Engaging people on a corporate sustainable journey

Deploying a sustainable mindset/policy/action in a company might seem complicated for people in the first place: 
- What can I do? 
- How can I do it? 
- Will people follow me? 
- Will my manager give consent in the end?

This article aims at breaking the wall around these questions. Here are some time-saving tips to engage people to follow you on a sustainable journey.

Build yourself a resilient mindset

1- Know where you stand

As Jared Diamond claims often: you need a good “self-appraisal” to act on any “decisive change” (this applies to both individuals and organisations). This so-called self-appraisal implies different fundamental questions you need to assess before any other move: 

  • What are your company core values? It is understandably harder to implement sustainable actions in a very conservative company.
  • What role do you have in your company? What are the possible teams/supporters you can have in this sustainable journey? Be honest about what you can achieve based on your situation in your company. Start small and be coherent. If you are a well-appraised manager, you might be able to enforce stronger incentives than a junior executive. Still, everyone can lead sustainable actions at their level!
  • What can your next sustainable role be? Identify potential actions that shall be accepted easily, based on your discussions with managers, colleagues, suppliers, clients...
  • What are the trends in your industry that could benefit your company in terms of sustainability? Logistics companies can aim at green packaging, software companies can aim at green hosting for their platforms…

Before thinking thoroughly about your action, make sure you have found answers to those questions first. It will prevent further frustration in the future.

2- Secondly, build a community for sustainability 

On your own, you go faster, but with others, you go further, isn’t it what we say? 

So pick your team to deploy sustainability. You can have several levels of responsibilities, just like any other RACI matrix, this is crucial to build human capital and bind people together.

Thus, here is our LACS matrix for you to target at the right people and build your sustainable community. You need Leaders, Actors, Contributors and Supporters.

One crucial role that is not mentioned is the Sponsor. No worries, we will come to this one soon enough!

Depending on your role in the company, definitely consider involving a maximum of people to empower them and turn them into sustainability heroes.

3- Be progressive and coherent 

Climate change, social inequalities take more than a wave of magic wand to disappear. Sustainability is not limited on one aspect, it has to be a global thinking. However, to deploy successfully a first action, do not target too high objectives. To ensure successful actions, refer to our existing material:

- For successful sustainable actions, refer to the Starter Kit.

- To find relevant ideas for your business case, browse our dedicated solutions:

If you feel like being lost, we recommend you having a look at the 17 UN Sustainability Goals. Start to focus with one or two goals at first!

4- Find a sponsor 

A sponsor represents the person you must aim at to engage sustainability and is the person in your company that will support your ideas and actions, especially to higher management.

For instance, your Sponsor can be your Marketing Director who would help you promote your actions to the Executive Committee.

In small business, your sponsor may be your direct manager but in complex enterprises, sponsors and direct managers may not be the same people.

5- To engage people, prepare the right favorable arguments

First, know who is who and make sure you have the right validation process for your decisions. That’s very important to prevent misunderstandings and blockers. 

This is of first importance to time and structure all the benefits (hidden benefits included) sustainability can achieve: cost cutting, people engagement within the company, new source of turnover…

On top of that, build your speech based on who you deal with because people are not interested in the same KPIs depending on their role in the company.

Example: A CFO is not as interested in “corporate happiness” and “branding”, as an HR manager or a marketing officer could be.

You can consider this list of criteria for main lines of employees in a company (surely, it changes from a person to another, but still, that should provide your relevant “line of attack”):

Also, depending on which department people work at, you should note that:

  • Marketing/Innovation teams are more likely to be receptive to Corporate values, differentiation
  • Finance/Legal teams are more likely to be receptive to Compliance, ROI and overall feasibility
  • IT teams are more likely to be receptive on ROI, Efficiency and overall feasibility

These are generalities based on our experience. They can be absolutely irrelevant in your company, thus keep in mind who you talk to and put yourself in their shoes to be most appropriate.

Try to understand also where your colleagues and managers stand on a personal view. Different people might take the same decision but for very different personal reasons. Are your colleagues and managers Bricks, Golds or Greens? Adapt your argument accordingly to win their support.

We also suggest you take into account your company’s strategy/shareholders’ policies to make sure your incentive can be accepted. 

6- Be project-driven 

What does it mean? It means you need a roadmap to plan your route. Here is a quick overview of the project-driven mindset you must have to ensure a successful sustainable incentive.

To rock at this step, feel free to sneak a peek at our dedicated starter kit.

7- Find inspiration elsewhere to empower your colleagues and yourself

We definitely recommend you to look for sustainable ideas and projects led by other companies. Subscribe to sustainability newsletters, be active in networks, share with your peers... You will find at the bottom of the webpage a list of existing business cases.

It's not about winning the Innovator of the year award, but to apply what's already been proven efficient.

8- Aim at everyday life tasks

Think big but aim at visible - and most convenient - tasks to make the biggest impact in people’s life !

This is only the beginning of the journey!

Congratulations, if everything went fine, you successfully deployed your first sustainable project in your company! But remember, the fight for our planet is a long race. So keep going on and go further!

Now you can decide to take further steps to leverage on your previous actions and generate more impact:

9- Build ‘knowledge’

Consider knowledge as human capital used for a better transfer of sustainability information in your company. 

This knowledge will empower people to have a “can-do” attitude and help your action be understood better by everyone.

Such knowledge can rely on:

  • Workshops/feedbacks 
  • Trainings (internally or through suppliers)
  • Sharepoint-like platforms (a web-based collaborative platform)
  • Collaborative tools (dedicated Slack/Teams channels, Trello boards, Internal Forums…)

Sustainability is a serious matter but it does not have to be serious all the way. In your corporate communication, be fun and inclusive. Lead events to talk about sustainability and engage people like these:

Coming Soon: our list of sustainable activities for your company. 

10- Keep in mind: show progress and results

Thus, you will be more visible (internally and externally) and will get more supporters, sponsors and ambassadors.

Keep people on the loop and promote what you do, talk about your actions because that’s the only way to grow the community and push things forward. 

You can also showcase sustainable actions to your suppliers, competitors and other third-party stakeholders.

Speak out about your sustainable journey and some people might follow.

11- Last but not least, make people responsible beyond the workplace

Making the right choices at work is good but it should not end there!

It is possible for a company to lead sustainable actions out of the office. Bank of America, for example, paid $500 for their employees’ own solar panel installations, Facebook offered employees $10,000 or more if they moved within 10 miles of its Silicon Valley campus.

As a company manager, you don't have to spend that much money on such incentives but you can do things your way (fund energy audits at your employees’ home, subsidise insulation…).

Limit of these guidelines

Most tips/models for a successful sustainable journey may show four important limits: 

  • The risk of overemphasis on the compliance part (monitoring, reporting, scheduling)
  • Losing your targeted sustainable goal
  • Disconnection between sustainable actions and business strategies
  • Falling for greenwashing actions (as in deploying superficial tips for a greener LinkedIn post for instance)

Companies, especially large enterprises, can lose themselves on the way to their sustainable journey because of the four reasons above mentioned. Always keep in mind that this is about human capital and not only Excel sheets. 

At some point, if you want to enforce a full scale sustainable business model, you will have to change your business model in depth…but this is not the topic of this article here. 

However, if you wish to go further, have a look at this thorough BCG study for sustainable business model innovation. It shall help you enforce a long-term resilient model for your company. It requires much effort and big preparation.

Business cases to find inspiration

Written by
Thibaut Meurgue-Guyard
Entrepreneur and Sustainable IT consultant