If you’re a regular subscriber to the Institute of Internal Communication’s Voice magazine, you might have spotted my name in this month’s edition. The IOIC invited me to share my experience on communicating sustainability to employees and driving behaviour change.
The featured article, titled Doing a World of Good (over on page 30 if you’ve got a copy), is about as timely as it gets for the start of a new decade. With the government’s legally binding targets for net zero within sight, and environmental awareness reaching an all-time high, employees are looking to their organisations and asking “what are we doing, and how can I help?”.
“Every organisation must now take greater responsibility for its own impact and spur its employees to change their behaviour. This critical work is not just going to help save the planet – it’s becoming a key factor in attracting and retaining talent”
The Voice, IOIC, 2020
The green opportunity
As internal communicators and employee experience professionals, we have an incredible opportunity to answer that question for people. To complement the article in the Voice, I’ve summarised my own top tips for getting this really right.
Setting ambitious, relevant and tangible sustainability goals as a business has a whole range of environmental and economic benefits. But, why should we engage employees and involve them in the journey?
- Retention – When personal values align with what an organisation values, that’s when employees feel like they really belong.
- Engagement – Taking action and being a part of the change helps employees feel connected to an organisation and proud of working there.
- Innovation – By raising awareness of environmental issues and engaging employees in two-way conversation, you’ll create space for new ideas to come through.
- Impact – With your employees onboard, you’ll achieve sustainability targets much quicker.
How this reflects externally…
- Recruitment – “Nearly two thirds of 16-24 year olds in the US want to work for employers committed to tackling climate change” Climate Group, 2019. Need I say more?
- Advocacy – When all employees are a part of your environmental journey, you’ll find that they’ll feel comfortable and confident enough to become an advocate for your business and talk openly with their customers about your environmental commitment.
- Customer service – Customers can spot ‘greenwashing’ from a mile away. They need to experience environmental commitment as part of their journey with your organisation. Engaged employees will make sure they do.
Starting the conversation
Start by finding the experts. Make good friends with your in-house sustainability team if you have one. Spend a day with them. Find out what’s on their radar. Bridge the gap between what the business is focusing on environmentally, and what employees care about.
Then focus on your narrative. Bring together the reasons why making a positive impact on the environment is good for your business, customers and employees, how your business is making changes and what the result of these will be. Be inspirational when painting your vision of the future.
Make all communications relevant and actionable. That means personalising your message to different job families and being clear on what they need to do. Think about your messenger as much as your message. How can you encourage leaders to role model your commitments? Can you bring your customers views and expectations into your communications?
Keeping the conversation going
Keep your communications two-way. Encourage questions and suggestions at all times. Take time to actively ask employees how they feel about sustainability within the company – what could be done better, what challenges do they face and what opportunities do they see? Harness these ideas.
Celebrate the journey. Most environmental goals are long-term. Take time to celebrate the quick wins, building momentum. Tell the stories behind the statistics throughout the year. Not just on Earth Day!
Be honest. Environmental targets are usually ambitious and for various reasons, an organisation may miss them from time to time. That’s okay, be honest about what’s happened and what the plan is.
Top 7 tips
I’ve been engaging employees and communicating sustainability internally for the past 10 years. Here are the top 7 things I’ve learned along the way.
- Don’t scaremonger – Paint a positive vision of the future. The reason so many of us have been turned off by environmental issues for so long is because they’ve seemed daunting and it feels like there is nothing we can do about them. As internal communicators, we can change that for employees.
- Facts aren’t enough, people need stories – Environmental impact is so often measured in numbers. Find the stories and shine a spotlight on them.
- Give people the bigger picture – That’s the ‘why’ and ‘what’ it means for your business, customers and people. Visual thinking maps are great for this.
- Then get focused – Don’t overload people in your communications, the environment is a huge topic! Focus on the one or two things that sit in the sweet spot between where your organisation could make the biggest difference and what your people care about.
- Make it actionable – Always be thinking about what people can realistically do and what would motivate them to do it.
- Celebrate and have fun – Your environmental communications should be so much more than just informative. Have fun with them, tell stories, be creative, create a buzz and bring out the best of your brand.
- Innovate – Create space for your employees to not only share their ideas, but to build on them and make them a reality.
If you have found yourself thinking about how you can up your environmental internal comms game, then I’d absolutely love to hear from you. I’m always happy to bounce ideas about or talk about things that have worked well in the past. Don’t be shy!