The US National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) has released a study entitled ‘The Business Case for Environmental and Sustainability Employee Education’. The full study is here, but basically it found that training staff and getting them involved in environmental and sustainability (E&S) initiatives helps companies achieve a range of business objectives from attracting and retaining employees to boosting the bottom line.
“ …. many companies now realise that to achieve their sustainability goals, they need to involve the entire workforce (or all their employees),” said Diane Wood, president of NEEF. “Successful employee engagement programs motivate employees and can be an asset in recruitment and retention."
But the study also concluded that since educational programs compete for resources, a strong business case can be as important as building the program itself. In terms of making the business case, the report cites best practice as linking E&S education initiatives to business objectives, stressing the shift in societal and stakeholder expectations and taking a top-down, bottom-up and sideways approach when engaging employees (that should cover everything!).
In terms of the program itself, the study recommends:
• Building momentum by recognising work that is already being done.
• Creating E&S education pilot programs to build the case for a larger program.
• Understanding that each geographic region has its
unique problems and opportunities.
• Complementing education with incentives.
• Regularly reporting back to employees on how their actions are making a difference.
When I came across this study I was reminded of the old saying that 90% of market research is simply to confirm what you already know. It seems pretty obvious that corporate environmental initiatives need employee buy-in and education is an important part of establishing that buy-in. In the green IT context, for example, it needs employees to understand the impact of turning off PC’s, printing less, etc. and the direct and indirect benefits to them. In many aspects of internal environmental and sustainability policy employees may not see any direct benefits either to the company or its staff.
In terms of green IT, employees also need help in adopting the right practices. For example in making the default option for PCs to shut down when not in use and duplex printing the norm. Education is important, but there also needs to be processes and choices in place to help them achieve the objectives.
Last but not least, there is a chicken-and-egg issue here. If you really need people with the expertise to take green initiatives forward, then you need to show commitment, which means having the capability in-house …