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How Sustainability is Driving Employee Engagement and the Bottom Line

<p>Engaged employees can generate more profits for a company and make their sustainability programs succeed. Not sure how to engage them? Here's how.</p>

It's a broadly accepted fact that engaged employees are a major benefit to businesses of all types. The Gallup organization dubbed employee engagement "a leading indicator of financial performance" and backed it up with research showing that "engaged organizations have 3.9 times the earnings per share (EPS) growth rate compared to organizations with lower engagement in the same industry." 

Great statistics, but what does this have to do with sustainability?

According to a 2010 study by Hewitt and Associates, it turns out that there is a strong correlation between engagement and socially and environmentally responsible organizations. It dawned on me that perhaps these employees are more engaged because they see their job as their cause. When your job is your cause, you are naturally motivated to work hard and innovate. Since sustainability is an important cause for a lot of employees (especially younger workers), it makes sense that the companies with world-class sustainability programs also have higher engagement scores. 

So, if employee engagement is a top business priority and sustainability programs are a way to drive better engagement, there is a clear imperative to make sustainability a part of the work experience. The question is: How? 

There are a number of innovative ways that companies are engaging their employees into their sustainability and CSR programs. Following are a few examples from AMD and other companies:

Green teams: These are groups of employee volunteers that work together to improve the environment at work and the local community. Mostly, these groups focus on greening the work environment but increasingly these groups are taking on bigger challenges and responsibilities to the point where green teams are becoming a recognized organizational structure at some companies. Company examples include:

• Outreach to customers: The eBay green team started in 2007 as a grassroots effort to green the workplace. They went from eliminating Styrofoam cups to prompting eBay to build a large solar array. Then they had an epiphany: involve their customers. In just six weeks, the Green Team was 100,000 members strong, and now is pushing 225,000. The e-Bay team is harnessing the power of their online community to make the world smarter and greener.

• Dumpster days: In an effort to educate employees about waste reduction, the employees at North Carolina-based Burt's Bees flipped over their dumpsters in the parking lot and had employees separate out the recyclable items. Trash destined for the landfill was divided into two categories -- items that should have been recycled but were not, things that should be recycled, and garbage. With about five tons of stockpiled trash dumped onto the parking lot, employees donned Hazmat suits and dove in to find out what they could dig up. They saved approximately 2.8 tons of trash from landfills immediately and had a lasting impact of a 50 percent cut in waste saving the company $25,000 per year.

• Biofeedback for buildings: At AMD, our new Lone Star campus is LEED Gold certified. While this certification means that the design features are amongst the greenest in the country, it does not guarantee that the people working in the building are always mindful of the environment. The AMD green team recently got a new and powerful tool to manage onsite energy use: Smart-e-building. This technology provides real-time feedback on the energy used in our offices. Armed with this technology, the AMD green team is planning to host an "energy night out" to find out which equipment is left on when people leave the office. 

Beyond the Green Team: When working to engage your employees there are a range of causes that may appeal to them. Below are a few ideas that may appeal to the altruistic of causes of your employees:

• Skills-based volunteering: The concept behind skills-based volunteering is to match the employee's skill set and/or development needs to a volunteer opportunity. This is the idea at the heart of the success of AMD's community corps program, which racked up more volunteer hours than we have employees last year.

• Personal sustainability plans: Walmart, the world's largest company with more than 2 million employees, offers each employee the opportunity to develop their own goals in a personal sustainability plan. Its global program, My Sustainability Plan (MSP), allows every associate to choose their own sustainability goals and track their progress.

• Micro-volunteering: The No. 1 reason people do not volunteer for a cause while at work is they do not have enough time. It turns out that most people do have enough time to volunteer, but it is cut up into small chunks.  A company called has figured out a way to take advantage of these smaller chunks of time with online volunteering that matches employees' skills with nonprofit needs. Their program has been described as "crowdsourcing for the common good."

Engaging employees in sustainability is a fast growing trend with significant business benefits. Not only will the employees who get involved help others, but by working on their cause as part of their day job, they will provide benefits to the bottom line.

Image CC licensed by Flickr user striatic.

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