Why sustainability pros need to attack from the middle

Embedding sustainability is a term I have jousted around for a decade. What kind of embedding is working today? How has the embedding work shifted? Certainly in the past two years, we have seen significant shifts from external to internal drivers. Employee engagement is a key theme in embedding CSR internally.

Today’s column is co-written with Grant Ricketts, CEO of Tripos Software, who has developed software to engage employees and has a substantial background in learning and talent management. From his conversations with practitioners, he is well positioned to understand their challenges in embedding sustainability. He calls these challenges "getting around the blockers."

The challenge to embedding sustainability is that everybody has a day job, and sustainability is often not seen as integral to it. The question becomes how to get around these “blockers” and engage people in ways that build synergy and upscale results. Companies can leverage three business practices that will help make sustainability part of the everyday business experience.

  1. Build a base level of awareness: Disarm blockers with a focus on real business opportunities.
  2. Work with management stakeholders: Tap mainstream channels in the organization, such as human resources, learning and talent leaders, and other organizational development professionals who have vested interests in successfully engaging employees and building superior workforces.
  3. Anchor employee engagement programs in the business: Overcome organizational timidity by tying the engagement program to core business operations, and relying less on programs at the periphery, such as volunteerism and Earth Day events, which don’t always transition into real business changes for the organization.

Making sustainability relevant to the job role

"Our CEO recognizes the importance of sustainability, and we have many passionate team members," said Krista Van Tassel, sustainability director at Wells Fargo. "However, in my experience, it's very hard to reach across a large organization broadly — to engage team members who are geographically spread out across the county in more than 80 business lines, and who may not understand how sustainability affects the business and/or simply don’t see it as part of their day job."

That captures the essence of the problem: establishing job relevance for sustainability and being able to share it across different operating domains inside companies.

Next Page: Chipping away at resistance