by Greg Lathan

In the first three articles of The EI Group’s blog on “Building a Sustainability Culture”, we provided recommendations on launching your program with some obvious sustainability initiatives or “easy wins,” shared tips on engaging the workforce to become sustainability advocates and offered suggestions to be used during early program direction. These early victories were aimed at building brand and engaging participation through the promotion of employee sustainability at home, in the workplace and the local community. These initiatives should be readily embraced by senior management as they are not very costly, require little strategic planning and have a fairly rapid return on investment (ROI). Remember, the idea was to encourage your facility to take the FIRST few steps towards developing a successful sustainability program, while providing a “teaser” for enhancing employee involvement and securing senior management buy-in to build a long-term, sustainable culture for your company. These early wins will also pitch sustainability as an investment, rather than a cost!

Now that you have Corporate Management’s Attention…

Convincing employees and management to embrace corporate cultural change is certainly nothing new. One needs to look no farther than the successful business models which promote occupational safety, aimed at lowering workplace accidents! A successful occupational safety program requires a cultural change and encourages participation among the entire workforce. Just like safety, promoting a sustainable culture at work is simply good business and yields a significant, long-term ROI. As with any corporate culture change, instilling sustainability into the workplace must begin with management buy-in. According to CB Bhattacharya in his book, “Small Actions BIG DIFFERENCE,” corporate executives must be convinced to view sustainability as a strategic imperative, one they must embrace for the future. Management buy-in for the program must include a capital commitment that does not measure ROI in the short-term, the development of metrics throughout various company operations to measure long-term sustainability program success and redefining management and employee goals so that sustainability is a key indicator for measuring performance.

Conceptual Benefits of Developing a Sustainable Corporate Culture 
When selling sustainability to company management make certain to emphasize the obvious benefits of developing a corporate sustainability program. These include an opportunity for employees to become a part of a global movement that is bigger than themselves and the company, while also instilling company pride and loyalty. Embracing sustainable practices will also enhance company brand, both in the local and global community. As a sustainability steward of the local community, the company will realize a boost in ability to attract and retain local talent. On the longer horizon, building a sustainable brand into corporate culture, operations, and product will attract a loyal following of devoted customers, thereby supplying a competitive edge over your competition. Even skeptics now concede that sustainable companies enjoy a distinct competitive advantage over their profit fixated peers, say Jeffrey Hollender and Bill Breen in their book, “The Responsibility Revolution: How the Next Generation of Businesses Will Win.” 

“We Must Not be Left Behind!”
Remember how developing a safe work culture required cooperative efforts between various business functions? The same holds true for promoting a sustainability culture at work! Let your management know that building a sustainable culture will provide avenues for departments like Production, QC, Shipping/Receiving, Human Resources, Purchasing, Finance and Manufacturing Engineering to work more closely together to achieve a common goal with a higher purpose! Pulling these functions together will also promote innovation, by “spinning-off” other successful cooperative initiatives within your organization, many of which are currently impossible to identify. 

Guess what factors have proven to be the primary motivators for convincing management to incorporate sustainability into their business practices? Definitely no surprise here – customer pressures, industry trends and, obviously, the competition. If your corporate leaders still appear to be straddling the fence on developing a sustainable culture, make certain to use this final argument as your hammer! 

Next: Building Your Sustainability Program Management Team: Key Attributes of Sustainability Program Advocates

How Can We Help?
The EI Group, Inc. (EI) provides a comprehensive array of services for the development and execution of sustainability initiatives relevant to your business. We actively seek ways to improve sustainability performance while supporting business goals. Contact us today at (800) 717-3472 or [email protected] to learn more!