The power of sustainability to engage and motivate staff

Directors of organisations large and small are concerned about the climate and nature crises. They worry about what it means for young people, for future generations, and for the natural world.

Often they believe that senior colleagues and other staff don’t share their concerns. They feel uncomfortable raising these issues and unsure of what their organisation can really do to make a difference.

A big part of the answer to this ‘eco-anxiety’ is realising that you are not alone and that you can use your considerable control and influence to lead real, meaningful, change.

“I feel this is the exact right time to change things. People are waking up to what needs to happen,” says Kate Wallace Lockhart, head of sustainability, SSE Renewables. “I don’t want to be too grand, but it’s probably the most important time in human history; what we do now is going to determine the future of our planet.”

I hear this same passion and enthusiasm again and again. And not just from senior people in “green” industries or with “sustainability” in their job title.

The chief data officer at the Japanese bank MUFG has no formal responsibility for sustainability. According to Tobi Petrocelli, director of sustainability, it was their personal concern that led to them prioritising the development of AI tools to collate data on emissions from all the bank’s clients.

When Adam Liddle started as healthcare company RoslinCT’s first head of sustainability, he found the staff welcoming and enthusiastic. They were already working on a range of activities that he’s now bringing together into a collaborative sustainability plan, building on those achievements.

This interest and enthusiasm from staff at all levels matches my experience – which is not surprising when Ipsos MORI research found that in G20 countries 73% of people believe Earth is close to “tipping points” because of human action, and 83% of people want to do more to protect and restore nature.

There are many good reasons for businesses to tackle sustainability, from risk management to new markets, from access to finance to client demand.

But if you want sustainability to be more than “just another initiative”, like Kate, Tobi, Adam and countless others, it’s crucial to tap into an emotionally compelling motivation – and sustainability has the potential to do that more than any other issue.

A recent Gallup study found that the UK has one of the least engaged workforces in the world, at 10% compared, for example, to 26% in Iceland.

It’s perhaps no wonder given that “in the vast majority of cases ‘employee engagement’ is shorthand for ‘how can we get our staff doing more, ideally for less’” according to workplace relations specialist, Malcolm Currie of Strathesk Re:solutions.

Imagine the potential for genuine staff engagement if you and your organisation embraced sustainability and tapped into the fact that most people do care about the state of the world and want to do something about it.

And where to begin? Just start talking to senior colleagues and staff across the organisation. You’ll soon generate genuine interest which will be springboard to action. Our guide ‘How to talk about sustainability with colleagues‘ has practical advice to help you get started.

This is a guest blog which contains the views of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of the IoD.

About the author

image of Osbert Lancaster

Osbert Lancaster,

Director at Realise Earth

Osbert Lancaster has been helping leaders develop and implement sustainability initiatives for over 20 years. He is the host of the Leadership for Sustainability podcast and director of sustainability leadership specialists, Realise Earth.

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