By Gretchen Digby
From conserving power to adding recycling bins to the break room, businesses of all sizes are experimenting with widely varied strategies to make their workplaces — and their workforces — more oriented toward sustainability.
Although every change in office behavior has the potential to help the environment, some actions require a more arduous look at sustainability. In many cases, companies are turning to employee learning programs about sustainability to help foster professional development and build a deeper understanding of sustainable business strategies.
The problem: many of these programs are met with mixed success, because these initiatives are either forced upon employees or use outdated content.
So, how can companies make green training more desirable? And can sustainability actually be incorporated into every facet of the business? A few tips:
1. Extend education beyond product design
How great would it be if sustainability was the first product attribute engineers and other product development team members tackled? Keeping sustainability top of mind throughout every stage of the design process — from product assessment to testing — is especially crucial for product designers.
In many cases, however, this mentality is not translated throughout an entire company, as those involved in the product development process have only basic exposure to sustainability concepts. Training cannot focus on product design alone; product management and procurement must be involved.
For an organization to successfully improve sustainability efforts, all employees, from product designers to managers, need to have a strong foundation in sustainability. That includes a solid understand of what it is, why it’s important and how it can be infused into different aspects of the business.
2. Up the ante with new partnerships
Education programs are becoming more widespread to help train all employees about sustainability. There are many benefits of this type of training, from learning how to naturally speak the sustainability language to implementing methods for incorporating sustainable thinking into core business operations.
But given the voluntary nature of these programs, organizations are still struggling to achieve employee engagement. In reality, employees want programs with external validity that enhance their resume, develop their capabilities and make them better professionals.
How can you meet these objectives? Look for a training partner with mass appeal. Empower employees with a learning program that leaves them inspired and recognized by the broader industry, instead of making them feel like it’s another item to check off a to-do list. At the conclusion of the education program, provide employees with certification for the training that includes third-party validation.
With this approach, employees will have a better understanding of the fundamentals of sustainability and ways to incorporate this mindset into every facet of the business. The result is a new type of conversation; projects will begin with sustainability in mind, which is rewarding for employees, your organization and your customers.
3. Offer flexibility for different schedules
Taking employees offline and bringing them into a physical classroom setting proves nearly impossible given the increasing demands of the professional workforce.
Tech savvy employees appreciate learning at their own pace and using digital tools to learn on their own time. E-learning is emerging as the option of choice for training and education, allowing employees the time flexibility that is so crucial to us all today.
Self-paced learning, alongside a few hours of instructor-led training in a virtual classroom, makes training manageable and removes the offsetting factors employees face, such as extended time commitments and travel constraints.
4. Provide tools to enhance the day-to-day routine
While sustainability is here to stay, one ongoing challenge remains top of mind: How do you instill the discipline to incorporate sustainability in day-to-day operations in a way that ultimately influences outcomes — without any requirements, requests or rewards?
Many tools at a company’s disposal can make sustainability part of employees’ day-to-day schedule, including strategies to implement new products into an organization, ways to assess the current state of products and tactics to reduce consumption of natural resources.
A new product checklist can ensure sustainability is a priority in the early stages by pointing to the most common and potentially effective environmental, health and safety (EH&S) issues that must be addressed before implementation can begin. While evaluating current products, a sustainable product opportunity assessment tool can be used to identify the appropriate specifc strategies that respond to market needs. Alongside these tools, a natural resource consumption checklist can be instituted to help project team members identify potential opportunities to reduce consumption.
With all of these pillars in place, from well-rounded knowledge of sustainability to third party validation programs, sustainability can be incorporated into every facet of the company and is an achievable goal. Teams from product design to manufacturing, sourcing, customer service and every day in-office operations will begin to factor sustainability into everyday actions and make better business decisions regarding customer feedback, regulatory requirements and sourcing considerations.
Gretchen Digby establishes world-class internal and external energy efficiency and sustainability training curriculum for Ingersoll Rand’s 47,000 employees. This includes leading global employee engagement activities to further integrate sustainability into the company culture. Gretchen also oversees the company’s global network of employee volunteer Green Teams