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10 Communication Strategies to Engage Employees in Sustainability

<p>Even the best of sustainability intentions will struggle to take off without getting your employees on board. Susan McPherson at Fenton offers a 10-point checklist for successful communications.</p>

Committing to sustainability, and taking action on it, is a critical element of today's corporate world, but without getting employees on board through a successful internal communications program, green and other social good initiatives are much less likely to succeed.

Weinreb Group sat down with Susan McPherson, a Senior Vice President at Fenton whose focus is CSR and sustainability communications. We asked her to come up with a 10-point checklist of how the sustainability function or department can best communicate sustainability to its employees.

Here are the tactics she finds most effective:

1) Reach employees where they are. In break rooms, conference rooms, washrooms, parking lots and online. As soon as you walk into Campbell Soup's world headquarters you see sustainability messaging in the waiting area, in the company cafeteria and yes, in the washrooms with reminders to limit use of water, conserve energy and minimize waste. Don't limit communications to one meeting, and then let it drop. Continue reaching out to employees throughout the workday.

2) Integrate sustainability into a career from the get go. Starting with the first day a new employee starts, she/he should be provided a complete overview of the company's sustainability plans and efforts. Make it easy for employees to find updates, changes and new information. IBM is one of a handful of major corporations that actually invites its employees to help determine its overall strategy. IBM's Big Green Innovations program includes environmental initiatives focused on advancing water management, alternative energy and carbon management.

3) Show progress. Routinely update employees showcasing your company's results. Keeping employees informed enables them to be involved in sustainability discussions and planning. Since sustainability is ongoing rather than complete-able, it's important to recognize improvement to stoke motivation. Disclosing this information also upholds another CSR value-transparency.

4) Use technology effectively and appropriately. Choose your vehicle -- depending upon the outcome desired and on the target audience. Some companies use their intranets, some use closed social networks such as Yammer or Ning, and some prefer email messaging. Just as you would consider the most effective manner when communicating to consumers, consider the most effective manner to communicate with, and to, your employees.

5) Align with HR/Internal Communications/PR to be sure all messaging (internal and external) is consistent. Avon Products, Inc. ensures all messaging is indeed consistent with its 42,000 employees in addition to its 6 million sales representatives located around the world. This is important to maintain a sense of trust, clarity and transparency.

6) Inspire competition between peer companies and even between departments to generate enthusiasm. Track progress and let employees motivate themselves to do better than each other.

7) Provide meaningful incentives to encourage interest, participation and feedback. Companies can put aside a monthly "prize" to award employees for creative ways to recycle, limit water and plastic use and recognize meaningful volunteer work. That prize could be monetary compensation, a special lunch with senior executives or an extra day of vacation.

8) Recognize engagement and creativity. Showcase departments that take particular interest in CSR. Here's a great example of the work that Intel's CSR team works alongside employees in doing so: the Intel "bite-sized CSR" program.

9) Recognize the key messengers and thought-leaders. Find those employees that take an active interest in sustainability and provide them opportunities to lead. Susan's former employer, United Business Media, selected certain individuals to run local campaigns in their respective offices around the world. Doing so contributed positively to employee morale.

10) Make it fun and social and always say thank you. Sustainability may be a duty, but that doesn't mean those who fulfill it don't deserve recognition. In fact, it makes it even more critical that employees feel truly good about sustainable action.

Employees are a company's primary stakeholders because they are the company. Having them as advocates and invested individuals in making the company sustainable will go a very long way to help you achieve your goals. Getting employees engaged and informed about sustainability should be a priority of any CSR leader.

Employee hands photo from Shutterstock.

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