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How Sustainability is Becoming the One True Corporate Religion

<p>As the holiday season picks up steam (or not, depending on your beliefs), it's worth a look at how employees from immeasurably diverse cultures -- corporate and personal -- can all come together around environmental sustainability.</p>

Once upon a time, Corporate America was a homogeneous culture -- white, male, local, and Christian. Today, we consider America a melting pot of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. There's also the development of outsourcing and technologies that allow us to work across nations. Globalization and diversity has many positive effects on business, allowing more voices to be heard and more skills utilized.

However, diversity changes the workplace -- it eliminates religion as shared ground. Employees can no longer bond through shared culture, heritage, or religion because it's insensitive and exclusionary. Religion isn't really appropriate in the workplace because of the diversity of beliefs -- but without its assumed presence, employees feel separated and lacking a set of ethics to agree on.

The rise of individualism in America has many benefits, but it does sacrifice the team dynamics which can create great productivity and motivation.

And yet, the cliché of the heartless corporation is fading, and CSR and sustainability are a growing trend that may be providing what religion in the workplace used to. It provides a movement that everyone can rally around and believe in, without dictating behavior, alienating outsiders, or creating a threat of divine punishment.

It upholds basic tenets of every religion, like responsibility for other humans, protecting the environment, and improving the world however we can. It also goes hand in hand with helping employees find fulfillment and balancing their work and life.

Even though we don't all agree on the best way to create sustainability, we can all agree that it is our goal. Sustainability is a powerful movement because it puts everyone on the same page and helps people unite over shared values.

"Sustainability, especially if we emphasize its social dimension, can provide the fabric of a good corporate culture grounded in a vision for the future that can inspire and unite," said Rev. David M. Schilling, Director of Human Rights at the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility.

At the same time, it can avoid the things that made religion inappropriate in the workplace -- insensitivity to cultural differences -- and promote things that are good for the bottom line -- a fact-based approach to innovation. It creates the community bonding that many find so wonderful in religious communities, and a positive atmosphere that makes employees feel good about their actions.

This isn't meant to say that traditional religion is obsolete, because it can do wonderful things. But it does bring up a lot of differences that can fuel conflict.

In the workplace, it's important for everyone to feel respected for what they are and not marginalized for being different. Finding a values system that everyone feels comfortable with can make an office work better. Many companies have a code of ethics to serve this purpose, but employees don't feel that it is a significant part of their job.

Making sustainability a part of every department really brings values to the forefront of people's minds, encouraging respectful, responsible behavior in the office as well as in major functions of the business.

If money is something that everyone understands, isn't sustainability something that we can all believe in?

Nature photo via Shutterstock.

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