A recent Harvard Study revealed that over the long term (18 years in the case of this study) highly Sustainable companies outperformed low Sustainable companies. These highly sustainable companies understand the holistic relationship between customer, employee, community, environment, and shareholder.
Jim Nail opened the event noting that "green marketing" has low credibility with consumers and corporate social responsibility reports reach a small niche audience. A new approach is needed to reach broader audiences who are critical to a business' success and are increasingly interested in what the firm is doing to address environmental and social issues its operations impact.
Companies such as Unilever are making sustainability personal in order to motivate their workforce remarked Susan Hunt Stevens. She went on to describe how Unilever's campaign has given everyone in the company the title Head of Sustainability. Why is it so important for companies to engage employees and customers on this level? Raytheon, Phillips and Partners Healthcare all shared that they have set aggressive sustainability goals for the near term and will need their employees incorporating sustainability into their daily tasks to meet these goals. For example, by 2015 Philips will improve the energy efficiency of its overall portfolio by 50% and double the global collection and recycling amounts of their products, as well as double the amount of recycled materials in products. View Susan's presentation here
Kristine Kalaijian explained that sustainability at Phillips is broadly defined to encompass social and ecological goals throughout their different businesses of healthcare, lighting and consumer lifestyle. Philips defines sustainability as improved health and well being while respecting natural resources. Philips uses a specific framework that balances the Human Development Index with Ecological Footprint
Raytheon has also embraced the make-it-personal model by increasing employee awareness with a simple quiz and naming those that finish the quiz Energy Citizens. Taking it a step further Raytheon has around 12,000 Energy Champions embedded within the business who lead specific energy conservation and efficiency projects. View Kristine's presentation here
Monica Nakielski is new to Partners Healthcare and is rethinking the status quo which has been focused on environmentalism and buildings. Partners wants to tie together green teams with energized leadership to move beyond buildings and look at sustainability at a broader level that includes personal well-being. Sustainability has been embraced at the Chief executive level by the very nature of their business, since healthy people need a healthy environment.
So it sounds like everyone is on board right? Well not exactly, there are still challenges to overcome. For example, employees that do not want to change or do not want another check list item on their "to do" list may be harder to engage. Frank Marino talked about how Raytheon still has room to grow mainly since it is a conservative company that is risk averse. View Frank's presentation here
Phillips has used sustainability as a means for growth and innovation but larger projects where the return on investment is longer term and harder to measure can still get stalled. Monica Nakielski noted that the issues on the agenda of some Partners senior executives may not match what is top of mind for employees and part of the employee engagement process will require sharing and education of both groups.
So how do you integrate the skeptics? Social media can play a part. Raytheon is using an in house social media tool to help link together passionate individuals. Zimride uses gamification, Seventh Generation and Stonyfield give small rewards to customers. These types of programs also have metrics built in so the benefits are measureable for the company. Awareness of a company’s commitment to sustainability can also help employees and management engage. Raytheon has done a lot to green their dining areas. This is a place where all employees can see a demonstrable change. These beliefs that are being embraced in the workplace are then coming home with people. Phillips is encouraging this type of community engagement.
One key theme is that achieving sustainability goals requires more than information and a traditional communications approach that emphasizes broad distribution of messages. The goal needs to be to change the audience’s behavior to adopt sustainable behaviors. Susan Hunt Stevens referred to the work of Dr. Robert Cialdini and Jim recommended the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath. Both provide insights from academic research demonstrating that change often begins with a small action, not with a change in attitudes.
One thing has become clear in behavior change for employees, customers and even companies; they would rather fit in than get a reward. Bringing about this type of culture change can bring about big wins for companies bottom lines and also for the overall health of our population and environment.
To wrap up, the panelists noted firms whose sustainability communications they admire:
- Kaiser Permanente
- Cleveland Clinic
- Hewlett Packard
- Marks & Spencer