green teamsThe idea sounds simple enough.  Create a team of volunteers from existing employees.  Have them focus on ways to green the business and culture.  In turn, create cost savings, attract top talent due to an improvement in brand recognition, and increase market share from the new found brand image, possibly even innovative product and services.  The idea and the goal sound simple, while the execution and plan of attack seem a bit more complex.  How can an individual or company go about implementing this team of sustainability focused volunteers?  Resources and guides may be abundant and abound.  The report, “Green Teams: Engaging Employees in Sustainability,” released by GreenBiz.com and Green Impact, provides a good starting point that captures the business case for these green teams, how to get started, four key areas behind best practices, and a breakdown of 10 best practices in developing green teams.

by Michael Tam, Green Economy Post

Why expend the effort to form and maintain a green team within an organization?  Based on case studies and interviews with leaders in green business, green teams can provide cost savings through various mediums whether it be from recycling supplies or low cost efficiency initiatives. Carrie Freeman, a corporate sustainability strategist at Intel, provides insight into Intel’s green strategic perspective, “When it comes to looking at ways to reduce our footprint, we very much see a direct correlation between reducing our costs and engaging our employees.”  Impact can from just changing light bulbs, turning off the lights, or involving your employees in innovating greener solutions in their jobs, engaging your employees in the process and providing them a deeper and vested interest in the business.

Providing employees with the opportunity to focus on sustainable strategies within their daily work schedules can build moral and loyalty as they solve challenges together and can feel better about their work and contributions as a result.  It may seem like a distraction in these times of financial instability to focus on employees’ passion for sustainability, but according to a case study by BSR on Intel’s green teams  efforts toward employee engagement will strengthen a company’s employee base-which will be a crucial element in recovering from the recession. And maintaining employee loyalty and high productivity will help companies position themselves for success as the economy revives. A green team can also bring cross-functional groups of employees together and inspire and educate those not in involved to form a united cause within the office.  The Head of Environmental Initiatives at eBay, Libby Reder, attributes the strong retention rate of employees to the Green Team; in addition, according to recruiters, the Green Team also appeals to the best talent.

Supporting sustainability and taking action through a green team can also strengthen a brand and in turn, increase market share.  A green team represents a tangible model of output that demonstrates a company’s willingness to care that can spur business as involvement from sustainable employees can spread to business practices and services, in turn impacting customers.

“The engaged workforce will find more opportunities to get lean and identify more opportunities to innovate and create products and services that lower customers’ environmental impacts, says Andrew Winston, author of Green Recovery: Get Lean, Get Smart, and Emerge from the Downturn on Top.  “All of this work will improve the top and bottom lines,” he adds.

The National Environmental Education Foundation’s report, The Engaged Organization: Corporate Employee Environmental Education Survey and Case Study Findings, points out that by engaging employees, companies can spark innovative changes in everyday business processes that save money and reduce environmental and social impacts while also inspiring employees to make sustainable choices at home and in their communities.

How to Get a Green Team Started in Four Steps

Volunteers for a green team could be from any passionate employee on any team within the company or the volunteers could be from related teams should a company already have these in place (e.g., Corporate sustainability, environmental health and safety, or corporate social responsibility).  By forming a corporate green team with volunteers from various departments, a cross functional approach can be taken to sustainable and environmental initiatives.  Green team activities can then be linked to corporate sustainability objectives from a cross functional perspective with the involvement of volunteers from various departments.

1. Establish executive support to facilitate the process of decision making, perhaps by including a member of the executive staff on the green team.  This serves to provide management perspective on actionable plans and setting expectations for direction of the team and potential funding.  Ensure the executive team is behind the cause enough to take action on ideas as morale and steam behind the effort can be lost if the executive team allows no action.

2. While it is beneficial to have members from various departments (e.g., sales, operations, human resources, manufacturing, finance, etc.) to relay a cross functional impact and purpose, keep the team’s size limited to promote efficiency.  To counterbalance this limit in size, have each respective department form a green committee to relay ideas to their respective representative on the green team should interest in the green team exceed expectations (hopefully the case for all companies).

3. Create an environment of creativity and keep an open forum as this is a volunteer effort to promote cost savings in another way, through the perspective of increasing value of products and services simultaneously saving the Earth.

4. Determine where the company stands in goals given the resources at hand.  Should the company start at the basics such as recycling programs and employee awareness, or has this already been established, and can the company look further down the road and green its facilities or operations, even its product and services?  Look at activities inside and outside the company and form plans capturing the action, benefit, investment of resources or cost to company, risks, and method of monitoring.

