Break Down Silos to Advance Sustainability
Sustainability silos stifling progress? It's time to let the wall come down.
Sustainability programs, when properly crafted, can make a positive impact on the environment and society without sacrificing business objectives. But to achieve what is known as the “triple bottom line” — profit, people and planet — sustainability can no longer be addressed in a silo, with ownership limited to an organization’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) team. Brands must take a holistic approach to sustainability across every aspect of operations — from the factory floor to research, marketing and even learning & development.
This may feel daunting, but it needn’t be. Two key insights from WE’s latest Brands in Motion report, “Winning the Battle Against Green Fatigue,” can point your organization in the right direction.
1. Sustainability is (good for) business
It’s 2023, and you’re reading this because you know sustainable business is not only good for the environment; investing in Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) also makes excellent economic sense. In fact, Google shaved an estimated ten percent off its utility bills by committing to 100% renewable energy sources like wind and solar.
How to fold sustainability into your business is the tricky part. Ultimately, sustainability is business — integrating sustainability across your organization means making it a core part of your business strategy.
It’s not always easy, and companies often struggle to do so. Almost two out of three Brands in Motion survey respondents say they have very little or no involvement at all when it comes to their employers’ environmental sustainability efforts.
Here are some possible solutions to achieve buy-in:
- Show how sustainability efforts are changing employees’ day-to-day work.
Example: Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health empowered its employees by starting a global network of 200 “Healthy Lives Champions” across different markets and functions to train employees on the science and healthcare aspects of sustainability. Translating lofty goals into concrete examples helped J&J marry purpose and action.
- Share regular updates with employees on progress toward meeting goals.
Example: J&J leadership shared their approach on LinkedIn and explained how lessons learned will inform future implementation.
- Offer employees time off to volunteer or participate in sustainability activities.
Example: All U.S.-based employees at WE Communications are regularly encouraged to utilize their annual community engagement hours to make a meaningful impact.
2. Your people are your strongest advocates
There’s nothing quite like internal validation. When employees are highly engaged with your company’s green initiatives, it builds credibility and leads to higher productivity, creativity and loyalty.
Most employees are already eco-conscious: Seventy-eight percent surveyed expressed interest in a job related to sustainability, and 24% said this interest is increasing.
Here’s what they don’t realize: They already have a green job. When an organization is developing and executing environmentally friendly operations and supply chains, everyone in the company works in sustainability. They don’t need to be engineering the company’s solar energy strategy or designing rooftop gardens to be contributing — they do so by participating in programs and best business practices that help the organization meet its goals.
Internal communications need to amplify the reality that every team member — whether they are in operations, marketing, finance, customer service or any other department — contributes to and is part of the company’s green efforts. This helps employees across the organization break away from the siloed ways people have traditionally thought about sustainability, and gives everyone a deeper understanding of how their work fits into the broader picture.
Example: Besides investing significantly in developing sustainability fluency across the company, Microsoft created the Sustainability Connected Community, which became the driving force behind many volunteer-led initiatives such as the “Employee’s Guide to Sustainability.” At the same time, it also organized companywide campaigns such as Ecochallenge and Hack for Sustainability, which reinforce the central role employees play in driving sustainability.
For more and more businesses, sustainability programs to protect the environment are no longer an afterthought but a viable business strategy. As a longtime ESG/CSR advocate, I’m excited to see more companies break down their silos and integrate sustainability across their organization.
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