Workforce for Good: Employee Engagement in Sustainability/CSR – Make it Personal

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Workforce for Good: Employee Engagement in Sustainability/CSR – Make it Personal

Workforce for Good Blog Series Part 1
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Why making #CSR & #sustainability personal makes a difference for employee engagement: #Worforceforgood @mrochte

Multimedia from this Release

Tuesday, September 10, 2013 - 9:00am

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 1 of Workforce for Good: Make It Personal

The overarching theme throughout our interviews was about finding ways to make sustainability and corporate social responsibility personal. Connecting with employees’ personal values, passions, and interests was essential in their employee engagement efforts. The more connected to personal values and passions a company was, the more likely their people would engage in corporate sustainability/CSR activities both in terms of overall understanding and daily actions.

When you engage people in a collective process it helps them define what social responsibility means to them individually. Synergy is created when their values merge with the values of the company. We don’t want to be telling people that they need to do this for McDonald’s. It needs to be something that they will do because they believe in it for themselves.
-Kathleen Bannan, McDonald’s Corporation

Our sample companies creatively tied the sustainability/CSR program to people’s personal lives, values and interests in a number of ways. Here’s how:

  • They identified the people already committed to sustainability and made them champions. Every company we interviewed relied on champions with personal passion - from executive sponsors to frontline workers throughout the organization - to implement their programs.

Here’s what I know to be true when you are finding champions: you have to understand who they are, what makes them tick and what their values are. The minute you can have that conversation, you will find a champion . . . If you can connect people personally to whatever it is you are doing, they will jump on the bandwagon.”
-Amy Mifflin, Global Collaborations

  • Many of the companies we interviewed defined sustainability broadly to allow for wider appeal and participation. Their platforms often reflected a triple bottom line approach to sustainability/CSR, which includes opportunities for participation in social issues such as community involvement, diversity, and wellness, in addition to environmental sustainability initiatives. Companies were successful when they were able to create opportunities for employees to make a personal connection between sustainability/CSR and to something that mattered to them, personally: their health, their finances, their family, and their community.
  • Companies also used personal examples from home to train employees on sustainable practices. These personal examples helped bridge sustainability at home to sustainability at work.

Bringing It Home: The Action of Making Sustainability/CSR Personal

“It’s just like at home,” said Carter Hanson, Environmental Coordinator of Patrick Cudahy, while he talked about his method for discussing sustainability in his training sessions for all employees. As a way to illustrate his point, he’d ask his audience, When you left this morning did you leave the faucet running, the furnace cranked to 75, or the windows open?. . . . Of course not! While there may be an environmental concern component in the decision making process for employees, their choices boil down to economics and risks. The bottom line is this: it costs money when you waste water and energy. Carter went on to say, “ . . . Spend the company’s money like you would your own. That is, everyone except Bob — his place is a mess.” (laughter)

Taking a lighthearted and yet serious approach drives sustainability home and makes it personal.  It creates a story that people remember and take to heart.

Two more fun examples of Making It Personal can be found in the full whitepaper Workforce for Good: Employee Engagement in Sustainability/CSR available for download at

  • Bulldozers in your backyard - engaging employees when they are abroad in foreign lands
  • Getting Grounded with Corporate Community Gardens

Next Week:  Principle 2 of Workforce for Good: Get Buy-in from the Top

For more information or to download the full whitepaper, go to