Employees Need to Go Green Before the Business Can
In a system where our capitalist economy can seem in conflict with shrinking our corporate carbon footprint, what can us business leaders really do?
According to Sharon Whale, UK Group CEO at in-house company OLIVER UK, well a lot actually. Or at least we can start to.
Your people dictate the politics, and the plastics
It’s easy to say, “businesses need to go green,” but without the backing of your people – the backbone of any business – this is nothing more than a shallow, brand purpose-puffing, CSR husk. Sustained change doesn’t happen without employees onboard. That’s a fact.
Of course, business leaders could make some sustainability policies mandatory, but there’s a fine line between making a sensible policy compulsory and trying to control how employees’ should feel or behave on matters of sustainability.
For example, I can’t really tell our staff to stop eating meat on the premises because it’s better for the environment. However, there is a middle ground, where everyone is more willing to flex – like having our catering for client meetings provided by zero plastic/single use suppliers, with a much lower meat content.
I can’t really tell our staff to stop eating meat on the premises because it’s better for the environment. However, there is a middle ground, where everyone is more willing to flex – like having our catering for client meetings provided by zero plastic/single use suppliers, with a much lower meat content.
As someone leading a large, highly entrepreneurial business, there is a level of responsibility to shape the sustainability agenda of the future. But how we go about being green has to makes sense for everyone in our organization – and that is all about taking baby steps.
More nurture, less nanny state
Respecting individuals’ freedom to choose is the secret to success. And sometimes that lesson – which we all know to be true – needs hitting home.
At OLIVER, we’ve worked hard during the last few years to cultivate a culture of sustainability. We don’t have single-use items in the canteen. We provide reusable Chilly’s Bottles for all employees. We’re working on getting a wormery in the basement….
But, then, we discovered that there’s a line.
We tried rolling out this sustainable ethos across all aspects of the business, including the bathrooms. We printed some info posters for the female cubicles, which contained a short list of eco-friendly period tips (there are increasing numbers of sanitary products available which have low or zero impact on the environment).
Feedback was that some women felt that this invaded their right to choose. It was a great lesson on where the line is. Just as people don’t like being told to commute or go vegan, some don’t want to ponder their choice of feminine products in the office.
Personal preferences are in high regard when implementing a sustainability agenda in business. We have to push the boundaries in order to embed something meaningful, but we also have to know when to back-off. Sustainability just is one of those subjects that tests your responsibility a little more.
We have to push the boundaries in order to embed something meaningful, but we also have to know when to back-off. Sustainability just is one of those subjects that tests your responsibility a little more.
Nudge theories still hold value
Going green only really works when you can nudge everyday behaviour. It’s no good aggressively imposing green policies on people – they’ll become resentful, even push back.
We recently swapped teabags for tea leaves in order to minimize waste, which, granted, is a little more effort that simply throwing a Tetley into a mug. But, overall, people saw the value in making that extra bit of effort a couple of times a day. It’s a policy that’s staying.
As mentioned earlier, we also offer less meat in the cafeteria now, as well as in client meetings – nudging people to do something differently. When we provide snacks for our in-house teams, it’s usually fruit and natural goodies in a reusable wicker basket (no pesky plastic to deal with).
That last example in particular has proven to be a real gamechanger, because it drives cumulative change for both our OLIVER staff and our clients. And, ultimately, I believe that’s what we’re here to do – whether that’s with their digital transformation projects, their marketing campaigns or their internal policies for going green; our team is their team.
Clients and agencies cross-pollinating efforts
In an industry like ours, where the objective is to advertise and sell to consumers, going green might seem counter-productive. But having a bigger purpose that’s lived every day is something that matters to both OLIVER and our clients. Part of the way we do our bit is by making sure sustainability is visible on the agenda.
It’s a small step-change, but with the potential to become really impactful. We have around 800 UK employees, most of whom are based in larger organizations around the world. Our small steps travel, spreading good habits – we’ve just helped a client swap single-use vinyls used for events and promotional purpose to eco-friendly, water soluble painted solutions within its building, which is far less damaging to the environment.
That’s what makes me proud of my workplace. Beyond our clients and working methods, there’s a willingness to enact change for good, genuinely. It might be small, or seem like a hopeless effort in the big scheme of things.
But if you change the world just a little bit, then who knows? It might catch on.