Responsibility from the Inside Out: Going Green Starts with Internal Awareness and Action

Remember when your parents told you: “It’s not what’s on the outside that counts, but what you have inside that really matters?”  Corporate America is adhering to that same sage advice. A closer look at corporate America will show that most companies have only recently started thoughtfully examining   corporate responsibility and sustainability programs. Once considered a “nice to have” and generally looked upon as an external communication, these programs have gained considerable traction over the past few years and have become an integral part of the way many companies do business. 

Now, businesses are taking substantive measures to ensure external appearances are met with favorable response, while internally boosting morale with employees. The result is that impact is being felt on both the bottom line and employee retention and productivity.

Casual observers will tell you companies “go green” to sell more products or services. The truth lies much deeper than that, though selling products or services is ultimately every company’s main ambition. But a focus on sustainability can have an enormous impact in many other facets of a business, namely on the inside. 

Customers, shareholders, board members and, most importantly, employees, all take an active interest in what a company is doing. By engaging in green activities, employees achieve a greater sense of company pride. Recent research has even proven companies who practice sustainability measures see incredible output from employees.  The University of San Diego’s Burham-Moores Center for Real Estate found that employees who work for green companies or work in environmentally friendly buildings are more efficient. In fact, of the 2,000 tenants in over 154 buildings surveyed, there was an average of 2.88 fewer sick days.

How can companies effectively make the transition to environmentally friendly and, what processes can they implement?

Finding Your Niche
What makes corporate America great is the desire of each company to stand out from its competitors. Even if products are similar, a company cannot find its highest success without have a distinguishing characteristic.  With sustainability it’s no different.  When evaluating next steps, companies should consider the following:

1.    Existing CSR and green programs: How do you compare? (Audit and analysis)
2.    Policy and program development: What’s important to your company?
3.    Internal communications: How will your programs be communicated to employees?
4.    Stakeholder and third party engagement: What third party sponsors/stakeholders can you work with?
5.    Media relations and external communications: How will your company’s message be externally communicated?

For our purposes, let’s pay close attention to #3, internal communications. As previously mentioned, going green can have an enormously positive effect on employees. Developing a team internally to evaluate current sustainability practices and giving them the opportunity to develop new ones, will provide a boost in employee morale and productivity. If an employee feels engaged and involved, and is behind the cause, they will feel more connected to the mission, thus creating a more positive work environment.

“It’s Not Easy Being Green.” So How Can We Get There?
Every company has a different reason for going green, but the ultimate goal remains reducing carbon emissions. Analyst firm Harris Interactive recently noted that scientific evidence reveals that there are only about 10 years left before modern economies cause irrevocable damage to the environment. Developing a strong core green program that employees can get behind can start with just small changes, such as forgoing bottled water in favored of filtered, to larger changes such as building infrastructure. 

A good example of bigger change is the American Life and Accident Insurance company of Kentucky. They made an enormous dedication to sustainability by creating a “green roof,” which consists mostly of vegetation, removing storm water run-off while reducing their energy use by 75%. 

While this measure is rather extreme, companies are taking a harder look at environmental and sustainability programs and positions within their company. Reporter John Davies of recently noted this paradigm shift, pointing out that more than 600 companies in the U.S. have seen an increasing number of environmental positions developed through their organizations, with significant spending also allocated in these departments. In fact, 75% of those companies reported either a flat rate or increase in spending in these areas as well. also reported September that corporate America has more than doubled its green practices over the last three years.

But what do companies do if they don’t have funding for new environmental positions?

Creating a Green Team and Programs to Embrace
An efficient and economical way to engage employees is to create a volunteer green team challenged with developing new programs and ideas. Most successful green teams will have a diverse mix of professional levels and backgrounds in order to provide insightful analysis on anything from budget to office morale.  By allowing all levels to participate, employees can voice their ideas without fear of getting lost in the shuffle. More importantly, all will feel a sense of involvement as well.

The green team can be of varying sizes and can be tasked with everything from developing a company’s environmental sustainability manifesto to incorporating changes within the office and ensuring computer monitors and lights are turned off daily. Here are steps to consider when developing and launching a green team:

•    Evaluate current practices in place. What can be changed?
•    Select a “green chairman” or “champion” to hold meetings, develop new ideas and serve as liaison to other staff.
•    Assign responsibilities to the team and individuals. What can they do? Some ideas:
•    Develop a sustainability manifesto to be shared with entire office.
•    Meet frequent (monthly or quarterly) green team meetings and aim to accomplish a set number of goals before each meeting.
•    Develop list of actionable items that can serve as an agenda for the next six months to a year
•    Communicate to the company. One common way to do this is to develop a Web site for employees to turn to with any questions, thoughts or concerns.
•    Also, be sure to share ideas, insights and enthusiasm with the entire company, promoting a yearly “green day” or hold a quarterly event to get everyone excited.
•    Ensure all practices save money (or at a minimum, are low cost) and protect the environment.

Instituting green practices, no matter how small, can make a big difference. Employees who participate on the green team or are involved with green initiatives will feel a full sense of involvement, fulfillment and pride in the work they are doing. And, by fostering a green commitment, your company can also experience these positives while reducing its environmental footprint.

This article is excerpted from PR News upcoming Guide to Best Practices in Corporate Social Responsibility and Green PR, Volume 3. It was written by Andrew Cuneo, senior account executive at Hill & Knowlton in Washington, D.C. To find out how to order the guidebook, check this site for periodic updates: