One of the most difficult items for an environmental/sustainability manager to deal with is showing progress in a program that you know is beneficial, but others at the firm do not understand or are fearful of. How do you educate your colleagues and get them on your side, so you have support as you implement changes to be more “green”? Here are some proven ideas on how some companies promote “green” programs.
1. The standard is set at the top. There is no question that culture and change and importance of philosophy starts at the top, with – quite literally – the CEO. Whether it is just saving energy costs or a comprehensive sustainability program, the CEO stating support for the program goes a long way. I was involved in a project to establish a sustainability program for an entity and the head person was all for it. He understood the benefits and wanted to maximize these and get ahead of his competitors. He sent a mandate to cooperate and move toward a more sustainable future. An environmental committee was established. But then the Great Recession hit and several existential issues came up for the firm. The leader lost interest in sustainability. Then, members of the environmental committee stopped returning my emails and voicemails; the project ground to a halt. I convened a meeting of this committee and most members revealed to me they did not believe in climate change or sustainability, Al Gore was a ___ (well, I won’t use the language here!), sustainability was a foreign plot to take over the US, etc. When the head was interested in sustainability, these employees had to cooperate. But once the leader lost interest, they let their true feelings show and it derailed the project.
Since the “top” is so important to jumpstart a “green” program, it is important that you, as a manager, reach the CEO or other head and educate him/her on what the program is all about (I dealt with a senior VP of a company who thought a “green” program was just planting trees. Really!). Emphasize the benefits, but do not overpromise or give the impression these items will appear overnight. This education is not one-time, and it must be continual. You must keep track of how the program is doing and inform the leader. Also, manage expectations. Make sure leaders understand that achievements occur slowly, but they themselves will lead to more benefits down the road.
2. Establish a winning culture/brand. Perhaps more important than a strategy or procedures is establishing a “green” culture, such as no tolerance for environmental or OSHA violations or looking to avoid wasting of energy, water, etc. First, know the entity, its history, its own culture and people, and then you can establish a “green” culture that is likely to be accepted by most people. Software programs exist to help assess the current culture of a company. People like consistency, and stating and maintaining goals like these make others realize the value of a “green” program to a company (besides saving costs) and that the program is here to stay. This culture should be spread to other groups to give the environmental group a positive identity. Take the time to explain to all who will listen the culture and how they benefit.
3. Go beyond the workplace. While the top rung of management is most important to support a “green” program, it is important to communicate the program to all levels of stakeholders. Support is needed from all layers. One way to achieve this is not just to implement changes to reduce energy use, water use, etc. at the facilities, but also to recommend strategies for employees to engender energy, water, etc. savings themselves at home. Let them be “heroes” to their families for saving money or the planet, and they will return the support tremendously.
4. Communicate rationally, yet emotionally, too. We engineers tend to communicate using only facts, numbers, savings, comparisons, etc. It’s what we’re used to. But to promote a “green” program, this will not work for many; their eyes will glaze over! Therefore, in addition to communicating the facts, it is also important to engage one’s calls to action in their hearts as well as their minds. The “green” program not only benefits the bottomline, but also the livability of the immediate area and the Earth as a whole. Make others feel like they are part of something consequential, and you will engender more support. Of course, with a “green” program, there is much to choose to show positive consequential outcomes.
5. Assess and adapt. One strategy does not always work well or approaches need to change as a “green” program progresses and matures. Periodically assess where your “green” program is – not only how it’s doing, but also its acceptance in your company. You may need to make some changes to the communication or to who you communicate with to engender further support. Assess and adapt to new realities to gain followers and momentum.
6. Don’t give up. The first Earth Day may have been in 1970, but for many, the environment is this fuzzy concept that does not affect them. Education about the environment has lagged, and many still do not understand its importance to everyday life. And sustainability is an even newer concept. Certainly anybody who is a leader likely did not learn about sustainability in Business or Engineering School “back then”. People innately feel that if they did not learn it in school is must not be important.
Therefore, it is not only the rational and emotional message, but the fact that it is sustained that will make people learn and understand the importance of these concepts. Constant education and communication about different aspects of environment, energy, and sustainability are needed, not only during the early stages of establishing a program, but later on, as well, even after the major elements of the plan are in place. Communication by multiple means has been shown to be effective.
CCES has the experts to help your company establish a “green” or sustainability or energy conservation program – not just the technical expertise, but we can help you organize it and begin the communication process to engender support in your firm. Contact us today at 914-584-6720 or at karell@CCESworld.com.