Three Ways to Engage Employees in Environmentalism

05/22/2015 06:42 pm ET | Updated May 22, 2016
ALAIN JOCARD via Getty Images

By Tim Mohin and Justin Murrill

In 1970, the Beatles released their last album, Vietnam War protests were rampant, and the first Earth Day was held in Washington DC. Just about everything has changed since 1970, but our annual celebration of Earth Day has only gained momentum. And at the recent 45th Earth Day anniversary, big crowds continued to turn out in support of the environment.

While environmental advocates and corporations were at odds in the first Earth Day, most corporations now embrace environmentalism. As of this writing, the Corporate Register lists 65,081 corporate sustainability reports across 12,419 companies. There are lots of reasons for the growing détente between corporations and environmentalists, but there is one that may be less apparent -- the competition for talent.

A recent Harris poll on "green workplaces" concluded that "being green has become part of everyday conversations" with 75 percent of poll respondents saying they "would insist upon change if they saw obvious wasteful practices at work," and 44 percent saying they "would rather be unemployed than work for a company that's knowingly harming the environment."

Those are compelling numbers! Companies know that being good to the environment is good for their reputation. Now they are increasingly aware that it is good for recruiting, retaining and motivating the best employees -- and that can have big impacts for the bottom line. So, with another Earth Day behind us, companies may be struggling to keep the momentum going. Here are three "evergreen" strategies that may help:

1. Create public commitments and publish your progress
Many companies have made public environmental commitments such as reducing water consumption or greenhouse gas emissions. Publicizing your goals and progress helps your employees and stakeholders share in the accomplishments.

AMD recently announced the successful completion of our five year environmental goals, which provided an authentic and credible context for employee outreach. Also, being transparent as possible about what is working and what is not in your environmental programs helps build credibility and can be a call to action for your employees. For example, AMD publicized the shocking number of disposable cups discarded annually in our break rooms along with the costs, then we offered employees a reusable mug if they pledged to use stop using disposable ones. The approach saved over 400,000 cups and $30,000 in 2014 alone.

2. Make commitments beyond the fence-line
It turns out that most of our environmental footprint is outside the workplace. While these impacts are harder to address, if we are going to move the green needle, we have to get beyond our four walls. For AMD and many companies, our suppliers are a big part of our impact. We partnered with our largest suppliers to create "best-in-class" goals for environmental performance and monitor their progress once per quarter.

Also, because our products consume energy, AMD established a goal to reduce the power consumption of our Accelerated Processing Unit (APU) product line even as performance increases. Dubbed the 25x20 initiative, our goal is to increase the energy efficiency (measured by performance per watt) of our APU line by 25 times by 2020 (as compared to 2014).

While supply chain and product goals are important, employees tend to get more engaged when we involve them in the programs. To support our employee's environment motives outside of work, we have adopted a "life-style approach" to sustainability. We provide resources on green living opportunities such as discounts on solar panels, energy efficient lightbulbs, organic farm-food delivery, carpool parking and transit discounts and electric vehicle changing stations. Our commute reduction efforts alone have impressive results: since 2009 commuting emissions have declined 41 percent with employees logging over 5.3 million miles of avoided commutes and saving over $1 million USD in fuel costs.

3. Find Eco-Heroes and tell their stories
Passionate employees who go above and beyond to conserve resources inside and outside of work can serve as positive role models for other employees. The trick is to find these eco-heroes and publicize their achievements. One way to do this is to start an Eco award. AMD recognizes our green leaders with "Environmental Excellence Awards" in several categories including: Energizer (power saving), Trash Talker (waste reduction), and Water Warden (water conservation). Winners receive a custom engraved bamboo plaque presented by an executive and publicized throughout our global workforce. And each year, the competition for these awards gets tougher as more employees step up their eco-consciousness.

Hopefully some of these strategies will inspire you to keep the momentum of Earth Day alive, deepen a culture of sustainability and drive employee engagement. If you have other strategies that have worked well at your organization, please consider sharing in the comments below.

Tim Mohin is Director of Corporate Responsibility for Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) and the author of the book, Changing Business from the Inside Out: A Treehugger's Guide to Working in Corporations (Greenleaf and Berrett-Kohler). Justin Murrill is the Global Sustainability Manager for Advanced Micro Devices. Their postings (and comments made in Mohin's book) are their own opinions and may not represent AMD's positions, strategies or opinions. Links to third party sites, and references to third party trademarks, are provided for convenience and illustrative purposes only. Unless explicitly stated, AMD is not responsible for the contents of such links, and no third party endorsement of AMD or any of its products is implied. Follow Tim @TimJMohin and check out AMD's latest Corporate Responsibility Report.

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