Thursday, May 08, 2008

Environmental Responsibility and Employee Engagement

I sit here outside a rented bungalow overlooking Mission Bay in San Diego and I am reminded of people and communities who take social responsibility seriously.

Like Portland, Oregon, and Boulder, Colorado, San Diego, California wears its environmental awareness with pride. Indeed, over the last several days I have heard commercials on the radio warning of the effect of even throwing one gum wrapper down a storm drain; I have not seen a single scrap of litter; and hybrid cars here are endemic to the landscape. I often wonder why other communities aren't as "hip," and why most companies don't go further to involve themselves in socially responsible activities.

I don't pretend that for-profit companies exist for a primary reason other than to make a buck but making a buck is, in large part, due to the engagement of an organization's employees, that is, the willingness and desire of employees to want to come to work, to enjoy the experience, and to provide discretionary efforts while at work. That separates a few great companies from the thousands of "also-ran's."

In a recent study of more than 90,000 employees globally, the ten most significant engagement drivers were identified. One of those drivers is the employees' perception of whether or not their company is "socially responsible." While social responsibility encompasses many aspects of our lives, it most certainly includes environmental responsibility -- that is, the understanding that it is each of our obligations to leave the earth better than we found it.

Yet, knowing this, how many companies are you aware of that take affirmative steps to be responsible beyond the minimums government mandates, and how many educate their employees about the company's efforts? How many involve their employees in these efforts?

Alas, the answer is a small percentage.

I remain non-plussed by those employers who believe they can stare at the bottom line and make it change. It is like a batter in baseball staring at the left field fence because that is where he wants the ball to go when it leaves his bat. It is not likely to happen. Rather, the causes of a positive bottom line need to be the focus of every company -- that is their ball.

Some ideas? Though you'd never ask . . .

1. Teach employees good habits. Keep them aware, for example, of how they can protect their health, e.g., a new study of post-menopausal women published in the International Journal of Cancer shows that a chemical found in starchy foods such as French fries and potato chips called "acrylamide" doubles the likelihood of breast cancer -- the kind of fact your employees should know and will appreciate.

2. Get involved with "green." The newer generations who have entered and will be entering the workforce care and a high percentage use the green factor to determine the companies for which they want to work. Do your employees know what you're doing to reduce emissions? Does your company, for example, buy carbon offsets a way to help compensate for the global warming emissions we cause by helping fund green projects? Does your company use business travel "as needed," rather than "as wanted?" Two cross-country, round trip flights cause more emissions than a year of driving a high-milage car. Think about it and see

3. Consider the environmental impact of your purchases. For example, PBDEs (polybrominated dephenl ethers or flame retardants) are linked to thyroid, liver, neurological and immune disorders. Europe has already banned the use of most formulations of PBDEs. When buying electronics does your company consider that certain manufacturers like Apple, Dell, and Sony are phasing out the use of PBDE's? If so, do your employees know that you use these considerations, and therefore their health, in your decision-making?

These are just three ideas of thousands.

What about you? What are your ideas to make your company more environmentally responsible? What should your company be doing to make sure its employees know of its environmental efforts?

Think about it and send your ideas along to and we will publish them here in a future blog.


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