Beyond awareness: The next step in employee engagement

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Beyond awareness: The next step in employee engagement

Editor's note: This is the third installment in a series on engaging employees around sustainability. The first part introduced the four stages of employee engagement and the second part discussed the first stage, raising employee awareness about sustainability.

This month’s column will focus on the second stage in employee engagement, Connection, and will feature examples of companies that have successfully reached this stage. By connection, we mean taking a step beyond just presenting information – the first stage – and promoting interaction and a sense of belonging among employees, helping them make the home-work connection, supporting work-life balance and enabling them to share best practices with their peers and beyond.

Every company employs different methods of helping employees make the connection between sustainability and business. The key is to understand the culture of your organization and then design a program which embraces this culture and allows for interaction and sharing of information across business functions and locations. When this happens, employees "get it" and a true tangible and intangible connection occurs.

Here's how four different companies -- Fairmount Minerals, Altria, Ingersoll Rand and Energizer -- have put this into practice:

1) Fairmount Minerals, an Ohio-based sand and sand-products company, has successfully embedded sustainability into its business operations and company culture over the last seven years, creating a strong sense of belonging within its workforce. Employees are called "family members," ensuring that everyone knows they are a valued part of the organization. And the wellness program also includes employees' family members, which helps them create a stronger work-home connection and supports work-life balance.

The company's Sustainable Development Teams comprise volunteers who are responsible for setting annual team goals that are directly tied to the overall mission and vision of the organization. Furthermore, progress toward these team goals -- along with the overarching corporate goals -- are publicly reported every year in the company's social responsibility report.

Achieving these goals not only benefits the company's operations or bottom line, but also gives its teams a sense of pride and contribution to Fairmount Minerals' success and sustainability. The company also does plenty of outreach: Throughout the year, it holds open houses at its sites and "family members" visit community organizations and schools to educate community members, not only about the company, but about the importance of sustainability. All this helps connect business, sustainability and community well-being.

Image of networking by Jure Porenta via Shutterstock.

2) Earlier this year, Altria Group, the parent of tobacco company Philip Morris USA, sponsored an innovation fair to showcase new technologies and processes that had improved its business, including reducing costs throughout its supply chain. Energy-management technologies, waste-reduction processes and sustainable packaging, such as eco-friendly, biodegradable materials, were prominently on display. The innovation fair gave employees a chance to see firsthand how sustainability and cost management were connecting to enhance the company’s core business. Feedback from employees was overwhelmingly positive; the fair helped them feel proud of the company.

3) Employee engagement is a core business practice at Ingersoll Rand, where it takes the form of green teams. Officially launched in 2011 by the company’s Center for Energy Efficiency and Sustainability (CEES), the Green Team program was intended to provide structure and definition around key sustainability milestones. Green Team members, employee volunteers, work to reduce the company's environmental footprint and complete community service projects. To provide them with more resources and learning opportunities, Ingersoll Rand began quarterly webcasts to share ideas and best practices. It estimates it reaped savings of more than $1 million in 2011 as a direct result of Green Team projects. This program is a perfect example of promoting interaction and a sense of belonging among employees, while helping them connect business and sustainability.

4) Battery company Energizer has found a fun and interesting way to engage employees around sustainability: energy treasure hunts. These hands-on learning events have resulted in more than 2,000 sustainability opportunities and a potential cost savings of $4 million. Here's how it works: The company puts together teams that are diverse in both seniority and business function, and those teams – using historical information and inspections -- try to find ways to reduce facilities' energy consumption and cost.

Having a broad depth of expertise on these teams helps them identify ways to reduce consumption that might not be obvious to everyone, thereby giving employees a chance to share ideas and best practices with each other. These treasure hunts help employees connect, not only business and sustainability, but also with each other.

5. Another major employer launched a company-wide program to encourage employees to take individual action to protect the environment and give back to the community. Using internal electronic communications such as email and the intranet, as well as social media, the company encourages employees to commit to completing acts (such as unplugging phone chargers when they aren't being used, biking to work, recycling, etc.) that help preserve and protect the environment -- not only at work, but also at home and elsewhere in their daily lives.

In the company’s existing employee-engagement platform and orientation program, the environment is featured at every turn, from news articles to banner advertisements, to help employees understand the importance of preserving the environment and how it will positively affect the company in both the short term and the long term. Also, the company encourages employees to discuss their ideas, activities and experiences on online social-media platforms and to join a network of employees aiming to go green. These activities enable employees to work together to help the company reach its environmental goals, promoting a sense of belonging and pride and helping employees make the connection between business and sustainability.

Next month’s column will focus on the third stage, Commitment, which includes rewarding employee involvement in sustainability, fostering innovation and celebrating accomplishments.