How do Singapore based companies engage their employees around sustainability and CSR? This was the question that prompted me to interview eleven organisations over a four month period to share bright spots that other companies could emulate. The result: a free online 42 page resource titled ‘The Sustainability Toolkit: A framework for engaging employees for CSR – Using best practices from Singapore based organisations’.
The organisations interviewed include: Banyan Tree Global Foundations Ltd, City Development Pte Ltd, Haworth, IKANO Retail Asia Pte Ltd, Origin Exterminators Pte Ltd, RICOH Asia Pacific Pte Limited, Siloso Beach Resort, Standard Chartered Bank, YTL Power Seraya Pte Limited and National University of Singapore.
Why engage employees in CSR: The business case
There is increasing pressure on companies from a range of stakeholders to operate in a manner that is socially and environmentally responsible. Companies which respond proactively rather than reactively to legislative and stakeholder pushes are more likely to experience several benefits. In particular, as research shows, organisations that engage their employees in the process are more likely to:
- Attract quality talent who want to work with responsible companies
- Retain quality talent as it improves employee loyalty
- Lower absenteeism with improved engagement levels
- Innovate more for competitive advantage, as employees are a source of ideas for sustainability
- Maintain their reputation and branding, as employees are the touch points with customers, suppliers and members of the public, and reflect the company’s culture
7 key elements surfaced in our interviews with the 11 Singapore based organisations that are important for engaging employees in CSR:
1. Top management support
For CSR to become embedded in the organisation, it is critical to have top management support. Larger organisations may choose to create a formal structure like a CSR committee, to enable synergy between top management and the advisory team. Employees are likely to engage in CSR only when leaders become role models themselves, and treat employees as partners in the value creation process, building trust and transparency in the organisation.
2. Creating a shared understanding for CSR
CSR may mean different things to different people. The key misconception is that it is only about philanthropy or charitable giving. CSR is about making money the right way, rather than making the wrong things more efficiently and/or giving away a part of the profits regardless of how they are made. Though top management and CSR managers need to have a deep understanding of a framework like ISO 26000 which is a voluntary guidance for organisations to become environmentally, socially and ethically responsible, it is useful to simplify the message in the mission and vision statements in a way that all employees can understand the same easily. This helps to create a shared understanding of what CSR means.
3. Aligning CSR with HR
The HR function can play both a leading as well as a support role in the implementation of CSR throughout the organisation. HR can align with the organisation’s sustainability goals in various areas such as:
- establishing the employee code of conduct
- recruitment of talent
- orientation, training and development of employees
- linking sustainability to performance appraisals;
- getting feedback from employees for various sustainability initiatives; and
- conducting exit interviews to gauge perceptions of CSR values of a company.
4. Communication and education
Communication and education of employees about CSR is a continuous process. It is important to meet them where they are and take them to the next level - from them being unaware of the message, to becoming aware, to enhancing understanding, to believing and then committing to acting. Establishing environmental reminders, and keeping in mind some key factors that influence behavior change in employees such as creating enabling environments, tapping into intrinsic values, removing barriers to change, being a role model, finding and supporting internal champions, nudging with incentives, mandating as compulsory as the situation warrants and celebrating wins are just a few tips.
5. Green office
While the organisation may be moving towards sustainability in its operations, factories, processes and externally in its supply chain, these may be ‘out of sight’ and ‘out of mind’ for many employees. A green office is a good way to demonstrate CSR practices in three areas:
- for resource conservation and in reducing carbon emissions e.g., energy use, water, paper, and air travel adopting a certification like Project Eco-Office in Singapore
- for supporting personal sustainability habits that employees may show in their personal lives; and
- designing office spaces and setting policies that enhance the physical, mental and emotional wellbeing of employees
6. Volunteering & outreach activities
CSR is often misconstrued as philanthropy or volunteering. As important as these are, they make strategic sense for an organisation only if the environmental and social impact of its core activities are addressed. Volunteering requires a company’s resources and employees’ time to be spent, so it is critical to plan and manage these in a way that is aligned to the organisation’s core competencies and sustainability goals. Companies that support volunteering have experienced higher employee engagement and retention rates, so there are benefits to supporting this.
7. Stakeholder engagement
Employees are the touchpoint for a wide range and number of stakeholders – whether it is interaction with investors, supply chain, customers, NGOs and communities, members of the public including family and friends of employees, media and so on. A culture oriented towards CSR will particularly help to respond resiliently in a crisis. It helps to gain competitive advantage, especially when employees can be educated to communicate with customers, supply chain partners, NGOs and the community among others, and also be open to understanding where stakeholders’ needs are.
Though focused on Singapore based companies, the toolkit is meant to be handy for academicians, researchers, CSR practitioners, executives, managers and the general public anywhere in the world, and for organisations in any stage of their CSR journey.
Bhavani Prakash is a speaker and trainer in the areas of sustainability, mindfulness and leadership. She is Founder of Green Collar Asia, an industry oriented thought leadership portal. The Sustainability Toolkit received support from the National Environment Agency’s ‘Call For Ideas’ fund, and also advisory support from Singapore Compact & Singapore Environment Council.