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A Sustainable Experience

Employees today want to know that their employers are working to protect the natural world. But highly publicized green initiatives aren’t doing the trick. Workers need to believe that their company truly cares about the earth. They are looking for a sustainable experience.


Zogby recently completed its 14th annual “Attitudes in the American Workplace” poll and choose to highlight their finding that only 17% of employees surveyed believe their companies are going green for socially responsible reasons. Commenting on the survey, Environmental Leader began its coverage by saying “Half (50.8%) of U.S. workers say their company has a significant initiative such as carpooling and recycling, but most report being cynical about their employer’s motivation for going green…”. When I look at the data I see a reason for these numbers: without understanding that their organization is led by people who also have a great deal of concern for the environment, employees assume green programs are simply another way to increase the bottom line.  


The poll shows that 77% of US employees surveyed feel it is “very important” or “somewhat important” that their companies be green but only 71% of employees said they were being educated on how to be greener at home. I believe the fact that not enough workplaces are educating their employees about green living outside of the office significantly limits the worker’s buy-in to sustainable efforts in the workplace. When sustainability programs seem to come out of nowhere and are not rounded out with employee education, it makes sense the worker’s question their origins.  


Here are the reasons people believe their companies began environmental initiatives: 24% thought they were to save money, 22% said it was because the company wants positive publicity, 14% responded that it was the politically correct thing to do, 13% said green programs were enacted to combat rising energy costs and only 17% believed a sincere interest in CSR (corporate social responsibility) was at work.


I find these reasons interesting and but expected. Stopping climate change and protecting natural resources are concerns that affect each person and every business on earth. When almost three quarters of organizations are not educating their employees about these pressing issues and how to help combat them both at work and at home, I think it is clear why so many people question the motives behind their employers green interest.  


The Society for Human Resource Management’s June 2008 issue of HR Magazine was entitled Working Green. Their article, Get in the Business of Being Green, provides a great overview of how an HR department can roll out employee education and other steps on the road toward sustainability. In addition to SHRM’s suggestions, eLearning materials can be developed to create an interactive and effective training course that can be hosted on the company’s intranet and accessed by employees across an organization.


Once companies go through the time and expense of educating their workforce on the company’s initiatives and how they can be green at home, I believe the employees will have a sustainable experience with their employer. They will realize that even though their companies are often saving money, gaining public support and publicity, and dealing with the energy crisis, they also have a sincere commitment to CSR.

  1. Jay
    August 22, 2008 at 3:14 pm

    I believe that as you point out by using eLearning as a solution for education on a green initiative or any program, there is a signifiant positive impact on the environment. Just think, by not doing face to face training, that means the trainer or attendees are not traveling to a location and they are not printing binders or materials. The information is available on a webserver somewhere, no other impact.

  2. August 22, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    It is not surprising as to employee attitudes. Corporations in the US are typically cast as the “evil” part for society, whether in political circles or environmental. And some of that is deserved and some is just the nature of us and the “man”.

    Look at the difference is very general (and stereotyped by me) terms of Microsoft and Apple. There is a lot of popular opinion that Microsoft is bad and that Apple is good.

    That is a broad generalization but I think it holds some truth. But the truth of the matter is that Bill Gates gives millions of dollars to defeat worldwide health concerns. And that Apple preaches they are environmental is a real good public relation move and believed by most. But just take a look at the iPhone and you will see . . .

    But that is a tangent. The view of corporations affects the employee and typically in a negative manner. So when the Acme Corporation embraces and touts a new environmental policy, employees are suspicious of the motives and critical of the expenditure.

    Is this just hype Acme is doing? Why don’t they pay me more? Then maybe I would buy a Hybrid and make a real difference.

    It’s not hard to see that perspective.

    You make a great point in the post about educating the employee on what they can do. That would potentially have a huge impact. I know that I can do a lot more at home than I currently do, but I don’t quite know what to do first or am not aware of some simple things I can do.

    This is a topic that has rolled around in my head for a few weeks now: making an online (elearning) course to each other’s how to make their home offices “greener”.

    Especially with the number of people who use their offices a lot. I use mine about 30 hours a week and the only green thing I have done is use compact fluorescents. Is there more I could do?

    I know there is a lot more I can. Interestingly, much of my time at home is in creating spaces for people to meet formally and informally via Second Life. That in itself has grown due to the ability to hold meetings and conferences virtually. Yet I am certain that I could be much greener in my home office.

    Nice post Matt! Thanks! =D

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