Engage Employees When Launching a Workplace Environmental Program

Win over leadership as well as rank and file workers with clear overarching objectives, specific goals winning plans and preliminary results from test groups.

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By Diana Glassman

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Imagine walking into a meeting of your company's leadership to present a new program with the goal of encouraging everyone in the organization to embrace the use of environmentally conscientious materials, practices and services. Such a program might be perceived as raising overhead without generating a clear, revenue-generating payoff. Some at the meeting might have healthy skepticism, particularly those responsible for the company's financial well-being.

It's a tough sell but not an impossible one.

Generally, environmental objectives can be divided into two basic categories: tangible and actionable items. A tangible goal might include developing or leveraging a physical asset, like a LEED-certified office building. An actionable item might be trying to reduce paper use, which requires the collective action of employees across an organization.

In either case, employee engagement is the lynchpin of success. Without green behavior inside the LEED-certified building, the investment may not pay off. Likewise, without the conscious adoption of paper reduction by the workforce, use of the consumable will not decrease.

Here is how you can build a program to meet both tangible and actionable objectives, based on my experience at TD Bank in setting up an environmental employee engagement program:

Related: 7 Trends in 'Green' Business, Not Just for Tree-Huggers

Articulate your business goals. Expand environmental goals beyond the green context and put them into a business frame.

Develop clear, measurable, time-bound and objective-driven goals that define your efforts in understandable terms. It could be something like reduce paper use by 20 percent by 2015, resulting in a certain dollar amount of savings and a specific amount of reduced waste.

Self-imposed benchmarks are crucial to proving the value of your effort to business heads and stakeholders.

Define your audiences. About 10 percent of the workforce may be "supergreen," that is naturally be excited about your environmental business goals and objectives. But what about engaging the other 90 percent?

Connect with the others in a more tailored way, based on their interest, role, longevity at the company and their ability to influence their peers to effectively launch an environmental engagement process that is meaningful to participants. By reinforcing one another, the different groups will enhance results and help convert more neutral and skeptical participants.

Related: The Tax Break Most 'Green' Entrepreneurs Forget

Personalize and localize. Try to customize activities and messages. Each segment of the workforce, including senior executives, the "supergreens" and ordinary employees, require a tailored strategy. Enroll individuals from each segment to be leaders and help them communicate their passion. Make sure they are equipped to discuss quantitative and qualitative results.

Localize the program based on the specific workplace, community or even familial circumstances. That way employees working in a net zero energy facility would receive training and action items appropriate to their workplace.

Start small and quickly demonstrate quantitative results. The process of environmental engagement is necessarily fluid and will change based on experience and results. Start with a small pilot program at your organization.

Measure the results of the pilot program, such as the physical reduction of energy, paper or trash, to demonstrate successes to key stakeholders. This will allow you to tweak your plans before taking the program companywide.

Keep it simple, scalable and replicable. While the details may vary, the core tenets and activities should be easily replicable and simple. For example, when working to develop my company's program, we created a basic framework, the "4Hs of Environmental Engagement," to help us launch and maintain momentum as follows:

1. Head: Earn your audiences' attention and build their knowledge with facts and education.
2. Heart: Win employees' caring and passion; encourage them to genuinely care about the work being done.
3. Hands: Allow employees to participate actively and be hands-on in following up on the objectives and participate actively.
4. Horn: Help employees voice success and passion to others to build an effort that goes viral across the organization.

Show employees the payoff. Be sure to communicate your results with the people who made them possible. Employees who can see their success in hard environmental and business terms will be far more inclined to band together and continue the work.

Related: Five-Step Guide to Marketing a Business As Green

Diana Glassman
Diana Glassman is head of environmental affairs at TD Bank. She led the creation of the banks's environmental employee engagement program.

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