Blog Posts | Pembina Institute

Inspiring change from the inside out

Published Dec. 14, 2012 by Guest Blogger

Paul EdneyIn this guest blog post, employee engagement expert Paul Edney discusses inspiring sustainble development in the workplace.


(Small actions) X (lots of people) = BIG change

Businesses understand the power of numbers. 

Whatever consumer need a company is trying to fulfill, the measure of financial success lies in the number of units sold – be it barrels of oil, bars of chocolate, or iPhones. 

All companies focus their attention outside, on inspiring customers to buy their products. But the world’s most successful organizations – Apple, Wal-Mart, Google, Starbucks, HP, SouthWestern and Ikea to name a few – recognize that behind every unit sold is a human being. Whether it's the engineer designing the pipeline, the marketing manager promoting the chocolate bar or the Apple ‘genius’ walking the floor.

They recognize that inspiration — and with it success in the marketplace — is driven from the inside out.

A recent article about Starbucks’ strategy to make front-line workers into “brand evangelists,” summarizes the approach this way: "Give [employees] reasons to believe in their work and that they're part of a larger mission…and they’ll in turn personally elevate the experience for each customer — something you can hardly accomplish with a billboard or a 30-second spot."

There is no magic formula to inspiring employees. Every organization mentioned above puts an enormous amount of effort into understanding what their employees want, and then use that understanding to continually foster an inspired internal culture. 

The power of engaged employees

So what do employees want most? Sustainability is increasingly topping the list in employee opinion surveys. According to Strandberg Consulting, people want more and more to work for companies that prioritize social and environmental responsibility.

Organizations that recognise this have been actively incorporating sustainability into their employee engagement programs for some time. For instance:

  • In 2006 Google launched the Google Green Commute program to reduce the carbon footprint caused by employees’ daily commute.

  • In 2008 HP launched its Sustainability Network with the objective of "encouraging and supporting employees who want to learn about, share, and practice environmental sustainability at home, work, and in their communities." 

  • In 2010 Wal-Mart introduced the My Sustainability Plan program to "help engage and support our associates to become more sustainable.” 

And there is a common thread through all of these examples: employees initiated each of the programs. By making sustainable development a priority at the grassroots level, these organizations inspired employees to become what ENGO Net Impact calls “Social Intrapreneurs” — that is, “individuals working within organizations who find ways to integrate sustainability into their day jobs.”

The power of numbers at work

The results are compelling and illustrate the ‘power of numbers’ in the realm of sustainable development:

  • Google inspired 40% of employees at their head office to shift their commuting habits, reducing carbon emissions by 4.9 million kilograms.

  • HP’s “Power To Change” inspired employees to shut down computers when not in use, saving over 50,000 kilowatt-hours of power.

  • In the first few months of Wal-Mart’s sustainability program, employees recycled 1.3 million kilograms of plastic and walked, biked or swam more than 1.7 million kilometres.

Equally compelling are the benefits for the business – operating costs drop, productivity, profits and stock values increase, risk is reduced and talent is both attracted and retained.

So investing in sustainability engagement offers a win-win-win – for the company, for the people and for the planet.

Build your own sustainable development engagement program

In response to this employee engagement opportunity, the Pembina Institute has partnered with Inspire Enterprise, an organization dedicated to connecting, empowering and inspiring employees to change the world at work. 

With sound strategy, statistical rigor and a proven creative approach, the Pembina Institute and Inspire Enterprise bring a deep level of expertise and experience to your employee engagement program. Click here to learn more about how we can help you.

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