How employees can play key role in creating sustainable business

How employees can play key role in creating sustainable business

A mix of education, sensitization and integration of sustainability into work can give employees the incentive and dedication to make the socio-cultural shift we need in the world of work

The idea of sustainability fundamentally concerns itself with the idea of human continuity. The straightforward aspiration of this mission is to meet human needs in the present and in the future while preserving and enhancing the planet's resources. When applied to the realm of work, it shall mean going beyond mere considerations of profit and loss and enriching the impact of business with a commitment towards planetary welfare.

To this end, workers, who form the crux of any professional endeavour, themselves need to step up their efforts for accomplishing the conscious and far-sighted process of development sustainability espouses. This will require several crucial changes, most significantly, training the employees for the optimal achievement of a sustainable work regime.

This process is as multifaceted as it gets and impacts the quality of work as well. A 2018 Gallup study demonstrated that 85 per cent of employees feel that they are unable to fully harness their potential at work and carry on with a sense of disengagement. As Forbes notes, purpose is one of the most powerful drivers of engagement; an engaged employee will feel as though they are contributing towards something that matters to them and the "present and future conditions of the environment" happened to be one of the top five responses. Consequently, when employees are trained to view their professional contributions in tandem with the larger project of sustainable development, a sense of purpose can be instilled and productivity consolidated and made meaningful.

The move towards sustainability has been articulated elsewhere as well. Cone's 2017 "Gen Z CSR Study: How to Speak Z" found that 94 per cent of the new generation believe that companies should address social and environmental issues and with urgency and will consider the social purpose of a company when deciding where to work. Keeping all of this in mind, the relevance of John Elkington's concept of the Triple Bottom Line, where the performance of a business is calculated based on the value it creates socially, ecologically and financially looms large. With a broader accounting framework for success and to instill purpose in people who work, employee training for sustainability has to be seriously thought about and deployed.

The first component, arguably, has to be the age-old synergizer of collective human activity: sensitization. Owing to a lack of widespread comprehensive education and conversation around environmental issues and their relation to work, not all employees and executives already have extensive and meaningful knowledge or the consciousness and drive to engage in sustainable working practices.

This needs to be offset with workshops and programmes that emphasise the need for sustainability vis-á-vis immediate work and how environmental protection can actually help in increasing the scope of an organization and expand impact and rewards. Apart from these events, guidelines around these issues must be embedded in websites, blogs and advisories run by the company for repeated exposure to the ideas the company must inculcate in its ethos of work.

The overall mission has to be amalgamating sustainability with the usual methods of working.

As Harvard Business Review reports, inspired by Unilever's sustainability slogan, "Small actions can make a big difference," workers at the company's PG tips tea factory in Trafford Park, England, had a bright idea. In Britain, most tea comes in paper tea bags. By reducing the end seals of each tea bag by 3 millimeters, 15 huge reels of paper could be saved every shift. Since its launch in 2015, this factory-floor suggestion has resulted in savings of €47,500 and 9.3 tonnes of paper (about 20,500 pounds).

Companies must also invest in projects that make sustainability business as usual. For example, as the aforementioned report covers, General Electric's Ecomagination program to develop cleaner technology solutions, for example, has grown in 10 years from a $700 million R&D commitment to a $15 billion-a year business. And Marks & Spencer's "Plan A" sustainability program generated a net benefit of £160 million in 2014-15. If sustainability is work, all professional commitments become commitments to sustainability. Employees can also be conferred titles and given rewards based on how well they have done in this regard, fully aligning purpose-driven endeavour with the routine competitiveness of the professional race.

On the whole, a mix of education, sensitization and integration of sustainability into work can give employees the incentive and dedication to make the socio-cultural shift we need in the world of work. This is and must be the era of a new paradigmatic professionalism, which rises above parochial and short-sighted goals, driven by an engaged workforce that goes the extra mile for human continuity and welfare.

(The author is Chief Impact Officer at Recykal Foundation)

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