Lessons from Wells Fargo's green team program

Lessons from Wells Fargo's green team program

Because employee engagement programs increase employee satisfaction and ultimately drive business value, organizations increasingly see employee engagement as a necessary part of sustainability. But getting everyone on board, with so many competing priorities, presents challenges. Wells Fargo has a comprehensive employee engagement program with sustainability-focused employees organized into “green teams.” This program was highlighted here on GreenBiz in January of 2011.

In a recent conversation with Krista Van Tassel, vice president for team member engagement at Wells Fargo, we discussed some hurdles involved with employee engagement programs, ways to trouble-shoot and overcome these issues, and lessons learned from specific examples of green team successes.

Van Tassel works on empowering green teams to be innovative in making Wells Fargo’s  corporate message work locally. The entire environmental affairs team has launched a comprehensive outreach program for the green teams. This includes supporting green team projects, and giving them tools and templates. When providing these things they also encourage employees to add a local touch to their projects, and to be creative as they plan. Since 2009, the number of green teams at has increased from 30 to 65 across the globe with anywhere from 17 to 1000 employees per team.

Environmental affairs outreach also includes a menu of options that represents a “variety of shades of green,” as Van Tassel put it. Team members already savvy about the environment who are leaders of green teams represent the darker shades of green, but there are plenty of Wells Fargo employees just starting to consider their environmental impact.

For these team members, Van Tassel and the environmental affairs team provide regular communication about sustainability, what green teams are doing across the world, and the value they bring to Wells Fargo. They also provide posters and signs about the environment -- from stickers near light switches to signs at printers.

They are “creating an environment where people can make the right choices in daily life,” Van Tassel said. She stresses the necessity of meeting employees where they are and of encouraging first steps for employees operating in the lighter hues of green. Encouragement and education are necessary elements of employee engagement at every level.

One of the greatest challenges at Wells Fargo in terms of employee engagement has been getting middle manager buy-in and support. Across the board they have seen that in order to succeed a green team needs support from managers in the area, so employees wanting to get involved must get managers in their location to back them.

But managers already support an immense amount of business goals, so if the start and growth of a green team is not communicated effectively it can seem like just one more thing added to a lengthy list of priorities.

Van Tassel highlighted three ways to start the conversation with employees or groups that do not immediately recognize the value of employee engagement programs. She starts by emphasizing the benefits, noting that employees engaged in sustainability and community projects contribute to business objectives in the following ways:

Community development: Employee engagement activities get the company’s name and ideals out in to the community. People see that beyond being a bank or corporation that does X and gives money to good causes, the company also gives time and energy to invest in the communities where they operate.

Leadership development: Employee engagement activities allow people to take on new roles. Employees try out leadership roles and discover hidden talents when charged with new and different tasks. They expand their skill sets and can then apply these new qualifications to their work.

Operational efficiency: As listed below in some of the specific projects Van Tassel highlights, employee engagement activities can include projects that help companies understand where they can save in terms of the waste, water, paper, and energy the organization uses in its daily operations.

This all shows people the value employee engagement programs can bring. Once they understand their benefits, Van Tassel has had great success getting managers engaged and supportive of green teams. It also helps that at Wells Fargo environmental stewardship is a company-wide goal. Looking at specific green team projects shows that they have the support of their local offices and the company overall.

Green team examples

Employees on the Vancouver green team were interested in reducing the waste produced in their corporate office building. They completed a trash audit and realized the majority of office waste was being recycled, but that it was still company protocol to empty trashcans at each cubicle every day. This meant the janitorial staff was throwing out a pile of empty trashcan liners each day.

The green team recognized that these empty bags and liners needlessly created extra landfill waste, and also represented wasted staff energy. They talked with the janitorial manager who was delighted to support their effort to change this policy. They also hosted numerous education sessions where they raised awareness of the problem and encouraged colleagues to share trashcans. Emails, posters and recycling stations outfitted with clear signage brought the message to everyone at the Vancouver center. To date, as a result of this project, the green team has saved 21,000 plastic bags.

Lesson Learned: Communication was key. The team made sure they had support at all levels, and kept everyone who would be affected informed and up-to-date about the project.

In Charlotte, the Wells Fargo green team wanted to tackle energy use, and team members worked with Environmental Affairs to acquire Kill-A-Watt EZ meters. They created an energy task force within their green team and are in the process of assessing energy use floor by floor in the Wells Fargo corporate offices there.

On each floor the team records areas of “energy opportunity” and reports back about them. When all the data is collected, team members will aggregate their findings and share them with the facilities team, who will then correct inefficiencies found in the lighting, heating, and cooling systems. This project allows employees to see real-time energy use in kWh and dollars spent to forecast other areas for reduction. It fits into the larger local partnership, Envision Charlotte, with its goals of a 20% energy reduction rate for the city by 2016.

Lesson Learned: Allow your employee engagement programs to partner with other local initiatives. When Wells Fargo employees participate in their green team’s energy reduction project they also become a part of Envision Charlotte’s citywide goal.

Successful employee engagement takes long-term commitment and continuous education.

People from across Wells Fargo in varied departments and different roles have come around in terms of understanding of, support for, and participation in employee engagement programs. As more and more team members embrace the concept, the green teams continue to grow in terms of numbers of participants and the significance of their undertakings. As the green team program at Wells Fargo progresses, the projects individual teams take on are becoming more pro-active, ongoing and long-term.

This year the office of Environmental Affairs is collecting strategic plans from each green team for 2013. This will continue the growth in quantity and quality of employee engagement at Wells Fargo.