Simple steps to motivate your sustainability champions

We all know the role of sustainability manager is a challenging one. Corporations are innately resistant to change, whether it's the board not quite grasping the strategic importance of key sustainability issues, middle managers finding their financial targets more compelling than your carefully crafted strategy, or your colleagues simply not changing their behavior in the way your snappy behavior change campaign required.

When all of this hits you at once, sometimes you can't help but find it difficult to keep up your motivation to drive change.

But while you're feeling sorry for yourself, spare a thought for your sustainability champions – those people you rely on to deliver your goals. The director of HR advising you on personal objectives, the facilities manager in charge of cutting carbon, and the sustainability managers in your company's most important markets are out on the coalface, feeling the strain even more than you are.

And it's your job to help them get their mojo back. What do you do?

I've led several networks of sustainability champions during my decade in sustainable business, and although I've made my share of mistakes, I've also learned a few tricks along the way.

You may have a limited time to interact with your champions, but you can make the most of it by spotting opportunities to do things a bit differently.

For example, TUI Travel's global sustainability coordinators meet for a face-to-face conference twice a year, hosted by a different champion each time. TUI Nordic, hosting the conference in Stockholm, used a lunch break to stage a live demonstration of its airline's new smartphone app to help cabin crew to measure waste and recycling on board. This simple presentation showed participants the value of practical actions, and left them inspired to come up with ideas of their own.

The ultimate goal of having a network is for the champions to build relationships with each other as well as with you. In many cases, help from a fellow champion will be more effective than from the network lead — and talking over frustrations and possible solutions with someone in the same position often leads to a renewed commitment to the role.

You can't force your champions to support one another, but you can create the right conditions for that to happen.

For example, TUI U.K.'s retail sustainability champions went on a trip to Turkey to see firsthand some of the projects the company is supporting there. Experiencing sustainability in action made them realize what they were working towards – but, just as importantly, the champions also spent time with each other and started to make the individual links that were crucial in forming a supportive network.

You might also consider running "speed dating" sessions at champion meetings where they get to meet the rest of the network, pairing them up with champions they don't know during breakout sessions and putting them in touch to discuss specific issues where you think they have something in common. Or create a dedicated online space for them to introduce themselves, share the projects that make them most proud and ask each other specific questions.

You don't have to wait for a meeting or organize a trip to inspire your champions. The evidence tells us that the key to motivating people is to make them feel valued, which means that a little extra effort in your day-to-day communications can make a big difference.

For example, in one of my roles as a sustainability network lead, I decided to make an effort to notice and share examples of best practice from my global champions, to respond promptly to requests for help and to send useful snippets of information every now and again.

Each small contact demonstrated that I had thought of them, and that I understood them well enough to send them something truly relevant. That's an important part of building a relationship, and one that I believe paid dividends in terms of motivation, and delivering the company's global sustainability goals.

Light bulb image by Brian A Jackson via Shutterstock.