Having an authentic commitment to sustainability is one of the most important factors in whether or not people see any company as a sustainable company.
To meet widespread demand for businesses to fight climate change, dozens of major companies like Amazon, Google, and Wal-Mart are committing to ambitious goals like using 100% renewable energy. But how much these investments will bolster each brand’s public sustainability image depends on more than these types of commitments alone.
Of course using 100% renewable energy will go a long way to reduce carbon emissions. But to create a compelling sustainability story that elevates a company’s brand, it’s hard to find a better strategy than embedding sustainability into the company’s everyday internal culture.
From The Inside Out
As it stands, most companies are leaving workers unsure about their commitment to the environment. They may hear about external efforts, but rarely feel engaged with them in their daily lives at work. This divide makes people question if their company is truly committed to minimizing its environmental footprint.
How employees feel about their employer’s commitment inevitably affects how much people trust the messages they hear in marketing campaigns about sustainability. In a 2015 study, researchers found that how much people think their company prioritizes sustainability affects how highly they speak about their employer to people outside the company. Because of this, employees have the power to influence the public credibility of their company’s commitment to sustainability. They also found that how employees see sustainability in their own jobs influences their perception of how much their company prioritizes it. A company is not just made of it’s factories, and it’s environmental impact is not limited to it’s product life-cycle. Employees recognize this, and it influences their understanding of how highly sustainability is prioritized by their employer.
Imagine a company that you know has invested in green technologies. Your friend gets a job in their corporate office and immediately starts complaining to you about how wasteful the office is. You probably wouldn't feel that this company is authentically committed to taking care of the environment. The next time someone tells you they’ve heard this company is eco-friendly, you would likely share this story with someone else.
But the opposite is also true. If they had told you how impressed they werewith the company’s defined culture of sustainability, you would likely think more highly of the organization’s commitment to sustainability.
Culture Is Key
Company cultures are unique and generally center around a set of core values. Managers promote employees based on these values, and individual workers feel the pressure to adopt them to rise in the company. In this way, companies have the power to manipulate individual behaviors and the social cues that coworkers give to one another.
Think about a company culture based around long-term consistency and tradition. These values may unintentionally discourage employees from identifying wasteful practices. If a wasteful practice is considered tradition, this could be seen as challenging the core values of their employer. Often the benefit of engaging in sustainable behaviors at work is unclear.
In the same 2015 study, researchers found that the more an employee thinks their company is sustainable, the more likely they are to conserve resources at work. It also increases the likelihood that they would direct others to choose sustainable options as well.
This suggests that the perception of sustainability as a priority can create a positive feedback loop. The more people think they are expected to conserve resources, the more everyone conserves resources, which ultimately makes people think of their office as prioritizing sustainability.
Ultimately achieving an authentic public sustainability image takes a multifaceted strategy. This includes committing to renewable energy goals and supply chain upgrades as well as internal culture and operations.
But when companies streamline values across departments it shows an honest and foundational commitment to environmental stewardship, whichgoes to the heart of creating an authentic sustainability campaign.
Sarah Schwartz is the lead consultant for Office Climate Solutions. She writes about the intersection of sustainability, business, and the workplace.