How to Involve Employees in Your Business Sustainability Practices

Paige Smith

Practicing environmental sustainability in the workplace isn’t a one-person effort. Once you’ve decided to make sustainable changes to your operation, it’s crucial to get your employees involved. 

Keep reading to learn more about the importance of employee engagement in workplace sustainability and how to accomplish it. 

Why it’s important to involve employees in business sustainability  

Making employees part of your environmental sustainability efforts is critical to business success and employee engagement in the workplace

On a practical level, you need employees to help carry out and maintain your sustainability initiatives. The more support and enthusiasm you have from your team, the easier it will be to reach your sustainability goals, especially if one of them is to become a B corp or obtain a green certification. Plus, your employees likely have valuable experience or ideas that can push you farther along on the path to greater sustainability. 

Another reason to involve employees in your sustainability work is to improve their employee experience. Research shows that employees like having a shared purpose at work; working toward a collective cause or goal can make day-to-day job responsibilities feel more meaningful. 

When employees like their work and workplace, they tend to be more engaged on the job. Strong employee engagement can lead to a whole host of other business benefits, like greater employee satisfaction, increased workplace productivity, and higher employee retention rates

Building a reputation as a business that prioritizes workplace sustainability can also improve your hiring prospects down the line, especially among younger workforce demographics. According to Deloitte’s 2023 Gen Z and Millennial Survey, over half (55%) of Gen Zs and Millennials (53%) said they research a company’s environmental impact or policies before accepting a job with them. 

Discover even more benefits of becoming a sustainable business

When to involve your employees in sustainability  

It’s a good idea to solidify your sustainability action plan before you involve too many employees. As a business owner, you’ll want to have a clear understanding of the sustainability steps you need to take and how sustainability initiatives will affect operations, so you’re prepared to communicate effectively and answer employee questions. 

Work with a handful of other business leaders, including senior employees or managers, to clarify your goals and write your sustainability plan. Once you have ideas in motion, you can communicate with the rest of your workforce. 

Here’s a step-by-step guide to writing a sustainability plan for your business. 

4 strategies to engage your employees in workplace sustainability 

Try these tactics to keep employees involved and excited about your operation’s sustainability efforts. 

1. Explain your company’s sustainability vision and potential impact

Before you expect employees to participate in sustainability programs, you need to explain why sustainability matters and how it aligns with your business growth. While your employees likely care about environmental sustainability on a global scale—they also need to know how your business fits into the bigger picture. 

Start by discussing your business’s current environmental impact, including what your carbon footprint looks like. From there, share which sustainability practices you’re implementing and why. For each one, make sure to explain:

  1. The environmental impact you expect, like reducing your business’s carbon emissions by 20%
  2. The business impact you expect, like lowering expenses or attracting new customers
  3. Additional benefits, like boosting workplace morale or helping your local community 
  4. The role employees play 

When employees can see how their daily work contributes to a key sustainability goal—and the positive difference that goal makes to their workplace and beyond—they’ll be more likely to support your sustainability work. 

Check out these impactful sustainability strategies

2. Provide sustainability education and training 

The next step is to give employees the information and tools they need to participate in your operation’s sustainability initiatives. Sustainability affects every area of your operation, from the equipment you use and suppliers you partner with to the way you package products and communicate with customers. 

The more sustainability knowledge and resources employees have at their disposal, the more capable they’ll feel of carrying out the sustainability programs—and generating ideas of their own. 

Start by educating employees about sustainability basics, including how businesses produce carbon emissions. You can host a team meeting and share materials that contain more information on environmental issues. 

From there, you might need to provide onsite training for certain jobs or set up workshops that explore topics like waste management techniques or energy-efficiency best practices. 

3. Give employees a voice in sustainable changes

Once your business has laid some sustainability groundwork and made progress toward your goals, try to create more opportunities for employees to participate in sustainability strategizing. Giving your employees a voice in the process can help them take even more ownership over their work and results.  

Start by surveying employees to ask for feedback on your sustainability programs. If certain employees show an interest in sustainability, consider asking them to spearhead a new sustainability project or help assemble a “green team” dedicated to assessing your business’s sustainability progress and brainstorming new solutions. 

You can also give employees a look behind the scenes when it’s relevant to their work. Invite an employee on the next trip to your local supplier to discuss sustainable materials, for example, or bring them to your warehouse to get more insight into the packaging process. 

3. Make sustainability part of your business culture and benefits

Bringing sustainability into your workplace culture and employee benefits package gives it more meaning and permanence. Here’s how you can incorporate sustainability into your business on a foundational level:

  • Give employees paid time off to volunteer: Encourage your employees to participate in environmental causes they care about outside of the workplace. 
  • Match employee donations to environmental causes: If you want to financially support a particular local or global cause, tell employees you’ll match their donations up to a certain amount. 
  • Regularly participate in sustainability efforts outside your operation: That might mean partnering up with an environmental nonprofit for a campaign, participating in a community beach clean-up, or donating a percentage of sales to a particular cause. 
  • Communicate transparently about sustainability: Talking openly about sustainability keeps employees interested and involved. Try sharing updates or goal progress during team meetings, or send out a monthly sustainability newsletter sharing success stories, sustainability stats, and important milestones you’ve reached. 
  • Offer climate change-related compensation and protection: As more people personally experience the effects of climate change—from extreme heat to natural disasters—The Harvard Business Review predicts more companies will offer climate change protection as part of their employee benefits package. Those benefits could include designated paid time off, short-term housing subsidies, recovery stipends, or specialized mental health support for employees who suffer hardships from natural disasters. 

Want to learn more about the power of employee benefits? Find out why benefits matter so much.

4. Reward and celebrate employees for their sustainability efforts

The key to maintaining employee involvement in your sustainability goals is to acknowledge their effort and celebrate their success. That could be as simple as sharing positive verbal feedback or highlighting individual or team successes during workplace meetings. 

You could also create an incentive program for meeting specific sustainability goals. If employees hit their individual or team targets, reward them with a gift card, cash, afternoon off, or a check to their favorite environmental charity. 

Along the way, take time to celebrate key sustainability milestones as a team. Think: catering a fancy lunch, hosting a workplace party, or paying for your employees to attend a fun event, like a sports game or concert. 

Maintaining employee involvement in sustainability

Engaging your employees with sustainability is necessary if you want to make progress toward your sustainability goals. Just remember: maintaining employee engagement in sustainability starts with you as the business leader. Stay consistent and be an example by following through with your sustainability promises and doing the day-to-day work. 

Paige Smith Paige is a content marketing writer specializing in business, finance, and tech. She regularly writes for a number of B2B industry leaders, including fintech companies and small business lenders. See more of her work here:
Back to top