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Sustainability gets schooled at work

A new generation of corporate courses and trainings is educating employees about sustainability benefits and possibilities.

Image via GreenBiz

Image by Sophia Davirro/GreenBiz

This article is an excerpt from GreenBiz Group's 16th annual State of Green Business, which explores sustainable business trends to watch in 2023. Download the report here.

Corporations are starting to invest in educating employees — in some cases, tens of thousands of them — about the relationship of sustainability and ESG issues to business success. Business leaders, in pursuit of meeting their science-based targets, are looking beyond green teams and community cleanups to motivate employees to incorporate sustainability at work and at home.

Doing that requires a new generation of courses and delivery systems. Numerous educational offerings related to sustainability and climate have emerged in the past couple of years, ranging from online learning platforms such as Salesforce’s Trailhead and Microsoft’s LinkedIn Learning to climate courses from organizations such as and certificate programs from universities and others.

The catch? It requires a motivated student.

That’s why company leaders are looking for various ways to meet their employees where they are. Jones Lang LaSalle produced a series of short video modules to explain sustainability and ESG, what the firm is doing in that arena and why it’s important to the company and its clients. Avnet took a similar approach, and both used outside talent to avoid one employee being the lone face of sustainability within the company.

Global Sustainability Director Brandy Wilson is that face at J.R. Simplot, the potato and agribusiness supply company. During COVID, she started recording video explainers that provide specific examples for employees about what the company is doing, how it is working to influence its value chain and how it responds to customer sustainability requests. While these are more homespun recordings, the explainers make it easy to create new episodes in response to questions asked after the first few videos.

Some companies are giving employees a deeper dive into the world of sustainability through interactive simulations.

As for all companies, the key to success is using specific examples from their business. These videos also typically provide links to additional resources for the more motivated employees. Avnet, for one, is sourcing user-generated content from employees on how they’re pursuing sustainability at home and on the job.

When it comes to meeting employees where they are, Genentech has developed an online resource not only to share its sustainability goals but also to provide toolkits for taking action. Topics include air travel, commuting, sustainable science and product stewardship. The meeting and events toolkit, which is targeted to admins, points the way toward the next phase of this project. Employees will soon be able to click on their job function and be directed to the appropriate toolkits for their specific role. Those seeking a pre-built platform to achieve this can look into Climate Club.

Some companies are giving employees a deeper dive into the world of sustainability through interactive simulations. Griffith Foods, for example, has sent several cohorts of employees through the WholeWorks certificate program that helps them learn by doing as they participate in a "whole-system simulation" about pursuing sustainability at a traditional business. Participants also receive personal coaching to develop an implementable project for their employer. For the finance industry, Attain has developed a unique game-based learning platform to help its workforce quickly develop sustainable finance skills.

At this early stage, it’s not clear how success will be measured but given the aggressive sustainability goals many companies have set, it’s employers’ hope that every job can become a sustainability job.

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