L&D Can Drive Corporate Sustainability Initiatives: Here's How

Corey Bleich
4 min read

When you hear the term “corporate sustainability,” your thoughts might turn to how to protect your business in the long-term, but the type of corporate sustainability we are talking about here is important and just as related to your business’ stability over time. Here’s what it means to use your L&D team to drive corporate environmental sustainability initiatives.

It’s time.

Maybe you have been tossing sustainability ideas around the office like recycled paper into a recycling bin. It’s time to put your money where your mouth is. Corporate sustainability is an important economic differentiator and ethical mandate for companies to follow nowadays.

This includes a conversation about consumption of resources and your company’s impact on the planet. This means making changes beyond chatting about the environment over the water cooler or buying company gear made from recycled water bottles. These are a start, of course, but how can your company go beyond lip service to actual change?

What does it mean to prioritize corporate sustainability in an integrated way? A way that training initiatives line up with your company’s core values? Simply put, how do you both make the changes and communicate them to your employees?

Let’s get started.

Create a culture of “what can we do?”

Of course, the example above – recycled paper, environmental awareness – are important steps in corporate sustainability, but can you go further?

Start by asking employees for input on areas for improvement. Can you better manage energy usage or minimize wastewater? What about your supply chain, can you go carbon neutral partly or entirely?

Asking employees “what can we do?” can provide valuable insight in areas that you may not have considered. It’s a great place to start.

Build sustainability in from the beginning

So your company is committed to corporate sustainability and implementing training initiatives around them. This helps veteran employees re-think how the company works, but what about new hires?

Make it easy on yourself by building sustainability practices and training into your onboarding. Sure, it might add some time to the onboarding process. But making sure that every employee understands that it’s a focus company-wide means less re-training in the future.

Don’t forget to include corporate sustainability language in job descriptions and performance reviews, too.

Host lunch and learns with experts

Handing out a list of facts and a sheet of rules is not very appealing. A catered lunch with experts who can outline eco-friendly practices and easy ways to implement them is a win-win.

Can’t find a local expert immediately but want to get started? Host a video screening to start.

Learn from other corporate sustainability examples

Peer pressure is a great motivator. Consider the following examples of major companies investing in our planet’s future:

  • Kering SA: This company that owns major fashion brands (Gucci, Saint Laurent, and Alexander McQueen) has committed to getting at least 40% of products from sustainable sources
  • Chr. Hansen Holding: Contributing ingredients to 50% of the world’s cheeses (and in nearly every other food we eat), this bioscience firm has committed to sustainable practices in agriculture that increase yields, decrease waste, and eliminate antibiotics in animal products
  • GlaxoSmithKline: At a time when pharmaceutical companies are often the target of negative headlines, this one has vowed to reduce their environmental impact by 25% before 2030

Each company is different, and the changes they make will be specific to them. But the fact is that even major, multi-national companies are committed to reducing their impact and are taking big steps in corporate sustainability.

Lead the workplace with immediate changes

Immediate changes signal to employees that you aren’t just giving lip service to the idea of lessening your impact. Try these nine changes to start and create the microlearning, access-on-demand resources employees can refer to as needed.

  1. Form a committee for the first step: Recruit interested employees to help identify areas of need and what’s already going well
  2. Make concrete changes, quickly: Install filtered water, improve recycling practices, and eliminate plastic and Styrofoam from your company’s kitchens and breakrooms
  3. Consider transitioning to a paperless office: Google Drive and Dropbox are just two ways to implement company-wide strategies for a paperless office
  4. Offer “green” days: For example, employees can reduce carbon emissions when they are given the opportunity to work from home
  5. Incentivize ride-sharing and public transit: Give comp time to employees who commute together and pay for public transit options where available
  6. Use geofencing to send employees reminders: For employees on jobsites, geofencing can help deliver sustainability updates or reminders in small bites
  7. Clean up your training: Instead of sending employees away for company training, use microlearning, eLearning, or mLearning to keep training close to home
  8. Evaluate your supply chains: If a supplier is particularly problematic, it may be time to look for other options
  9. Encourage employee ownership of sustainability: This makes employees feel like they are working with each other towards a common goal
  10. Share sustainability wins: Recognize employees and departments that implement and follow through with sustainability practices and policies

Communicate the change

Training is crucial, both in the beginning stages when employees are wondering why things are changing and all the way through their careers with you.

Consider using video learning and gamified elements at all stages of training for corporate sustainability. These can help employees better understand their impact. Instead of a simple read-and-respond format, consider role-playing. This is another way to help employees problem-solve issues that arise around sustainability.

Building corporate sustainability is a marathon, not a sprint. Small changes today can lead to bigger changes tomorrow, all in service to protecting our world (and your business). It’s time.

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