Cracking the Code on Engaging Employees in Sustainability

When it comes to seeking understanding about developing effective employee engagement strategies and programs, the average online search produces a plethora of tips, ideas, research, opinions, and sometimes even conflicting information. What does seem clear is that one of the most critical elements of successful engagement is enabling employees to make progress in meaningful work. But what does that mean, how does a workplace go about it, and… then what?

There are workplaces that have managed to ‘crack the code,’ meaning, they have built and have ownership over a process that successfully moves their employees through an ongoing and dynamic cycle that has at its core: strategy and goals alignment; stakeholder input; the establishment of mutual purpose that can be connected to desired impact; and, of course, measurement and assessment and adjustment. Called the Engagement Continuum, this concept certainly isn’t new. But its applications are changing the way employers are approaching how they inspire the critical ingredients of employee motivation and action.

The engagement continuum defines a path that’s meant to be walked side-by-side by leadership and the workforce; it is a journey, an exploration, and a living, interactive process where everyone plays a role. It’s about identifying the intersection where corporate goals meet with employee purpose in a way that also addresses the issues impacting society and our future.

Building a flexible, adaptable roadmap that allows for employee input and ideas.

At The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America® (Guardian), they’re building engagement around sustainability with the perspective that acting in a sustainable way is not only good for the planet, but is also beneficial to their business and the communities where their people live and work. To-date Guardian’s accomplishments include reducing the company’s energy consumption by 25% in its IT areas, resulting in both lower costs and less environmental impact; the opening of a new LEED certified building on their Bethlehem campus that will support a 30-40% savings in water usage and investment in 100% renewable energy; and establishing a Sustainability Council whose job it is to identify initiatives and inform employees around the company’s sustainability process.

In 2016, the company is seeking to launch regional employee Green Teams and establish a new printer fleet that will reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 84% and paper consumption by 10%, for a projected savings of more than $25,000. Guardian is just getting started, and they turned to EarthShare as their partner for support on the path to deepening their employees’ investment in these shared goals.

“We chose to partner with EarthShare because of their strong ability to deliver meaningful information and best practices coupled with thoughtful advising on environmental practices,” says Michael Carren, Guardian’s Head of Strategic Philanthropy. “It’s important to Guardian that we not only educate and engage our employees in our support for sustainability, which EarthShare has a rich history of doing, but also that we learn from the best practices of others, engage in dialogue across sectors, and build our strategy in a way that will create the greatest social, environmental and business value possible.”

To start, EarthShare is supporting the establishment of the critical employee-driven teams that will work in each of the company’s locations to create an annual plan of activities to involve their colleagues in environmental stewardship.

Guardian’s first Green Team Manual is in development. EarthShare is also supporting ongoing communication on environmental issues and activities, including driving participation in the company’s recent Environmental Stewardship Fairs with messaging and program branding delivered strategically via their internal platforms.

This strategy includes encouraging employee participation in green behaviors and activities at work and at home through communication that promotes understanding of their role. The partnership will also provide ongoing content to help achieve clarity about how business sustainability goals benefit the environment and communities where Guardian operates. Whether driving participation in Guardian’s printer return program, or delivering modern green lifestyle tips that meet employees where they live, Guardian is communicating a shared sustainability vision in ways meant to capture the hearts and minds of employees, while offering ways to plug directly into that vision.

Helping employees recognize a purpose within the workplace that translates to their job and connects with broader organizational and community goals.

Further along the engagement continuum is the result of this awareness- and connection-building investment: employee commitment, action, and outcomes. According to Gallup, factors that are crucial to achieving this stage of engagement include giving employees an opportunity to do what they do best, giving them a voice in the workplace, and ensuring they have the support they need to encourage their development. AT&T hits the mark on each point with their longstanding Do One Thing (DOT) program.

“…Do One Thing (DOT) is an invitation to employees to think about their daily actions and pick one change they can make that will have a positive impact on themselves, their community and/or the company… But the real beauty of DOT is its ability to create culture change. After all, once you start engaging your employees to change behaviors, they will push the company to do the same.”*

Cultivating employee brand ambassadors who mentor and build goodwill, internally and externally.

AT&T recognizes that empowering employees to choose the things they care about and giving them ways to talk about it prevents DOT from becoming a chore or an unwanted responsibility. Allowing employees to share what they’ve learned and accomplished in both internal and public forums is the added element that truly elevates the success of the DOT program, by establishing authentic employee champions. The company’s engagement program gives them creative avenues to talk about what matters to them and what they’ve achieved, in their own voice.

The success of AT&T’s DOT engagement program can be heard in the testimonials of the most authentic brand ambassadors – their own employees.


“Simple actions can change an entire community; our employees demonstrate this every day with DOT,” says Jason Leiker, Associate VP of Community Engagement at AT&T. “Through DOT, employees are choosing to make small changes in their lives that are having a significant positive impact on them, their community and our company. DOT makes it fun and ultimately drives greater commitment.”

Where is your company on the engagement continuum? 

Whether you’re firmly en route to commitment and action or just getting started, you can join EarthShare, Michael Carren, Jason Leiker and other thought leaders at our interactive breakout session on March 29 to explore the stages of the engagement continuum and get best practice ideas for making your own program all it can be.

 Join EarthShare at the 15th Annual Charities@Work summit from March 28th-30th to hear more on the engagement continuum. Register here today.


About EarthShare:

For almost 30 years, EarthShare has supported nearly 600 of America’s most respected environmental and conservation organizations through the original crowdfunding – workplace giving. Today EarthShare is a strategic advisor and programmatic partner to the business sector, executing dynamic engagement and philanthropy programs focused on creating the tangible impact needed to ensure a flourishing future.