3 Things to Know About Engaging Employees in Sustainability

Words by Megan Amrich
Jan 20, 2022 9:15 AM ET
7 people working around a table

Originally published by TriplePundit

As the Great Resignation continues, employers are seeking more ways to help employees feel fulfilled in their careers. According to a study by the National Environmental Education Foundation, almost 90 percent of employees engaged in their company’s sustainability work say it enhances their job satisfaction and overall feelings about the company.

It can be challenging, however, to know where to begin with getting employees more involved in sustainability initiatives.

EarthShare is a national organization that helps employers, communities and nonprofits connect to address environmental issues. Representatives from both EarthShare and the sustainability team at Facebook spoke with TriplePundit about three themes they’re seeing as they look to engage employees in sustainability-related initiatives.

1. Creating cross-departmental communication within a company helps build employee engagement in sustainability

“Green teams” are one strategy for creating greater employee engagement around sustainability. As Robin Perkins, EarthShare's vice president of communications and marketing, explained: “Green teams are platforms for employees to bring up issues specific to their workplace and suggest more sustainable alternatives.”

“These teams can form at any kind of company: Starbucks, Wal-Mart, Oliver Wyman, etc.,” Perkins said. Facebook, for example, has Green@ (pronounced “Green At”) chapters. These are location-based, interdepartmental groups composed of employees who are passionate about supporting the company’s environmental efforts but don’t hold sustainability-related roles.

“We look at Green@ members as community builders,” said Kati Kallins, sustainability program manager for Facebook. “The Green@ groups give voice to employees, providing an outlet to share their concerns, present solutions, and drive change internally.”

Facebook also hosts two companywide sustainability events each year: Earth Week in April and a one-day Sustainability Summit in September. Last year’s events were both held virtually due to the pandemic. The Earth Week livestream sessions drew more than 7,100 viewers from around the world and featured employees from 23 Facebook offices on three continents. The inaugural Sustainability Summit highlighted programs such as Facebook’s Net Zero 2030 roadmap and water restoration projects.

“It’s important to provide the historical context on these multi-year projects and why Facebook is prioritizing certain sustainability topics over others. The story behind how we’re enabling climate action is sometimes even more interesting than what we’re doing, which employees will see discussed in the media,” Kallins said.

Many of the initiatives discussed at the Sustainability Summit make a large difference in terms of environmental impact, but they are not always top of mind in day-to-day employee life. Kallins gave the example of the company’s data centers, which are the most resource-intensive areas of Facebook’s operations. Not all employees think of data centers when they think about sustainability measures, she said, as they are not as top of mind as something tangible like, say, sustainably farmed options in the workplace dining facilities.

2. As interest in climate and environmental justice grows, it’s important to inform employees

Following the release of EarthShare’s lauded Building Equity for All web series, Facebook invited the organization as a production partner to develop a panel discussion on climate and environmental justice at this year’s Sustainability Summit. “Historically speaking, many diverse voices have felt disenfranchised in talks about climate change and the environment,” Perkins said.

“Part of our mission is to inspire people and businesses to help build a more just future for everyone,” she continued. “[We] saw the need to expand our community to include more voices, and elevate those voices, so we have been bringing the voices of experts to employees — discussing what the issues are and what is most needed.”

Mary MacDonald, EarthShare’s senior vice president of corporate engagement, recognized We Act for Environmental Justice, The Solutions Project and Groundswell as three organizations home to some of these expert voices. We Act and The Solutions Project collaborated with EarthShare for the Facebook climate justice event, and Groundswell helped with the Building Equity for All series.

“It’s important to call out the incredible work being done on the ground by the hundreds of grassroots and fence-line community groups across the country that are doing the critical work that is making a difference for their immediate communities and beyond,” MacDonald said.

And while the business community is still only beginning to understand and address climate justice, it is imperative for employers to inform and engage employees on this important topic. “So many companies have both DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion] and climate mitigation programs,” MacDonald said. “It only makes sense to make the connection for employees between these two areas — it helps move both areas forward for those companies that are doing this good work.”

3. Meet employees where they are

Since the start of the pandemic, flexibility has taken on even more importance in the workplace. Employees are looking for a greater say in their compensation, schedule, benefits, location and more. Likewise, one of the best ways to increase employee participation in sustainability efforts is to acknowledge that not everyone has the same strengths or interests.

“What we’ve found is that you can’t use a one-size-fits-all approach to engaging employees,” said Kallins of Facebook. “It’s vital to match your programming to the specific passions and skill sets of your people.”

Facebook’s Green@ teams are ideal for employees looking to build community and connections both within and across Facebook office locations. For employees more interested in climate science and activism, Facebook has started its own cohort of The Climate Reality Project Leadership Corps, which includes online climate action training led by Al Gore and a team of scientists and activists. And for tech employees looking to make a difference, Facebook offers Sustainability Hackathons. In these incubator-like events, employees work together to create new climate-related innovations, covering topics like biodiversity and environmental justice. The hackathons generated more than 20 new product ideas in 2020 alone.

For Kallins, these programs are just the beginning for bringing about real change and progress. “We’ll only succeed if everyone sees climate action as part of their job,” she said.

This article series is sponsored by Meta and produced by the TriplePundit editorial team.

Image credit: Rawpixel.com/Adobe Stock