Charting the Future of Green Teams

Charting the Future of Green Teams

I'm starting to think green teams are going the way of green marketing -- they are over.

Over in the sense that stand alone, grassroots, voluntary, bottoms-up efforts have matured into employee engagement efforts that are connected to bigger enterprise goals, initiated and supported by senior executives and business relevant. Side-by-side with engaging stakeholders and suppliers in sustainability, more and more companies are engaging employees.

In recent weeks, I've seen a number of new employee engagement trends I see emerging from leading companies working to integrate their sustainability strategies deeper into day-to-day business practices. Some of the firms that have been showcasing these best practices are Bloomberg, eBay, EMC, Genentech and Ingersoll Rand.

What is a 3.0 Green Team?

figure 1Green Teams have traditionally been defined as a grassroots, voluntary effort self-organized by employees to educate and empower fellow employees around sustainability, usually with an internal, operational focus.

Green Teams 3.0 look slightly different, characterized by the following:

  • Senior executive sponsorship
  • Link to corporate goals
  • Some overall structure and direction
  • Consistent brand and message
  • Programs not always voluntary

The different shades of green teams range from grassroots to linking to corporate goals to strategic.

Emerging Trends and Best Practices

In late 2009 Green Impact and GreenBiz.com published a white paper highlighting10 Best Practices for Building Green Teams. After a series of new interviews, a number of new trends have emerged. Take a look below for some ideas of how to join the age of employee engagement 3.0.

Senior Executive Sponsorship

While green teams are a bottom-up approach, it is also important to have top-down support.

At Bloomberg, the employee engagement program is a Chairman initiative, launched at the request of the chairman Peter Grauer. "The BGreen engagement program was Peter's challenge to us after a year of the sustainability program. He wanted us to ramp up the education and engagement," explained Lee Ballin, Sustainability Manager at Bloomberg.

The BGreen engagement program focuses on issues where employees can make a difference, such as recycling, waste reduction, paper use, food and transportation, using a suite of techniques, such as blog posts, lunch and learn events, guest speakers, contests and new employee orientation.

At Ingersoll Rand, green teams were experiencing a lack of relevance and decided to connect to bigger picture, by reaching out to senior executives, gaining their sponsorship for the green team efforts and making their work more relevant by connecting to enterprise goals.

Executive sponsors invited key site managers and other business leaders to attend a global webcast which was kicked off with a video hosted by the executive sponsors. This webcast explained the new framework for green teams (charter, maturity path and recognition program), shared success stories from featured green teams and discussed how green team activities were linked to enterprise goals around such issues as energy use and waste reduction. They also have been driving traffic to the video that highlights how green teams connect to enterprise goals through various enterprise-wide communication channels.

figure 2Align with Corporate Goals

A key tension with green teams is how to keep their grassroots nature alive and thriving, while at the same time connecting their activities with the larger sustainability and business functions.

In early 2010, a new Genentech Sustainability Council was formed to ensure effective collaboration among their sites, to formulate company-wide goals and programs where appropriate and to support monitoring and reporting of Genentech-wide progress towards key corporate goals. Each green team is responsible for developing ambitious yet achievable sustainability goals, crafting strategies and reporting results to the Sustainability Council.

Find a Sticky Entry Point

Kathrin Winkler, VP Corporate Sustainability at EMC suggests, "Find a sticky entry point -- one that connects employees personal values to sustainability." Connecting to employees' children has helped EMC reach a broader base of employees who might not consider themselves "green".

One of the winning pictures came from nine-year-old Grace from Shanghai. She created an earth where children are praying to the sky for water, while an alien with a magic "water production unit" floats among images of a restored earth in the passing meteors.

The contest itself was simple. Children were asked to create drawings that depicted why we need to be concerned about our environment or what we should do to protect it. Parents scanned them into EMC's internal social networking site. The winning drawings were published in their Sustainability Report and displayed at headquarters. With over 400 entries, this strategy successfully engaged employees and their families.

Engage Bellies

Bloomberg's BGreen program sponsors quarterly campaigns on such issues as energy, waste and food. One idea that came from a Bloomberg employee suggestion was to host a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program at the NYC office. It was so popular a lottery was required to identify the lucky 150 employees who get fresh, local produce delivered right to the office on a weekly basis

Bloomberg began its employee engagement campaign with food last spring. Through blog posts, guest speakers and displays throughout the buildings globally, it educated employees about the global renaissance in food awareness, being driven largely by concerns over the industrialization of food supply and the damaging impact on the environment.

Part of the educational campaign was to give employees a toolkit on the different eating habits and the environmental impacts of different choices, such as locavore, vegan and vegetarian. The blog also featured a dictionary that clarified different food terms. The campaign included a video contest where employees were encouraged to "green their kitchens" at home with a chance to win a meal at a local sustainable restaurant, including a behind-the-scenes tour from the chef.

Bloomberg has also eliminated bottled water, resulting in significant savings -- this is a great one for green teams to start advocating for.

Make it Harder to Throw Things Away

Diverting waste from the landfill is a no no-sense strategy for reducing carbon emissions and reducing waste disposal fees. However, reaching ambitious diversion goals usually means getting smart, busy people to change their behavior and to think twice before they toss something into the trash.

eBay launched Zero Waste for Green Space where break rooms were reconfigured, and trash cans at employee desks were replaced with recycling and compost bins.

While it might have been alarming for eBay employees to show up to work to find that they no longer had trash cans at their individual desks, the Workplace Resources Team/Facilities team increased its diversion rate increased from 73.5 percent in 2008 to 99 percent in 2010 by making it harder to toss something into the trash and easier for employees to compost and recycle.

Bloomberg also removed trash cans from desks and create centralized waste stations (see image above). Part of new employee orientation is a training on how to sort one's trash. Bloomberg's diversion rate is reported as 59 percent in its recent sustainability report.

Identify Green Champions

Of Genentech's 1,250 Green Genes members, 190 have signed up to be GreenGuides and serve as a peer resource in their departments to answer questions and spread the word about Genentech's sustainability practices. Green guides are provided training and a set of resources, a flag to put up outside their office, and a t-shirt to promote the resource.

When Genentech rolls out a new program in a particular building, it can engage its grassroots team of GreenGuides. For example, they are helping with Genentech's new Zero Waste Move Zones when departments move and beta testing a new "follow-me print" system where Genentech prints to the cloud and employees pick up printouts anywhere on campus only after they swipe their badge.

Learn More

The National Environmental Education Foundation's (NEEF) and GreenBiz.com recently released a new report, "Toward Engagement 2.0: Creating a More Sustainable Company through Employee Engagement," which summarizes more employee engagement best practices and trends at leading companies.