Integrating Sustainability Across Business Units Through Eastman Chemical’s Green Leader® Training Program

Dec 18, 2013 12:00 PM ET

Today, most business leaders recognize the importance and value of adopting a formal sustainability platform. According to the Value of sustainability reporting, in addition to the cost savings, effective sustainability practices improve operational efficiencies and natural resource stewardship. However, one of the main challenges is ensuring employees and team leaders incorporate sustainability in their day-to-day decisions in the workplace. In order to truly reap the benefits of a sustainability strategy, sustainable practices should not be restricted to the Sustainability team, but integrated throughout the company as a whole. Recognizing this, Eastman Chemical Company focused its efforts on equipping employees with sustainability knowledge and best practices through its Green Leader® Training Program. The program is designed to encourage Eastman Chemical’s team members to embed sustainability in their functions and respective business units. Cheryl Harvey, Community Relations Manager, recently shared the history behind the Green Leader® Training Program and its impact on the company’s goal of increasing employee engagement in its sustainability efforts.

What is the Green Leader® Training Program? Can you provide some information on its purpose within Eastman Chemical?

To embed sustainability into Eastman’s culture and empower our employees to communicate Eastman’s sustainability journey effectively, we must first help them understand it. The Green Leader® Training Program is an executive education platform designed to educate corporate leaders on sustainability and global megatrends. The two-day program covers a range of existing and emerging social and environmental issues facing industries today.

The purpose of offering Green Leader® training at Eastman is to expose customer-facing employees, business and technical managers, and others who can serve as sustainability ambassadors throughout the company to broad downstream viewpoints and information that will equip them to interact effectively with external stakeholders and influencers regarding sustainability at Eastman. By increasing our view and understanding of sustainability, Eastman will be better able to navigate today’s business climate, stay ahead of emerging environmental issues and regulations, and drive improved business performance.

How did the Green Leader® Training Program develop? What is the history behind it?

The Green Leader® Training Program was initiated in 2011 by Jennifer Schwab, the co-founder of SCGH (formerly Sierra Club Green Home). Jennifer is a serial eco-entrepreneur, winning “Best Green Entrepreneur” by World CSR Congress in 2013. is dedicated to educating homeowners on how to make their homes more healthy, energy efficient and sustainable. SCGH recognized a need for corporations to educate their staff on the basic tenants of sustainability and proven innovation strategies in order to compete in the marketplace. As a result, SCGH created Green Leader® in 2011. Eastman was its inaugural client.

What are some of the goals that you have set for the program and how do you define success?

One of our initial goals was to provide sustainability awareness training to a target population of customer-facing employees at Eastman.  We achieved that goal in 2012 for our heritage Eastman employees. With the acquisition of Solutia, Inc. we set new goals in 2013 to provide Green Leader® training to a target population of our new team members. Additionally this year, we have targeted employees from North and Latin America who have moved into roles in which they may now serve as sustainability ambassadors.

Our long-term goal is to equip these external-facing employees with a knowledge base that integrates sustainability into their external engagement. By understanding the connection of sustainability and our business goals, they can leverage sustainability as a driver for innovation and growth.

How does the Green Leader® Training Program work in reality? Are leaders selected to participate or do they volunteer?

Green Leader® can be taught live by the SCGH team along with outside experts or through an online training platform.  Eastman has used both training options. SCGH develops and customizes the program based on client needs. In Eastman’s case, we identified a target population of employees for an initial invitation to participate in the training. It was then at the discretion of the employee and his/her management to accept the invitation.

Have participation levels increased in the three years of the program’s existence? If so, what strategies have you used to encourage employee engagement in the program?

Our initial training was with a small pilot group of seven employees in 2011. Since then, nearly 100 people have completed the live Green Leader® training and approximately 30 have participated in the online training. As employees have become more aware of Eastman’s commitment to sustainability and the Green Leader® training, we have received a number of requests from additional participants to be placed on a waiting list for future offerings.

What are some of the topics that are covered in the training? How do you ensure that it is relevant across multiple functions and business units?

Eastman’s Green Leader® participants represent a broad range of our businesses and functions globally. To help SCGH develop the program, we solicited input and feedback from people in these varying roles to ensure the modules were relevant for all participants. Additionally, SCGH reviewed Eastman’s previous Sustainability Report and various sustainability publications to understand how Eastman values sustainability compared to other organizations or stakeholders. We also work with SCGH after each session to review and adjust the course as needed to better meet our participants’ needs.

The Green Leader® program used by Eastman includes seven modules:

  1. Introduction to Sustainability, led by an Eastman Sustainability team member and focusing on Eastman’s corporate sustainability journey
  2. Global Megatrends
  3. Life Cycle Assessment
  4. A Strategy and Business Case for Sustainability
  5. Green Consumer
  6. Green Communications
  7. Certifications and Eco-labeling

Can you provide some examples of how participants have integrated sustainability best practices into their respective functions after participating in the training?

Following the training, participants are encouraged to reflect on how they will integrate sustainability best practices into their respective roles and share that feedback with the sustainability team. The team has learned of various participants incorporating what they learned into various aspects of their jobs. Some examples include: having an expanded sustainability lens when conducting research; evaluating products and business opportunities through a more rigorous sustainability framework; effectively influencing clients, team members and customers through sustainability communications; using creativity and technical expertise to provide sustainable solutions; understanding the views of Eastman’s various stakeholders; and leading the charge to educate employees about how each of us can create desirable results for our company and our communities.

What have been some of the challenges you face while executing the Green Leader® Training Program? How have you been able to overcome them?

One challenge is creating one program that effectively addresses the need of a very broad audience. We’ve had employees from North America, Latin America, Europe/Middle East/Africa, and Asia Pacific in our Green Leader® sessions, representing various businesses and functions across the company.  We worked with SCGH to include a wide variety of global case studies and examples, but it is always a challenge to create a program that meets the needs of such a diverse audience.

Another challenge is to ensure the program you are creating is a valuable use of the participants’ time.  While the online training program requires a much shorter time commitment, Eastman’s live course is a two-day session with additional travel time for most participants. We took the responsibility very seriously to ensure that this would be something that people would reflect on and evaluate as an effective use of their time given the many demands they face each day to be productive and perform at a high level.

How do you track the success and impact of the program?

Like many training programs, tracking success is also a challenge. While it is difficult to measure the direct impact of the training, it will ultimately be reflected in the work and changed behaviors of each participant. By continuing to receive requests from employees to participate based on their perception of the training and those who have attended, we believe we are making an impact across the company. Knowing that others recognize the value of this training makes the program a success.

Providing Green Leader® training for employees supplies the foundational knowledge they need to begin changing their own behaviors, helping achieve Eastman’s vision of becoming recognized as a leader in sustainability. Success is proven as these behavioral changes impact the long-term sustainability goals measured at the corporate level, including improving energy efficiency, increasing the number of sustainably-advantaged new product launches, and improving the health and wellness of our employees.

Do you have any advice for other companies that are considering starting a similar program?

We believe there is value in working with a third-party organization, such as SCGH, who can provide an objective perspective and expertise. It has challenged us to consider new opportunities and look at sustainability issues differently. The Green Leader® team has experience that is much different than ours. They have worked extensively on sustainability-driven initiatives with the UN, leading NGOs, and Fortune 500 corporations. Undertaking any program like this requires commitment and resources to make it successful. Working with an established program like Green Leader® rather than developing your own extensive internal program has definite advantages.