5 ways TD Bank is making green engagement go viral

The best way to inspire lasting cultural change within any organization is to make the new concept part of business as usual. But how do you make an impact with a three-person environmental and sustainability team?

For inspiration, consider the example of how TD Bank, the U.S. arm of Toronto-based financial services giant TD Bank Group, is making environmental awareness and action part of business processes across the 27,000-employee company.

That's the topic of a case study published today by Net Impact and GreenBiz Group. The project was sposnored by TD Bank.

Since it was rolled out in late 2012, the bank's environmental employee engagement program has resulted in measurable reductions in paper consumption and close to 40 percent of the workforce has signed up for "The Green Pledge," a series of six specific actions that support TD Bank's high-level environmental agenda.

What's more, the initiative has inspired higher levels of employee pride and commitment, giving a new way for employees to connect with the company and customers.

"When we showed these results to our CEO, it was the pride and commitment levels that really struck a chord, because we are a service culture and those are believed to be indicators of retention and customer satisfaction, that in turn support TD Bank's core business goals of revenue and profit," said Diana Glassman, head of TD Environment.

What makes TD Bank's example particularly powerful is the widely distributed nature of its workforce: most of its employees are scattered across 1,300 retail "stores" (the internal nomenclature for branches) up and down the east coast from Maine to Florida.

The story of how Glassman's team is reaching the minds and hearts of TD Bank's workforce is outlined in a case study published by Net Impact that outlines many specific steps they took to build their strategy, engage key internal champions from among TD Bank's senior executives, and define metrics that they could use to prove the impact of their efforts.

"The sustainability work that TD Bank has accomplished in such a short time is impressive -- and most importantly, teachable," said Liz Maw, CEO of Net Impact.

Five universal lessons for corporate or civic engagement

Among TD Bank's prominent 2015 goals are the following: reducing paper consumption by 20 percent and slashing actual carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by at least 25 percent. Its list of past accomplishments is extensive: it was the first North American bank to become carbon-neutral in 2010, and opened the first net-zero bank branch in Florida in 2011.

But regardless of your organization's or community's specific sustainability goals, there are five lessons to be learned from TD Bank's experiences so far.

1. Think big, but use short-term wins to build momentum. While it's great to think about ways your organization can help "save the world," some aspirational goals might be overwhelming. It's important to offer ways for people to participate specifically and meaningfully right away, which will help keep them hooked for the future. In the case of TD Bank, this involved getting people focused on several discrete actions right away: printing doubled-sided whenever possible, holding paperless meetings, turning off computer monitors and unplugging unused chargers.

2. Recruit well-respected senior leaders who will be your base of support and trumpet your cause. It's important for executives and managers to believe in the plan. At TD Bank, this inspired the creation of the U.S. Green Council, a group of 19 leaders including prominent C-suite representatives, operation and finance experts; the technology team; and those in charge of specific revenue-producing business lines. This council was assembled by the head of U.S. real estate, Gerry Guidice, who has been championing green building practices across the bank for years. It sets the agenda and the tone for TD Bank's environmental engagement.

3. Know your audiences and approach them in targeted ways to reach their hearts, and ask them to do a few specific green activities. About 10 percent of the population is "super green" in that they are passionate about the environment. Most other people support environmental causes, but might not make a special effort to support them. TD Bank used a different outreach strategy for each of its unique audiences. It focuses on taking employees through four stages of engagement, something it calls The 4H's of Environmental Engagement: building awareness (Head), creating an emotional connection (Heart), inspiring specific actions (Hands) and encouraging people to share the message (Horn).

4. Define metrics to measure performance and stimulate friendly competition. It can be tough to measure the business value or impact of many environmental initiatives. TD Bank kept things simple by measuring specific things with prelaunch and post-launch surveys, including how many employees had signed up for the Green Pledge and how employees felt about the bank's environmental programs. It also started monitoring paper consumption in retail stores, as employees began refining business processes.

5. Embed environment into the goals, processes and culture that make your organization tick. Because key senior executives were included from the beginning, TD Bank's environmental engagement benefited from the spirit of friendly competition that exists between different business units and retail stores. As employees signed up for The Green Pledge, this information was made public and managers began noticing who was ahead. Promising middle managers are given a chance to shine by serving as Green Leaders in their market, where they champion green activities. Summer interns are asked to complete an environment project during their tenure, and new hires are made aware of TD Environment's mission on day one.

TD Environment found that once employees become engaged at even the most basic level, their dawning environmental awareness spreads into their family lives and communities, building naturally and virally. That's important, because the team sees its initial success as just phase one of a perpetually evolving process.

"Don't underestimate the power that is unleashed when people get engaged. If a lot of people begin focusing on the water, energy and food they consume, they will have impact," Glassman said.

Download the full case study here.

Image of keyboard by Sergey Nivens via Shutterstock