Sustainable business? Create employee engagement

Does your organisation want to operate in a sustainable way? Then you should definitely get involved with your employees. Because a lot of ideas come from the shop floor. Moreover, you increase the employee share. Your employees will feel that they are being taken seriously and will feel more connected to the organisation. And that in turn increases the chances of them staying. Together you will get further, is the cliché. But how do you anchor sustainability within your organization together?

Studies have shown that sustainability procedures contribute to employee retention and have a positive impact on productivity and overall employee engagement. Yet for many companies it is difficult to actually implement sustainability goals in the organization. These companies have not yet discovered how to successfully engage employees to achieve these goals.

Bright idea saves tens of thousands of euros

Inspired by Unilever’s sustainability slogan (‘Small actions can make a big difference’), employees at the PG-tips factory in Trafford Park, England, had a good idea. In Britain, most tea comes in paper bags. All in all, that takes a lot of paper. Employees had calculated the following: by reducing the end seals of each tea bag by 3 millimetres, 15 huge rolls of paper could be saved per shift. Since its introduction in 2015, this idea, as simple as it is bright, has resulted in savings of 47,500 euros and 9.3 tons of paper. A wonderful example of employee involvement in the field of sustainable business!

The knife cuts both ways in India

Another example of great employee engagement: 6 employees at the Unilever factory in Khamgaon, India, approached the factory manager with the idea of starting a beauty and hair care course in their own village. This is to help local women find a job or start a business. At the same time, they promoted Unilever’s personal care products. So the knife cuts both ways. In March 2015, the management gave the green light and the training center was opened. So far, 825 women have been trained. 610 women work in beauty salons or start their own business.

6 tips for embedding sustainability

Invite employees to come up with ideas

The examples from Unilever show conclusively that the best ideas often come from the shop floor. So if you want to work on sustainability, invite your employees to come up with their own ideas. Very important: failure is allowed. Because if it doesn’t work out, at least it’s been tried. By the way: most good ideas and innovations come from a mistake.

For inspiration, you can refer to the 17 World Goals that the United Nations established in 2015 to ensure that the world is a better place to live in 2030. You see, sustainability is much, much more than just good environment. It’s about making the world a little better.

Make sustainability visible (inside and outside the organisation)

Show what you are doing as an organisation. This keeps your employees involved in the process. This is an extra stimulus for them to come up with their own ideas. But of course also make the results visible and value employees in this. Do the same externally, because that is of course pure advertising for your company. And that in turn contributes to employee pride.

Show the benefits for your organization

Why is the organisation working on sustainability? What does it bring to the organization? And what are the benefits for employees? And how does it contribute to product development? The latter requires a great deal of creativity from Research & Development. And it takes patience. Because it might not get you anything right away.

Formulate a long-term goal

Formulate the purpose of the organization. And lay down that you want to achieve these goals in a sustainable way. It must be an aspirational goal with which everyone can identify. For example: ‘We make coffee and buy the coffee beans from farmers at a fair price. By doing so, we contribute to fair and social economic growth’. You can’t achieve such a goal tomorrow. You have to work towards that slowly. That’s why a long-term goal is so important.

Give employees knowledge and skills

Give employees the knowledge and tools so that they will actively think about sustainability. Tell them what sustainability is all about, which direction the organisation wants to go in and what they can do to help. Make every employee a sustainability expert. After all, employees often know best what could be improved or changed. For example, have them think about process improvement by taking steps out of it. In such a way that this benefits the quality of the product.

Encourage employees to implement sustainability

People find it difficult to change (Strebel, 1996). Because change takes energy and doesn’t always lead to the desired result. Therefore, show employees what the change means and involve them in it. And invite employees to just do it. By doing, they find out what the change brings and they become enthusiastic little by little. It’s just a matter of hanging on.

Sustainable organisations benefit from value-creating leadership

Organizations that want to work on sustainability benefit from modern leadership. With leaders who can make quick decisions that are economically, socially and environmentally justifiable. And thus create value on multiple levels. Such a leader gives employees their own responsibilities and ensures that they can do their job well. Supportive, inspiring and connecting. We call this: value-creating leadership.

Do you want to know more about value creating leadership? Then download the ebook Leadership in the Economy of Value below. Or click herefor our leadership training courses.

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dr. Pim Valentijn

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