hallways, on the company intranet, or in regular email communications.
  • Use social pressure -- studies have shown that people are more likely to participate in a workplace initiative if a colleague asks them to do it. Consider having "carbon leaders" spread throughout the company that can encourage engagement in a 1-on-1 setting.
  • Appeal to emotion and identity -- tie your plea into larger themes and values. For some companies, carbon management will be a natural fit with their core values (e.g. people at Google seem to naturally resonate with "green" themes). Other companies will make it more about the individual employee.

2. Ability

Staff needs the skills, confidence, and knowledge required to contribute. With any initiative, during the planning phase you need to ask yourself these questions:

  • Do people know what is expected of them? How will we ensure that employees are educated about the initiative and their role in it?
  • Do we need to provide training to specific personnel in order for this initiative to be effective? Who needs a higher level of knowledge to help it run smoothly?
  • Do people have the self-confidence to engage? What kind of encouragement or support do we need to provide so that people enthusiastically participate with the knowledge that they can do the job well?

3. Opportunity

Workers need the resources, relationships, and environmental conditions that allow their engagement to flourish. There are three general strategies that work here:

  • Empower employees: Involve them in project governance. Let on-the-ground employees determine project goals, strategies, and the tools needed to do the job. Be transparent through all areas of the project, so that everyone participating can see how it's progressing in real time. 
  • Strengthen social capital: Get people from different areas of the company together, both in large groups (i.e. weak ties) and smaller, more intimate ways (i.e. building bonds). When people build relationships across the organization, they are more likely to see opportunities to contribute to your carbon management initiatives.
  • Change the environment: Move people around, relocate the recycling bins, allow once-a-week telecommuting. Get people out of their usual workday rut and see what happens!

Want more?

Here are some of our favorite employee engagement resources:

On Thursday, May 2nd, we'll talk about the next step in developing an effective carbon management program.

In the meantime, take advantage of our special April offer! We're offering a free 1-hour phone call for companies seeking to develop a climate change strategy. It's only for the first five companies that contact us, so if your organization would like some complimentary assistance in your process, email us today.