5 ways to successfully promote sustainable employee behavior

5 ways to successfully promote sustainable employee behavior

Reinforcing sustainable behavior.

Only 30% of employees are engaged, costing $450 to $550 billion every year in lost productivity. Yet research shows that companies with strong sustainability and social responsibility programs have much higher engagement rates.

Susan Hunt Stevens founded WeSpire in 2010 with the mission of enabling informed sustainable choices through the use of technology, social influence, and game mechanics. Influenced by the behavior design models of BJ Fogg of the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab and Dr. Robert Cialdini, today WeSpire is the platform of choice for businesses seeking an innovative approach to meet their corporate sustainability and responsibility goals. We spoke with Stevens about trends in employee engagement and sustainability and promoting behavior change beyond the office.

SB: Your recent report The State of Employee Engagement in Sustainability and CSR discloses a number of key findings. Which did you find most surprising? Are there any other trends you are noticing among your clients that you feel are not yet reflected in the survey?

SHS: There were two surprising key findings from our report. The first was that respondents overwhelmingly stated (89%) they would try a sustainability tactic at home that was introduced at work. The results emphasize how powerful the workplace can be in driving broader behavioral change and impact. That's extremely exciting for us, but I also think it's a huge opportunity for companies to positively impact society.

The second is that 65% of respondents want to learn more about what their co-workers and employer are doing around conservation. This was even more pronounced when we stratified the respondents by age group. For Millennials (those under 30), 75% would be interested to learn more about the conservation efforts of their co-workers and employer and that was notably different than older employees. To us, this definitely points to sustainability being fundamentally important to any company trying to attract and retain the workforce of the future.

Our research also showed that HR is getting more involved in sustainability as the connection between triple bottom line programs and overall employee engagement becomes more proven. However, I think there is a lot more work to do to understand the broader impact of sustainability programs on HR goals.

SB: How does WeSpire's ROI Calculator work and how does it help companies measure their social and environmental impact?

SHS: WeSpire's ROI Calculator helps our customers understand both the environmental and financial impact of the actions their employees are taking. For example, a CSO can see the dollar savings to-date, or for a specific time period, from a project their employees have joined around water conservation. They can also see how many gallons of water were saved and which actions in the project were most impactful. The ROI calculator puts hard numbers to employee engagement, something that has been historically very difficult to measure.

I can't provide specific customer results, but I can say that collectively our total savings in the past twelve months was nearly $250 per person. And we recently shared that our Droughtbusters project, which several companies in the Southwest are using, has saved nearly 7 million gallons of water.

Susan Hunt Stevens,CEO of WeSpire, will share more on the value of employee engagement, and interview select brands doing a great job of it, at New Metrics '14

SB: With so many opportunities to make a positive impact and the numerous environmental and social challenges our world is facing, how do you help companies prioritize which actions to encourage among their employees?

SHS: WeSpire's Customer Success team is dedicated to ensuring that each customer reaches their goals, whether it's a financial goal, an impact goal, or a "number of employees reached" goal. Once we understand the goal, the Customer Success team then works with clients to select or build creative, fun and innovative projects and actions that will have the desired impact. We also collaborate on marketing ideas for building awareness for the program with employees. As goals evolve and change, the content changes accordingly. We want to keep it fresh, exciting, smart and relevant. We often remind customers that many employees are still trying to understand the basics, and what's important is to get people taking actions to start with — no matter how small. As people gain more awareness and engagement, you can put higher impact projects and more challenging actions in front of them.

SB: How can a company encourage usage of WeSpire among employees who may be technology-averse or sustainability skeptics?

SHS: While some employees may be computer-averse, we find very few who are phone-averse. Our mobile application is a great way to encourage people to participate, especially if they don't have access to other technology in the workplace. We've seen clients recruit participants using tablets and kiosks. We also design the product to be incredibly simple and fast to use and remind people of other well-used platforms like Facebook.

Even skeptics join these programs when they get invited by a colleague to a project and then are pleasantly surprised by the wide variety of choices. Some projects are focused on sustainability, but our customers also offer other programs, like volunteering, workplace safety, security and well-being — whatever matters to them. Once engaged, employees start to realize that many actions are smart, common sense things to do — and doing them is good for business. It's a big motivator.

SB: WeSpire first started as a tool for consumers and repositioned in response to growing demand from companies. What are some of the differences between creating a platform for the general public and for a company's internal usage?

SHS: We actually still support programs that reach consumers; for example NBC Universal has a program called "One Small Act." There are differences in the content, as workplace programs often have very company specific work-related actions. But the other difference we've seen is in the willingness of people to invite others. When a program is framed as "good for people, planet, and profit," employees feel really safe inviting colleagues. In a consumer program, I think some people hold back — worried about the politics or that they are imposing their views.

SB: What are some key takeaways you have learned about how to successfully promote behavior change?

SHS: 1. Meet people where they are — many are just getting started. Keep it simple and make it practical and relevant to their work and their life.

2. Find someone's hook — maybe it's local food, volunteering, or the reuse/sharing economy. These actions can then "on ramp" people to energy and waste.

3. Identify and use your champions and the social network — peer-to-peer learning and social norming scales in a way that experts don't.

4. Keep programs fresh, relevant and fun — Provide lots of opportunities to 'try once' or 'try for a period of time' before pushing all-in habit change.

5. Think long term — it's a journey that will last a lifetime and will take many campaigns, lots of projects. But over time, you will get lots of impact.

This article originally appeared in Sustainable Brands and reprinted at 2degrees. Top image by lenetstan via Shutterstock.