Getting employees engaged with CSR

Employees for global consumer giant Unilever in Australia and New Zealand recently received a set of new namecards with this job title: Head of Sustainability.

Along with the card was a job manual which provided examples of how the staff could integrate sustainability in their own daily practices across the organization.

What underpinned Unilever’s internal campaign was a recognition of the fact that if the company is to fulfill their ambitious Sustainable Living Plan, they need to get all employees involved - not just the corporate social responsibility (CSR) or sustainability department.

Just like Unilever, many other companies who have embarked on the sustainability journey are facing the challenge of giving life to their CSR strategies, guidelines and codes of conduct in a way that is both meaningful to the individual employee and adds value to the bottom line.

At Interface, the world’s largest modular carpet manufacturer, they have addressed this challenge by applying an internal training program called “Fast Forward to 2020”, an ambassador program, and a philosophy that they call “One Mind at a Time”.

Among other things, this means that if you are a designer at Interface, you work to find sustainable carpet materials; if you work in the production department, you work on finding ways to reduce the company’s CO2 emissions through more efficient work routines; and if you’re based in the marketing department, you develop principles for sustainable communication.

The emergence of social technologies is also opening up new possibilities for employee engagement. At the world’s largest retail chain Wal-Mart, for example, employees set up their own personal goals for sustainability and measure the effect on the social networking site My Sustainability Plan.

And at sustainable cleaning product company, Seventh Generation, employees use the online platform Practically Green to reduce their use of water, while an in-built scoring system recognizes and rewards employees for their resource-saving initiatives.

The benefits? Applying social media is personal, visible, it allows recognition and rewarding, it’s easy to access and measure - and it can be used for gamification, which involves applying game design thinking to non-game applications, to make the work with CSR fun and engaging.

When companies like Unilever, Wal-Mart and Seventh Gerneration choose to allocate resources for employee engagement, it’s not just about saving the world. It’s also about securing future bottom line results.

Chemical company DuPont is just one example which shows that it makes good business sense to put sustainability into the heart of organizational routines. Recently the company could report on US$ 1 billion in savings on its energy consumption as a result.

So while many companies are still focusing their efforts on annual reporting and compliance mechanisms, others are recognizing that the link between HR, CSR and business objectives is the next step in the sustainability game.

Tania Ellis is a Danish-British prize-winning author, speaker and business innovator, specialized in social business trends and strategies.

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