Sustainable Culture: Using Sustainability to Achieve Employee Engagement Goals

By PowerHouse Growers | Better Business

The Workplace’s Biggest Concerns

Employee engagement in typical office settings is low. Businesses experience high turnover rates due to poor employee retention strategies. This in turn negatively impacts their customer base and subsequently consumer loyalty drops. The next thing you know the company is fighting the keep their clients and scouring job sites for new staff.

With sustainability considered a “buzz term” by some, many businesses see it as something to hitch their wagon to. Companies spend lots of money on sustainability initiatives but the employees don’t feel the need to contribute to achieving these goals. It is perceived as something “extra” and they don’t want to go above and beyond to participate.

The Solution

Implementing a sustainability incentive program will assuage staff from focusing on the negative and reinvigorate them with a secondary purpose in the company. Setting corporate sustainability goals is a fun and interactive way to empower employees. The results will deliver improved employee productivity and retention, lowered operating costs, increased customer loyalty, and ameliorated company image while generating an ROI on the program’s investment.


Making the Shift Towards Improved Employee Engagement

If you’ve ever worked in an office chances are you know that totally-disengaged, 9-5, do-the-bare-minimum-to-get-by feeling. This is Toxic Office Syndrome and it’s sending thousands of good people packing from businesses across the nation each year.

Behavioral change science has been studied greatly over the past 20 years as researchers learn just how difficult it is to shift any one person’s habits. Now imagine that in an office of 200 employees. The habits and expectations, or “culture” are almost impossible to direct once established.

With increased awareness over sustainability and environmental concern, most forward-thinking companies are now implementing strategies that are not only good for the environment but will also improve their bottom line. The companies that really get it are the ones solving problems brought on by their number one operating expense – labor – by merging their retention strategy with their sustainability initiatives.

An engaged staff is a productive staff – 18% more productive in fact according to a Gallup study. No longer should corporate sustainability be regarded as a top-down approach that never quite trickles all the way down. Instead let’s look at sustainability in a corporate setting as an all-encompassing culture that doesn’t just look good on paper- it looks good three-dimensionally.


How to Attract, Engage and Retain Staff Using Sustainability Programs

Communication is Key

A company’s sustainability goals must be outlined as an overall vision. Often times, companies don’t share the vision with their front-line staff. This is an outdated way of practicing business. If a company has a sustainability goal, this goal needs to be shared with every staff member from custodial to CEO. Reinforcing why it’s important and how to make it happen is the key to engaging employees and increasing buy-in.

Know Your Audience

Research the local community. Is the company located in a food desert? Is there a local charity that collects produce waste, compost, bottles, recycling? Let staff know that their employer is part of the solution – not the compounding problem.

Just Embrace it

Today it is a virtual sin for a company not to have some form of a recycling program – at the bare minimum. Even if it is just blue bins. It is the employers responsibility to communicate with its staff the importance of not only recycling paper, but limiting its use, reducing energy consumption, conserving water, encouraging alternative transportation options such as bike share or car-pool availability, or bus pass rebates. The company needs to make it as easy as possible for employees to shift behavior.


When a company has an effective and results-driven sustainability program in place it’s now marketing gold that can be promoted to attract top notch employees, develop new business with similar sustainability visions, and increase overall brand awareness within the community it serves. Local awards and recognition for “green” programs are typically well-promoted and showcase the winning companies in a positive light. In other words: good publicity!

“What’s in it for me?”

There will always be the staff who will resist change. After all, as aforementioned, behavior change is one of the most elusive concepts in life. Incentives, motivation, and rewards are all ways to further engage staff in contributing to and achieving sustainability goals.


Sustainability, Employee Engagement, and Competitive Advantage

As industries become more competitive, companies will begin to use their sustainability programs and initiatives to build a loyal workforce and increase their employee engagement levels. A company that actively tackles sustainability, climate change, and other environmental issues is demonstrating to their staff that the vision of the company is helping the greater good. This is a huge motivator for staff and should not be overlooked by companies forging their competitive advantages. For more information on what major corporations are doing to engage their staff through sustainability, check out Andrew Winston’s new book, The Big Pivot (Harvard Business Review Press, 2014) now available on

Feature Image: Employee Engagement through environmental sustainability. Image via iStockphoto.

About The Author

PowerHouse Growers
PowerHouse Growers teaches you how to sustainably integrate urban agriculture into your cities, businesses, and homes. We provide clear solutions and benefits for better health, increased productivity, and lower environmental impact. By connecting you with experts, we bring awareness to solutions that may not be top of mind.