Workforce for Good: Employee Engagement in Sustainability/CSR – Give Opportunities for Employee Innovation and Leadership

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Workforce for Good: Employee Engagement in Sustainability/CSR – Give Opportunities for Employee Innovation and Leadership

Workforce for Good Blog Series Part 4
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Tuesday, October 1, 2013 - 9:45am

Employee engagement is one of the toughest and often most perplexing elements of sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts.  Two leading Midwest sustainability/CSR experts, Matthew Rochte and Jocelyn Azada, set out to find just what were companies doing to successfully engage employees in sustainability/CSR.  They share their findings in the whitepaper Workforce for Good™ and in this 3BLmedia series on employee engagement.

Principle 4 of Workforce for Good: Give Opportunities for Employee Innovation and Leadership

Ownership comes from opportunities to create something new, to innovate, to be a part of something, or to direct and lead a project, idea, and its implementation through to the end. Across the board, when the companies in our sample fostered employee innovation and employee leadership, their sustainability programs and their companies thrived. Employee innovation and leadership create ownership.

All of the companies we spoke with could point to concrete examples when and where employees created and owned sustainability wins. These took the form of leading green teams, getting a brewery to zero waste, steering a company sustainability platform, identifying big and small opportunities to conserve resources, or innovating new product design with the environment in mind.

Kim Marotta, Chief Sustainability Officer at MillerCoors gives an example.  “There’s a gentleman whose name is Kelly Harris, and he works within our brewery in Trenton. Just three years ago, he was really proud of our efforts among our breweries to recycle waste. We reused, recycled, at that time, more than 98 percent of our waste and were then up to 99 percent. But he looked around, and thought, ‘You know what? That’s good, but we can close this gap.’ And he said, ‘I can make the Trenton (facility) the first zero-waste brewery within the MillerCoors  system.’ And he sat down and he made it very simple to get people involved - everything from color-coding to signage to looking at new opportunities. Within a relatively short time-frame, Trenton was zero waste. People were motivated and inspired and excited about that, and he challenged the other breweries within the system, and then he went and he worked with them. We now have four breweries that are zero-waste. And really, without exaggeration, (it is) because of Kelly. So that’s a person who is inspiring, motivating, and makes things happen.”

“What am I most proud of?,”  Catherine McGlown, CSR Leader at Humana Inc responds. “(Our team and company) creating an environment where people can create programs that are most impactful and important to them so they can honor the corporate responsibility of the company.  For some, it will be reducing paper usage or energy efficiencies; for others, [it will be] taking the stairs rather than the elevator, recycling, vendors creating food plans that eliminate waste, or using compostable containers. They choose what makes sense to them and [what they] feel comfortable with rather than it being forced onto them.”

Interesting things start to happen when you allow the front-line employees to take ownership and lead the innovations. When employees come up with a money saving or sustainable idea, let them run with it.  Allowing personal passion to thrive drives change in an organization. Tom Collins, in commenting about the leaps in sustainability that MillerCoors’ operations were making, spoke of collateral improvements as employees engaged in sustainability. Some of those collateral improvements included overall process improvement, quality improvement, system-wide cost reductions, an increase in morale, and productivity improvements.

Next Week:  Principle 5 of Workforce for Good: Align Sustainability/CSR with Corporate Culture

For more information or to download the full whitepaper here