SAS recently partnered with environmental advisory and sustainability practice WSP to host an event looking into the relationship between employee engagement and sustainability. The key objective was to explore the benefits of making employee engagement an integral part of sustainability programmes, from planning to implementation.
During the introduction David Symons, Director WSP, revealed a recent study confirming that 65% of respondents agree or strongly agree they are interested in environmental issues. David Symons was keen to stress it was not just the young or blue collar workers who made up the 65%, but people across the social spectrum. As part of his introduction to the morning, he shared some key points that should be considered when thinking about both sustainability and engagement:
- Be clear - Reducing energy consumption, restricting travel, improving employee health, increasing staff loyalty and raising corporate profile could all be drivers, but be clear on what you doing and why you are doing it
- Engagement - not every sustainability practice will engage employees. For examples, if you implement a travel policy that limits face-to-face time, in exchange of video conferences, those employees who love to travel and joined the company to do just that, are not likely to engage
- Pride - is not guaranteed from employees just because you have a recycling programme
- Be imaginative - you must make this interesting for employees
- Measure success - there are some easy ways to collate data like recycling rates and carbon footprints, but harder to measure is an increase in staff commitment or stronger ambassadors. There are examples when you get this right, you can save on advertising spend, get free PR, attract talent to your organisation and even win new business.
It was good to hear more about WSP's own programme, PACT, which allows businesses and their employees to measure personal and collective impact. Each member of PACT enters required data into the system, which then provides a breakdown not only of overall C02 emissions, but also how these are spread across different themes such as transport and home and allows individuals to focus their carbon reduction efforts in the right place. WSP has put its money where its mouth is and offers a small financial incentive to those who meet their targets. Their internal research suggests that this does have a positive impact on engagement and even retention. More details can be found here.
Ahead of the two case studies from National Grid and GSK, I took a step back to consider how this relationship between engagement and sustainability had "blossomed". Employee volunteering was probably the first tactic to bring together engagement and CSR, and in fact for many companies this was a way of "team-building" whilst also doing some good. Unlike reducing building energy consumption, organisations are only able to keep their promises to local communities or charities by engaging their employees to deliver on it. Increasingly today, employee engagement and sustainability are woven together with companies clear that they need everyone pointed in the same direction in order to achieve wider goals. Louisa argued that reputation sits in the intersection between employee engagement and sustainability - because when the two come together there is authenticity and credibility and that is attractive to employees who in turn enthuse customers and stakeholders (the service profit chain still holds true).
Coincidentally, at an event this week on business ethics hosted at the RAC, Richard Reed, one of the founders of Innocent and Giles Gibbons of consultancy Good Business, both argued that employees sit at the heart of business ethics and sustainability, so March was a good month for this topic! Richard's point was that by having a strong ethical business with a clear purpose, you may not actually sell more products, but you gain significant advantages in terms of talent - attracting better people, keeping them longer, increasing innovation - and all without having to pay more than the competition to keep them there.
Ian Glover, Environment and Sustainability Manager from National Grid talked broadly about the work National Grid has been doing in this area. Because their business is energy, he argued that employees at National Grid are interested in this. The question he has been looking to answer is how they can get involved and what their role is. Ian made an interesting point about the lessons that sustainability and environmental teams can learn from Health and Safety where initiatives have been successfully implemented and embedded within organisational culture. He had been working with colleagues to understand how they achieved this and the parallels that could be applied to his own department's work - a great example of cross-departmental cooperation.
Ian talked through several of the programmes he had carried out, including developing a champions network called Footprints. Owned locally, employees can join their local Footprints group to come up with ideas that can be implemented within their local site or area. This has proven very popular, and successful with ideas that work being shared between Footprints groups. Many of National Grid's workforce are out in the field so the Footprints groups are a good way to reach those employees. They also use "brown bag lunches" to talk to groups of employees about climate change as a whole and also the specific programmes they can get involved in. A simple animation explaining climate change has proven very popular as a way to launch conversations and paint the bigger picture. His clearest call to action to those in the audience was to have a strong vision and to then develop a strategy to articulate the vision internally and externally. By getting the vision right, employees would begin to align between their own values and that of the organisation, making engagement easier and lasting.
The event was wrapped up by Clare Brosnan, Programme Manager for London 2012 at GSK. Clare's role is focused entirely on activating GSK's Olympic and Paralympic sponsorship for employees. She started by setting the context: GSK is the only sponsor to be offering every single ticket to employees, and only those employees who are nominated for demonstrating the GSK and Olympic and Paralympic ideals are in with a chance of winning the tickets. Values, ethics and employee engagement sit at the heart of the sponsorship. She also talked about the sponsorship itself - laboratory partner, which is directly linked to the work they do and she underlined the integrity of that partnership.
The first phase of the engagement programme centred on the ticketing competition, which was launched by CEO Andrew Witty in his end of year address. Colleagues were invited to nominate others or even themselves, by sharing the story of shared values and exceptional achievements, whether inside or outside work. Nominations had to be made via the dedicated site or through paper entry forms for non-office-based staff. Given the deliberately high barrier to entry the team were delighted to surpass their target by 100% and to see an impressive geographic spread with entries from around 90% of their markets. A programme of local champions has helped to increase awareness and engagement, and importantly has allowed the programme to grow and develop locally so that it feels owned by the employees. Despite a low-key call to action, some 80 champions volunteered in the first two weeks and this group is now being brought together through Yammer groups, regular news updates and support from the central team to ensure that Team GSK becomes a grass roots movement that maintains momentum.
Clare talked about the way in which "Team GSK" has become a galvanising force for both new existing programmes that had previously sat in silos, from a sporting charity challenge, to employee volunteering and science outreach programmes to health and well-being. This has been particularly useful for the smaller programmes that have been able to benefit from the planning, and budget, of Team GSK to raise profile. Although the sponsorship of London 2012 will conclude for good at the end of this year, many of the other programmes will continue as part of business as usual and the hope - and all the signs - are that their association with Team GSK will increase awareness and participation.
We asked the audience what sustainability means for their own organisation. Health and wellbeing of employees was key, together with the acknowledgement that organisations had a responsibility to take action to protect future generations. 33% of the audience confirmed their HR teams lead the engagement agenda for the organisations, but nearly 50% stated this was with either CEO or support from the Board and 44% of attendee confirmed that they planned to find more ways to incorporate sustainability into an employee engagement programme.
All in all, a really useful morning!