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Organizational Change
How Internal Communications Can Unleash Employee Ingenuity on Sustainability Challenges

People everywhere are feeling the effects of climate change and want to be part of the solution. Business leaders who engage their employees in sustainability initiatives will help them feel more connected and create new opportunities to shape the future.

Extreme weather events, global carbon emissions and biodiversity concerns are rapidly accelerating the need for corporate sustainability action. For years, the private sector has been investing significant resources into achieving time-bound goals; and now, these investments — together with advancements in climate technology — are reshaping our economy and creating new opportunities in the workforce.

Recent WE Communications research, Winning the Battle Against Green Fatigue, finds that even as employees are overwhelmingly eager to get involved in their companies’ sustainability activity, few are actually participating. A targeted internal-communications strategy can help bridge that divide and mobilize employees.

Here are four places to focus:

1. Make connections, so employees see the impact of their work.

The bad news: Two-thirds of employees say they have little to no involvement in their companies’ sustainability efforts. The good news: 78 percent say they want to take part.

How do employers bridge this gap? Empowering employees can change the face of your commitments. Rally every employee to the cause, regardless of role, and tightly connect sustainability to your organization’s mission and purpose. Ask employees for their ideas. Upskill them as, for example, new AI-supported tools come online to rapidly embed sustainability throughout supply chains.

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People want to feel like they are part of something greater; and the right communications can show employees how their role contributes to the bigger picture. As your organization makes real progress toward 2030 or 2040 goals, every employee becomes part of that success.

2. Embrace transparency along the way.

2030 sustainability goals aren't just about back-of-house reporting anymore. Increasing occurrences of extreme weather — such as wildfires, flooding and droughts — have emphasized the immediate impact climate change has on people’s personal lives and communities. Because employers are integral members of the communities where they operate, people want to know what their organization is doing to help.

Other recent WE research, It’s Personal: The New Rules of Corporate Reputation, found that 75 percent of people say organizations should be transparent in communicating what they do in response to issues in society. This need for transparency is particularly important when companies fall short of sustainability goals. While only one-third of C-suite executives surveyed in Winning the Battle Against Green Fatigue agreed that transparent communication is a must in this situation, nearly half the broader workforce said it’s necessary. By embracing transparency, leaders show how they’re listening to employees and have a shared understanding of what’s important.

Transparent communication means you don’t have to wait until you have great results — keep your employees in the loop with sustainability reporting and milestones, whether you’re succeeding or falling short. Employees want to be part of the process; so, involve them early by sharing steps along the way and they’ll become more invested.

3. Rethink sustainability metrics

In the face of technological advances and workforce changes, integrate sustainability considerations right up through business planning and tools deployment. Embedding sustainability throughout organizational processes creates multiple points to connect with employees and will help address skepticism: Winning the Battle Against Green Fatigue also found nearly half of employees (45 percent) suspect their company of greenwashing at some level.

To prove your organization is in for the long haul, share sustainability metrics on a par with other business reporting. When employees hear the CEO talk about sustainability efforts in the same breath as earnings — and with follow-up from their managers on how they tie to team goals — it demonstrates a central connection to the business.

Steady clarity of communication gives organizations a way to provide a plan to get back on track when targets are missed. Our research shows that most employees will forgive setbacks to sustainability goals if there is also clear information about the path forward.

4. Create sustainability spotlights.

Facing the climate crisis can feel overwhelming; for the individual, it can seem like a lost battle. Help employees feel the strength in the organization’s numbers by encouraging sustainable or efficient behavior through rewards and recognition programs. Highlight benefits that work for people and planet — such as public-transportation vouchers, volunteer hours to restore a local wetland, or gift cards for local or sustainable businesses for those who find innovative ways to conserve company resources. How about a leaderboard that keeps a running tally of how much carbon employees are keeping out of the atmosphere by taking advantage of sponsored programs?

These shout-outs can help build momentum throughout the organization and show people how their direct actions, their colleagues’ efforts, and business innovations create meaningful outcomes.

People everywhere are feeling the effects of climate change and want to be part of the solution. Business leaders who engage their employees in sustainability initiatives will help them feel more connected and create new opportunities to shape the future.