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How CA Technologies and Grainger workers push sustainability

<p>Companies realize they must move past a few dedicated green champions to involve more employees to push their sustainability agendas.</p>

Companies have for years invested time and money to improve the efficiency of their buildings. Lighting controls, ventilation and data management systems are just some of the tools that have helped reduce carbon footprints and costs.

But with these systems in place, many firms have reached a plateau in terms of energy savings. Companies such as CA Technologies and Grainger plc are turning to the people who occupy those buildings to take their sustainability goals further: their employees.

A recent report by Jones Lang LaSalle highlights the importance of moving beyond a few dedicated green champions to involve a broader cross-section of employees to push a company’s sustainability agenda. The report, "Global Sustainability Perspective," explores how staff play a key role in helping a company to implement its sustainability initiatives.

"As companies have made more investments, they want to ensure they get maximum return in more intense levels," said Michael Jordan, senior vice president of sustainability strategy at Jones Lang LaSalle. "The low-hanging fruit has been plucked. You now need the participation of the humans."

It's no longer enough for employees merely to be aware of a company's sustainability strategies, said Jordan. The goal ultimately should be for employees to integrate sustainability into their jobs, so that a green mentality becomes a part of what Jordan describes as the DNA of the business.

For example, once a software developer understand the importance of environmental sustainability, he or she then may change their behavior by turning off the lights or recycling at work. Taking it a step further, the developer then may write software code that is energy efficient and requires less computer processing time.

"The next thing you know, employees who are really interested and passionate are trying to figure out how to apply (this passion) to their day jobs," said Jordan.

But reaching this level of employee engagement is still the exception, he said.

"Many companies won't get there. They don't provide right application training. But the ones who do get there will see the benefits," he said.

Getting employees excited about sustainability

According to the report, getting employees excited and involved in their company's sustainability efforts involves three phases: raising awareness, building engagement and maintaining commitment.

A common thread running through all successful engagement strategies is communication and rewarding employees for their efforts, said Jordan.  

"There's no question, if employees don't understand the company's priorities, then apart from those naturally passionate about the environment, they will not appreciate what their companies are doing," he said.

To bring employees to the table when charting its sustainability path, U.K.-based Grainger plc held a "Corporate Responsibility Innovation Day" in June 2012 to involve staff in shaping the company's sustainability strategy.

The seminar brought together 10 percent of the company's employees from across the business to hear from outside experts and take part in developing Grainger's corporate responsibility approach. The participants then were given the chance to join working groups within the business to help push the new ideas forward.

Grainger, a residential landlord and property manager, received overwhelmingly positive feedback from its employees following the seminar, said Ashley Lau, Grainger's internal communications manager, who is in charge of employee engagement.

One employee commented: "It changed my view on CR as before the day I was a little unsure how it would work within Grainger and how other people within the organization felt about it. Whereas now I feel a lot more positive about the day and the future."

The event helped the company narrow down its sustainability strategy to five main areas: external environment, the company's properties, its supply chain, its customers and its reporting methods.

While the company hasn't launched specific long-term employee engagement initiatives, Grainger does emphasize communication and recognition of employees' efforts as a way to engage staff.

The company, for instance, holds small office-based events such as lunches or drinks to reward company successes (such as winning an award) or hard work during busy times. It sends out newsletters and uses video to let employees know what is going on in the business. Grainger's executives also hold breakfast meetings with small groups of staff to share corporate news and find out how things are going in different areas of the business.

"We promote an open dialogue between our employees and executives as much as possible," said Lau.

CA Technologies learns from pilot projects

CA Technologies, meanwhile, successfully turned a handful of pilot projects into a successful green initiative across its business.

In 2011, the software company ran three pilot projects as part of its Green Team program in its Sydney, Paris and Boston offices to help develop its employee engagement strategy. Employees were surveyed at the beginning on their knowledge of sustainability at CA Technologies, the types of things they would like to see and what they might want to be personally involved in. The survey later was repeated to determine differences in familiarity, understanding and positive sentiment, said Cynthia Curtis, vice president and chief sustainability officer at CA Technologies.

"What was fundamental through the thought process was, 'We need to leverage our greatest asset and our greatest asset is our people,'" she said.

Each city covered a different environmental issue, including green transportation in Sydney, paper reduction in Paris and technology waste in Boston.

The pilot projects were a success, said Curtis. The Paris Green Team, for example, helped reduce overall paper consumption by 10.5 percent, while the Sydney Green Team conducted a recycling audit that revealed that 85 to 90 percent of office waste was being recovered and sold for recycling or reuse.

CA Technologies took what it learned from these pilot projects and implemented its Green Team program in different parts of the business. Now, said Curtis, 58 percent of the company's employees are covered by a Green Team.

"(The Green Team) serves as evangelists in the local area," she said. "(They are) intended to provide local action and local input that is in support of our global corporate goals."

The program has helped employees consider the environment and come up with ways to be more energy efficient. For example, the company's education department realized it was printing reams of training manuals for staff that weren't being read, so they decided to go digital.

"That was where we stepped back and realized we could go digital with a high percent of what we historically printed, and so save trees, save money and save water," she said. "(The Green Teams) are causing people to think about things in a different way."

Ultimately, meaningful change lies with a company's employees, said Curtis.

"There's only so much behind-the-scenes stuff you can do," she said. "But at the end of the day, the ideas, the creativity and the enthusiasm all comes from our employees."

Image by kоnstantin via Compfight cc.

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