Four Key Trends to Keep an Eye Out For When Developing Green Teams
  1. Focus on internal operations.  This constitutes recycling efforts, energy and water use, composting food waste, eliminating plastic water bottles, reducing the use of disposable take-out containers, and many other simple shifts in habit that can have a significant impact on internal operations and employee morale.  It is a great starting point as it is the low hanging fruit on the green tree of goals but it provides a tangible effort for which green team volunteers and other employees can be involved.
  2. Help employees become more sustainable and green in their personal lives, whether it be by providing small tools to do so or holding informational luncheons, building awareness.  By doing so, it creates a movement for the initiative as they are living it on a day to day basis, and this personal interaction can seep over to their professional lives and mindsets.  This practice has already been implemented by Hewlett Packard, Yahoo!, Genentech, and Wal-Mart.
  3. Apply this concept of facilitating green initiatives in employees’ lives to those of the customers’, in turn strengthening the relationship with customers by the alignment of principles and values.
  4. Balance the grassroots energy of the green team with a link to the company’s corporate sustainability objectives, providing a relevant and tangible business objective that is applicable to the company and all of its team members.

10 Best Practices in Developing Green Teams

1. Start with the visible and tangible. By first focusing on internal operations, which the employees’ experience on a daily basis, a company creates small changes that represent the bigger picture and open the door for more potential initiatives.

2. Get senior management involved, but don’t lose the grassroots energy.  Senior management involvement is critical for facilitation of decision making but balance this with the creative and open nature of finding green solutions as the employees are the individuals dealing with day to day operations.

3. Engage employees to capture ideas by creating web based tools, forums of open discussion whether it be luncheons or get-togethers, or sub-groups to organize creation efforts in coming up with new ideas.

4. Communicate and share best practices through blogs, social networking tools (e.g., Facebook, Twitter), discussion boards, or even the company Intranet.  Common interests are shared and explored through the facilitation of communication and employees will feel like they are a part of a greater effort simply by contributing an idea.

5. Engage employees with their bellies by promoting a low carbon diet campaign.  Everybody has to eat.  So why not employ a sustainable food service?  Companies such as Bon Appétit Management Company have already offered such a service to clients such as Target Corporation, Best Buy, Cisco, and a variety of universities.  This brings awareness to the carbon footprint of food choices, something many people are not aware of, and also can reduce disposable take-out containers, create an extensive method of discussion topic as all people enjoy eating, and have to do it!

6. Engage employees in their personal lives through various methods.  Whether it be offering incentives to bike or carpool, provide energy kits to reduce their carbon footprint at home, or offering informational sessions, engagement of employees can create an excitement that will trickle into their habits at work.  Wal-Mart provides an example of this through its Personal Sustainability Project (PSP).

7. Engage customers to be part of the solution incorporating them into the business practice of sustainable strategies.  For example, offering green products and services such as Yahoo! for Good engages their purchasing decisions.  A company can also invite customers to be part of the corporate green team creating an even deeper relationship with customers, just as eBay has done with its own green team, involving over 100,000 customers as members.

8. Using art or any other creative medium of communication such as short videos can raise awareness within the company.  Promoting the creative aspect of these green teams can only provide excitement and enthusiasm for employee’s to achieve sustainable initiatives.

9. Create a toolkit to support and guide green teams as Deloitte has done with its “Greening the Dot” program.

10. And finally, align green teams with corporate sustainability goals providing a synergy between the broader corporate objectives and green team activities.

Challenges of Developing Green Teams

While advantages can be expansive, companies will encounter challenges.  Monitoring metrics and results of green team efforts is imperative in proving the worth of investment resources.  There are software tools now available to help with this.  Engaging business units can prove difficult if unable to articulate a clear business case for these green teams so be prepared to apply the purpose of green teams to all departments.  Finding a balance between linking green team efforts to overall corporate strategies or grassroot objectives is crucial in maintaining the functioning of green teams.  Ensure employees that their volunteered time will not impact their job stability as they still have their actual job responsibilities to manage.  And finally, balance the creative energy with the corporate structure needed to create progress.

As stated by the report, understand that this a learning process for all companies and, “Engaging employees is more art than science, very dependent on a company’s culture and governance style…harnessing the power of green teams and aligning their efforts with corporate goals is a learning edge for most companies.”

© 2010, Michael D Tam. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: Michael D Tam (6 Articles)

I am a recent graduate from UCLA, class of 2008, currently working in the corporate world of consulting and striving to discover how I can contribute to the world through business and do my part. Although a beginner on this expansive topic, I find my values to be greatly aligned with the principles of redesign and sustainability and hope to share what I learn as I continue on this exciting journey. From reading informative articles, to viewing eye-catching videos, to attending awe-inspiring events, I hope to capture what I learn and present it in a fashion interesting to you. Simply a student of the subject, I am interested in the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead in building businesses that are profitable but can help society in ways never before considered. I am grateful to have this opportunity to share what I learn with like-minded individuals and hope that I can add to the innovating discussion.