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A message to SME Leaders: “Walk the Pathway to Carbon Reduction with your Employees”

Over the last few months, we have given suggestions on practical and low-cost actions SMEs can take to minimise their carbon footprint.

It’s so important for us to say and emphasise to you, as business owners and leaders, that this journey cannot and should not be walked alone. The most important companions are your employees.

The key to creating a thriving and sustainable company is to get all employees – from the C-Suite through to the factory floor and reception desk – engaged in everyday Sustainability efforts.

Companies sometimes struggle to connect Sustainability initiatives with the daily work of employees. You need to answer the ‘WIFIM’ question for employees - “What’s in it for me?”.

According to researchers at Stanford, to answer this question, you need to create an alignment between personal and corporate values in three areas:

1. Formal (job responsibilities, contracts, and goals)

2. Psychological (rewards, recognition, and commitment)

3. Social (culture, values, and perception)

Some initiatives to help SMEs everywhere achieve this alignment are:

  • Educate employees about Sustainability and the business case:

You need to make sure that all employees understand why the company has a Sustainability agenda and strategy. Employees should be aware of the actions they can take to help, what will be expected of them, what they should look out for, and where and how they can report any issues.

You could offer Sustainability training for employees, particularly current and emerging leaders within your organisation. Rosalind has designed a one-hour Sustainability Masterclass for SMEs. (For more information visit Working with Rosalind - Sustainability Masterclasses.)

Helping employees see the connection between sustainability and the financial long-term success of the organisation can motivate them. For instance, explain how using renewable energy sources and reducing waste can save the company money and appeal to consumers who prioritise environmentally responsible products.

  • Offer incentives:

Provide employees with incentives and rewards for getting involved in Sustainability initiatives. For example, staff that switch from cars to bikes for their commute could be given points that they redeem for cash or credit at the company café. Or the department that reduces their energy consumption the most wins a team meal. If you’re a smaller business, you could also offer a whole team prize. For example, if the office reduces waste or reduces energy usage by 25%, the company will host a company picnic or take the team to a sports game.

  • Ask employees for suggestions:

Asking employees for suggestions on how the company can improve its Sustainability performance promotes a sense of shared ownership. This could be as simple as asking staff to email in suggestions, sending out surveys, holding monthly or quarterly meetings, and running competitions to find the best ideas.

  • To make this more robust, you could set up a green team

- a group made up of employees from different departments and at different levels of seniority to promote Sustainability in the workplace. The team’s role could include identifying opportunities to reduce energy usage, reminding others about initiatives, organising events, and holding leaders accountable. You could even go one step further and let green team members dedicate 5-10% of their time to sustainability initiatives.

  • You could also recognise particular employees who have made the biggest difference

For example, you could create an annual award for the most sustainable department or employee – Sustainability Champions. Sharing stories of what some employees are doing can help inspire others.

  • Lead from the top:

Leaders' involvement in initiatives is crucial to demonstrating that the company is serious about sustainability. Research suggests that stakeholders (including employees) are more likely to embrace Sustainability initiatives when they see leaders demonstrate sincerity through their actions. Employees want to see that leaders practice what they preach! It can be something as simple as being seen to turn off lights when you leave a meeting room or putting recyclable waste in the right bin.

  • Measure and communicate progress:

Employees want to see what progress the company is making and what effect their contribution is having on the organisation’s Sustainability goals. You need to set clear metrics and goals, such as tracking energy expenditure or avoiding single-use plastic items. These metrics can demonstrate how individual actions add up overtime and help overcome the feeling that environmental issues are too big.

  • Participate in local community initiatives:

Supporting the local community, such as joining together as a team to pick up litter or fundraising for a local school to install renewable energy, provides a sense of relevance for employees and allows them to make a personal connection with initiatives.

We have given you lots of suggestions, but don’t be overwhelmed. You only need to select one or two to start. We would encourage you to start off with educating and building awareness around Sustainability. Remember – you never need to walk this pathway alone!

Written by Rosalind Kainyah MBE and Helen Stickler. Rosalind is an authority on Sustainability and responsible business with over 30 years of combined legal, international, executive and board level experience. Her focus and passion is supporting African businesses to operate sustainably and profitably. Helen is the Co-Founder of Triplo ESG, a Sustainability advice platform that empowers smaller businesses.


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