How Companies Are Moving Toward Engagement 2.0

How Companies Are Moving Toward Engagement 2.0

Employee engagement is a hot topic in business -- a kind of Holy Grail for sustainability professionals, who know you can't get an initiative off the ground if you don't have buy-in from all levels of an organization.

It's an issue that has also been a focus for the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF). For the last two years, NEEF has explored how members of its Business Sustainability Education Roundtable -- companies like Baxter, Kimberly-Clark and eBay -- are successfully engaging their workers. Those lessons and processes are documented in a comprehensive report released today by NEEF, in partnership with GreenBiz Group.

"Our previous work at NEEF has revealed that engaging employees on sustainability initiatives improves a business' bottom line and helps it to reach sustainability goals," said Krista Badiane, NEEF's business and environment program manager. "We've also seen that many companies are still working to incorporate environmental and sustainability vision, goals and strategies into the culture despite its value. So this report really addresses these challenges by examining how leading companies are moving toward Engagement 2.0."

During a webinar for NEEF members on Friday, Badiane described how environment and sustainability employee engagement has evolved into a more institutionalized component of corporate sustainability strategies.

Goals have crystallized to become better connected to sustainability strategies while the focus has shifted from green practices, such as launching a recycling program, to innovation in products, services and operations. Motivations have morphed from personal passion into organizational incentives, such as performance reviews, and potentially even a part of employees' career paths. Companies are also now taking steps to measure how well their environment and sustainability programs are paying off. 

In other words, employee engagement has grown up.

So what does the path look like? NEEF organized the process into a model that illustrates each step of the journey, along with real-life examples.

"This model really demonstrates how companies are moving toward Engagement 2.0, or the more embedded strategic state where sustainability is part of the corporate culture," Badiane said. "What's important about this model is while employee engagement is sometimes dismissed as trivial, in terms of its sustainability impact, it becomes material when it's turned into action and embedded into the corporate DNA."

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Here is a short overview illustrating how companies are moving through this model toward Engagement 2.0.

1. Permission: Baxter World Environment Week grants employees direct permission to take action. Last year, workers in more than 70 facilities in 25 countries  participated.

2. Educate and engage: PricewaterhouseCoopers' green teams worked to reduce the firm's environmental impacts using its Green Guide. As a result, the company enjoyed a 27 percent decline in total miles flown, which helped to reduce emissions 20 percent between 2007 and 2010.

3. Action: Walmart's Personal Sustainability Projects initiative, where employees were empowered to take some sort of sustainability initiative in their personal lives, resulted in nearly 20,000 workers quitting smoking and the aggregate weight loss of more than 184,000 pounds.

4. Embed: JCPenney's CSR and HR managers work to embed sustainability into their departments by establishing resource teams, new employee orientations and training, and build alignment in communication about its corporate sustainability goals. Its annual survey showed engagement at its highest level, at more than 80 percent.

5. Evaluate: PG&E evaluates employee engagement through an annual survey and tracks metrics such as volunteer hours and participation in employee-led groups that foster diversity and inclusion. It also measures progress toward its five-year goals for reducing energy, water and waste.

6. Return to Step #2.

For more detailed explanation of each step, along with lessons learned, see the NEEF report, which is free and available for download from

Image CC licensed by homesbythomas.