Greening the Workplace: Leading Companies are Incorporating the Environmental Revolution into Internal Communications

As the American public becomes more informed about environmental issues, and the Obama administration’s formidable “bully pulpit” commits the United States to a policy of carbon reduction, it’s evident that employees will increasingly scrutinize their employers’ policies and actions through the lens of environmental responsibility. It’s already happening, according to our day-to-day work with clients—not to mention the numerous research reports that confirm the trend.

Survey after survey attests to the value employees vest in sincere actions on the part of their employers in “greening” the workplace and the way they do business:
  • In a recent report by Tandberg, a video conferencing provider, 81 percent of employees said they would prefer to work for a company that has a firm reputation for environmental responsibility.
  • A study by the Kenexa Research Institute, a Pennsylvania-based HR research firm, found that 57 percent of U.S. workers felt more pride in working for their companies if it had implemented green business practices, compared to workers in Germany (46%), France (50%), Canada (46%) and Spain (52%).   
  • A survey commissioned by TransitCenter, a nonprofit (and a Makovsky client) that provides tax-free transit benefits to promote mass transit use, found that more than two-thirds of employees believe their employers’ environmental values should mirror their own – but that the majority of their companies are falling short of meeting those obligations.

How are some best practice companies responding to this growing interest on the part of employees? Here are a few examples, but you can find many more inspirations at
  • Companies are engaging employees for ideas. Xerox recently recognized twenty projects initiated by employees around the world as winners of its 16th annual Earth Awards; these programs helped the company save $7.3 million, eliminate 1.3 million pounds of waste and reduce energy use by 500,000 kilowatt hours. Winning projects are communicated throughout the company and, if applicable to other locations, may be adopted. One winning team at a plant found ways to reuse or recycle much of the packaging that came with incoming parts.
  • Companies are rewarding more “environmental” commuting. Clif Bar, a maker of organic energy food and drinks, launched the “Cool Commute” program that encourages employees to commute to work via walking, bicycle, public transportation or carpool. The company held a “bike to work” day that was so popular it was extended to a full month. According to Employee Benefit News, workers accumulated points that they could exchange for massages or commuter vouchers and the winners received a donation to a charity of their choice. 
  • They’re offering “green” internships. Twenty-three companies including CISCO, Accenture, Advanced Micro Devices, eBay and Intuit offered internships to top graduate business school students through the Climate Corps, a program of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). The Mercury-News reported that each intern was paired with a mentor in the host company such as a facilities or data center manager, to review the company’s energy profile and build a business case for operational change. 

You don’t need a big budget to engage employees, however. The program can be as simple as establishing an employee green committee, as we did at Makovsky, to research and implement changes such as eliminating bottled water at meetings, analyzing paper consumption and instituting practices to reduce it and establishing sustainability policies for the vendors you hire.

The rewards go beyond saving energy, money and doing good – although those are reasons enough to get on board. The programs become their own internal communications and employee engagement vehicles. So what are you waiting for?

Robbin S. Goodman is Executive Vice President and a partner at Makovsky + Company, one of the top 15 independent public relations firms in New York City and a co-founder of Interraction, a consortium of experts from a variety of business disciplines working together to address the risks and opportunities presented by climate change.

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