business case employee evironmental sustainability education programsEducating employees about energy efficiency,conservation, recycling, waste reduction and other similar measures benefit not only the companies that institute them, but also the organization’s employees, but also the communities in which they operate.

by Green Economy Post Staff

A new study by the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) finds that environmental and sustainability (E&S) employee education and engagement initiatives help companies achieve a range of business objectives from attracting and retaining employees to boosting the bottom line.

“While in the past, most environmental education programs were primarily for environmental safety and health employees, many companies now realize that to achieve their sustainability goals, they need to involve the entire workforce (or all their employees),” said Diane Wood, president of the National Environmental Education Foundation. “Successful employee engagement programs motivate employees and can be an asset in recruitment and retention.”

But educational programs must compete for resources, so building a strong business case for an E&S education program can be as important as building the program itself. The publication also includes best practices, next steps and resources for making the business case for E&S education.

Best Practices

The following are best practices in employee environmental and sustainabity education that have been identified and successfully implemented.

  • Companies should link environmental and sustainability (E&S) education initiatives to key business objectives and frame them in terms of management risks and opportunities.
  • Take a top-down, bottom-up and sideways approach when engaging employees. A culture shift has to include everyone, not just those dedicated to sustainability.
  • Stress the shift in societal and stakeholder expectations. Sustainability is no longer just “nice to have” and employees are an important resource for addressing and benefiting from this shift.
  • Complement education with incentives (e.g., bonuses and awards) to improve environmental performance.
  • Build momentum for the E&S actions by recognizing work that is already being done.
  • Create E&S education pilot programs that require few resources and measure the impacts of the pilot to build the case for a larger program.
  • Regularly report back to employees on how their E&S actions are making a difference.
  • Understand that each geographic region has its unique problems and opportunities.

Documentation is Crucial

Documentation is crucial for strengthening the future business case for investment in employee E&S education and engagement.  So, measuring the impacts of E&S education programs.   The National Environmental Education Foundation, makes the following recommendations:

  • Gather data by mining and adapting routine surveys of prospective, new and established employees, asking specific questions about E&S education and engagement, and establishing correlations between responses to the questions and outcomes such as satisfaction rates and acceptance of job offers.
  • Survey customers on the extent to which their satisfaction is influenced by the environmental
    knowledge of the company’s customer service representatives.
  • Correlate measures of employee engagement to environmental results.
  • Survey community members and other stakeholders to determine to what extent their perceptions of the company are influenced by employee engagement in environmental and sustainability activities.
  • Correlate some measure of education (e.g. training hours) with results relative to operational efficiency improvements.

The publication takes an in-depth look at examples where companies saved money, improved efficiency, built stronger customer relations — or succeeded in doing all three — through E&S education programs, presenting a compelling business case for environmentally literate employees. Company examples indicate that while there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to E&S education, engaging employees at every level of the company is essential to successful initiatives.

Some examples highlighted in the report include:

  • Environmental initiatives at Baxter International Inc. totaled nearly $91.1 million in savings and cost avoidance over the last six years.
  • Lockheed Martin “Green Teams” improved energy efficiency at company sites nationwide, reduced waste and saved money by better managing the use of lighting and air conditioning. Lighting system upgrades at one facility have saved more than $300,000 and reduced carbon dioxide reductions by 2,511 metric tons.
  • A similar employee-led team at eBay’s headquarters encouraged the company to build the largest solar installation in San Jose, Calif., reducing carbon dioxide emissions by more than one million pounds per year and saving the company $100,000 in energy costs – so far.

“When it comes to looking at ways to reduce our footprint, we see a direct correlation between reducing our costs and engaging our employees. The Business Case white paper highlights such correlations,” said Carrie Freeman, corporate sustainability strategist at Intel.

“The case studies in this report demonstrate that employee environmental education and engagement helps a business achieve its sustainability goals while also reducing costs,” said Margaret Lindeman, sustainability strategist at Lockheed Martin.

The white paper is a companion publication to “The Engaged Organization,” released last spring. A survey undertaken as part of the publication found that a majority of companies surveyed (65 percent) value environmental and sustainability knowledge in their employees and that more than three out of four surveyed said that knowledge will increase in importance as a hiring factor within five years.

Visit the National Environmental Education Foundation web site to download  The Business Case for Environmental and Sustainability Employee Education.

© 2010, Tracey de Morsella. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: Tracey de Morsella (323 Articles)

Tracey de Morsella started her career working as an editor for US Technology Magazine. She used that experience to launch Delaware Valley Network, a publication for professionals in the Greater Philadelphia area. Years later, she used the contacts and resources she acquired to work in executive search specializing in technical and diversity recruitment. She has conducted recruitment training seminars for Wachovia Bank, the Department of Interior and the US Postal Service. During this time, she also created a diversity portal called The Multicultural Advantage and published the Diversity Recruitment Advertising Toolkit, a directory of recruiting resources for human resources professionals. Her career and recruitment articles have appeared in numerous publications and web portals including Woman Engineer Magazine, Monster.com, About.com Job Search Channel, Workplace Diversity Magazine, Society for Human Resource Management web site, NSBE Engineering Magazine, HR.com, and Human Resource Consultants Association Newsletter. Her work with technology professionals drew her to pursuing training and work in web development, which led to a stint at Merrill Lynch as an Intranet Manager. In March, she decided to combine her technical and career management expertise with her passion for the environment, and with her husband, launched The Green Economy Post, a blog providing green career information and covering the impact of the environment, sustainable building, cleantech and renewable energy on the US economy. Her sustainability articles have appeared on Industrial Maintenance & Plant Operation, Chem.Info,FastCompany and CleanTechies.