Season 3: Building business resilience

Rob Baker Founder and Chief Positive Deviant of Tailored Thinking

Connect planet, people and purpose and craft the sustainability agenda into the employee experience

Your organisation may have already recognised the need to prioritise sustainability initiatives as a response to our collective climate crisis. However, creating a purposeful and co-created environmental, social, and governance (ESG) agenda can have a wider benefit to the planet and its people. 

Despite the evidence supporting the importance of a purposeful sustainability agenda, there is still a lot of work to be done. According to Gallup, only 51% of employees in the UK are satisfied with their organisation’s efforts to preserve the environment, and even fewer employees in large organisations clearly see the connection between their job and their organisation’s purpose.

Research shows that when employees connect the dots between their work and an organisation’s purpose, it has a positive impact on their overall experience and the business as a whole.

These employees are more engaged and motivated, resulting in improved business outcomes in areas like absenteeism, safety, productivity, and turnover growth. Also, a strong sense of purpose can boost overall employee morale and motivation.

Key benefits of connecting people with your sustainability agenda

Here are three primary benefits to connecting employees with your organisation’s sustainability agenda: 

1) Creating a “sticky” workplace is essential for attraction and retention. In a recent report, 86% of employees said they want to work for companies that care about ESG. Aligning your workplace with employee values is one of the ways to make it more appealing, and this “stickiness” ensures your top people want to stay, and new talent wants to join in.

In today’s job market, job seekers prioritise purpose-driven work and social responsibility. Emphasising environmental and social responsibility can attract and retain employees who share those values. 

2) Connecting people to a broader purpose allows employees to feel that their work is impactful. Provide that sense of purpose by aligning your company’s values with employees’ personal beliefs and aspirations. 

Employees who feel that their company affects the environment and society positively are more likely to feel a sense of pride and purpose in their work, improving their job satisfaction and sense of fulfillment.

3) A positive and progressive sustainability approach can foster connection and collaboration across your teams. Sustainability initiatives often require working across departments and functions, which can build a stronger sense of community and shared purpose. It proves yours is a work culture that values teamwork, collaboration, and making a positive impact.

As awareness and criticism of corporate adherence to environmental and social issues spread quickly through media and social media, not engaging employees on your ESG journey can lead to its failure which will have a negative impact on your business, fast. 

Finally, if your employees get involved in local, community-based initiatives, it can lead to increased social impact, improved relationships, enhanced reputation, and more employee engagement. Creating this positive cycle benefits employees, the organisation, and the local community, working towards a more sustainable and equitable future together. 

Practical ideas for connecting people with your sustainability purpose 

Let’s explore three practical ways to connect people with your sustainability agenda, as inspired by research and real-life examples:

1) Encourage purpose crafting

You can foster a sense of connection between employees and your sustainability agenda through job crafting. Invite employees to customise their work experience to align with their personal strengths, passions, and values. 

For example, if an HR team member includes ESG communication in recruitment and induction processes, it could contribute to a culture of sustainability-minded colleagues. By encouraging and empowering employees to personalise their work in this way, they can feel more connected to the purpose of their work and become more engaged and motivated.

2) Bring the sustainability agenda to life

Your sustainability agenda will always be cross-functional and should go beyond your sustainability team to drive real change. Create a strategy that integrates ESG into the daily world of all your employees so they understand how they can have impact in their current role.

For example, a client of ours in the manufacturing sector recently shared how a production line worker volunteered to be part of a working group focused on installing solar panels on the factory roof, leveraging their technical expertise while connecting with colleagues outside their usual team. This hands-on approach helped the employee feel invested in the sustainability agenda professionally and more directly connected them to the sense of purpose personally.

From risk assessments for new business, to waste management, your company needs to show employees and customers a sustainability agenda that details how it will meet ESG requirements. It will come under scrutiny, and will require continuous development, but the commitment to improve your business now and in the future will help secure your place in the hearts of customers and employees alike. 

3) Provide opportunities for co-creation

Instead of relying solely on top-down leadership to create a sustainability strategy, involve employees in shaping the agenda. Internal surveys, interviews, town-halls, and Q&A sessions can help you find what makes the most sense to focus on according to your employees. Co-creation can increase engagement and buy-in across the organisation, leading to a higher quality strategy and more successful initiatives. Moreover, inviting employees to collaborate in this way sends a strong signal that sustainability is valued and important.

Why authenticity matters and green washing won’t wash

It’s important to remember that authenticity matters. Simply making statements about your sustainability values won’t cut it—your employees and stakeholders will be able to see and feel whether your organisation is truly committed to living those values. 

Any hint of “greenwashing” could lead to dissatisfaction among employees and stakeholders and result in negative actions ranging from leaving the company and posting scathing reviews on platforms like Glassdoor, to public protests and even organised walkouts.

To truly engage employees and stakeholders in your sustainability efforts, it’s important to provide a sense of meaning. Humans have a fundamental need for purpose, and allowing people to plug into an organisation’s meaningful plan to support sustainability can help meet this need. 

This means going beyond just making statements or setting vague goals, and truly integrating sustainability into the core of your business operations.

So before you write, review, or renew your sustainability strategy, remember that authenticity matters. Make sure your strategy goes beyond statements and is truly integrated into your business operations. By doing so, you can meet our fundamental human need for purpose whilst also making a positive impact on the planet.