Catalyzing Employee Engagement for Organizational… | ENGIE Impact

Catalyzing Employee Engagement for Organizational Sustainability

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Marc-Antoine Franc Director, Sustainability Solutions - EMEA
Ingita Priyadarshini Manager, Sustainability Solutions - EMEA
Joëlle Thomas Senior Manager, Sustainability Solutions – EMEA

Amid growing concern about climate change and pressure from consumers and investors to accelerate their sustainability efforts, businesses are reaching a transformation point. They acknowledge the need to decarbonize yet most are ill-prepared for the Net Zero transformation.

Nearly two-thirds of organizations taking part in ENGIE Impact’s proprietary research say they have made some form of public commitment to address carbon emissions reduction, yet only 7% of the leaders of those organizations are confident they can leverage the local and corporate resources needed to drive decarbonization across operations. Having an implementation gap between stated ambition and execution is not uncommon.

This gap is not due to a lack of organizational will. Rather, it shows that embarking on a journey to Net Zero requires a fundamental transformation in the way an organization operates. Implementation of the necessary changes cannot be driven solely by policies and directives passed down from corporate headquarters. An ambitious trajectory implies the adoption of new processes, ways of working and tools across all levels of an organization, yet there are often barriers to fully embracing them.

Breaking down these barriers can be facilitated by launching a transformation program either to design and initiate a Net Zero strategy, or to accelerate implementation of an already-adopted roadmap. Such a program would use employee engagement levers that inspire and empower internal teams to catalyze the transformation of an organization toward Net Zero. By methodically nurturing a cycle of positive stakeholder engagement, organizations create a virtuous circle in which engaged employees contribute to the Net Zero journey.

The levers for initiating or accelerating a Net Zero trajectory are designed to give meaning to employees’ embrace of sustainability, are activated through experimentation, aim to deliver a cultural change that will nurture and energize one’s staff to implement the desired transformation, and help build trust among external stakeholders.

Achieving Net Zero Implies Cultural and Behavioral Changes Across an Organization

An organization’s journey to Net Zero takes sustained effort, sustainable investment, and often requires a fundamental shift in organizational approach and mentality. Entire organizations must be activated, from the C-suite to manufacturing sites and from business units to support functions. In this way, pursuing a Net Zero strategy will bring about several cultural changes within an organization, from investment criteria to production processes to new expectations of employees.

One critical change an organization should make is the adoption of new operational criteria, such as integrating climate costs and resilience considerations into decision-making processes, thinking for the long-term (total cost of ownership) rather than short-term ROI (return on investment), and introducing internal carbon pricing. Another would be adjusting the way one manufactures products or delivers services, putting sustainability front of mind. For instance, a manufacturer might redesign their facilities to increase efficiency and use renewable energy, or they might integrate circular economy into their production practices. Concerning employee management, we may see KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) reformulated to evaluate and reward staff based on environmental performance, such as whether they are embracing new ways of working and taking ownership of those sustainability areas they can influence.

Drivers of Cultural Change

Laying the groundwork for future-proof cultural change is part of a long-term strategy to implement a sustainable organizational transformation. The examples above may be initiated by corporate leadership but are powered by employee engagement, which is the key to transforming a company. The levers below are designed to change the culture of an organization from the bottom up to facilitate a Net Zero trajectory. An organization looking to become a genuinely sustainable, productive environment should activate the following levers at every stage of the journey from strategy to implementation.

Nurture

While necessary, inspiring and convincing employees to embrace sustainability is not sufficient for implementing a carbon transition. It must be nurtured amongst employees, and they should be given the means to act. This includes setting a managerial or governance framework and providing them with tools and financial means, as necessary.

The following initiatives are part of a proven formula for delivering company-wide sustainable transformation:

  • Education and training: this may include workshops, webinars, and online courses covering topics related to decarbonization efforts.
  • Incentives and recognition: companies can recognize and reward employees who actively contribute to achieving Net Zero targets. Incentives could include bonuses, extra paid time off, or recognition programs.
  • Carbon governance within companies: dedicated teams, specific training programs, and internal carbon funds integrated into the decision-making process are some of the enablers for driving day-to-day business and decision-making processes, integrating sustainability and carbon reduction into everyday life.

Give Meaning

To fully align its sustainability ambitions with its business strategy, an organization should engage its employees and motivate them to act sustainably. At issue is creating a new, shared company identity by developing new symbols, new rituals, and a new imaginary with its guiding narratives and vision, all of which should encourage employees to embrace sustainability as a shared responsibility. This can be accomplished by developing fictional scenarios, innovative processes, and inspiring actions to help employees fully assimilate the Net Zero ambition.

If this sounds abstract, consider it as imagining the organization's future by co-creating innovative, fictitious scenarios to inspire employees and foster a sense of belief in sustainability, exposing employees to a desirable future for the company and their work, and making these visions tangible. This can take the form of:

  • Sustainable city simulation: create a physical or virtual simulation of a sustainable city or workplace of the future. Such a simulation would highlight advanced sustainable practices, renewable energy sources, green infrastructure, and eco-friendly technologies. Immersing employees in a sustainable vision helps them imagine a future where sustainability is fully integrated into everyday life, encouraging them to contribute to these goals in the present
  • Sustainability visioning workshops: workshops or brainstorming sessions where employees envision a sustainable future for companies. Through guided discussions and creative exercises, employees can share ideas and aspirations
  • Storytelling and communication: companies can craft compelling stories or narratives to emotionally connect employees to the potentially positive outcomes of sustainability efforts linked to the company’s strategy.

Energize

The adage, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together’, is highly relevant for sustainability efforts. The success of implementing a decarbonization transformation hinges on building a collective, energizing and empowering your teams, fostering collaboration and engagement. This can be done by organizing regular challenges, dedicating funds to the effort, organizing events, sharing success stories and best practices, and fostering ownership by seeking employee input on sustainability initiatives and acting on them.

  • Employee engagement program: create employee engagement platforms or portals dedicated to sustainability initiatives and Net Zero targets. Platforms provide resources, tools, and interactive features that allow employees to track their carbon footprint, set goals, and participate in challenges or campaigns.
  • Collaboration and idea-sharing: this could include workshops, brainstorming sessions, or innovative workshops where employees can exchange ideas and share what they have learned individually.
  • Innovative sustainability competitions and future sustainability challenges: organize competitions where employees are invited to find creative solutions for sustainability challenges, such as designing sustainable products, processes, or services. Organizations can develop fictional scenarios that depict potential sustainability challenges the world may face in the future, such as resource scarcity, climate change impacts, social inequality, etc. This gives a glimpse into the urgency and importance of sustainability and reducing emissions in the present. 
  • Autonomy: select groups of employees can be given autonomy to experiment with innovative ideas and implement small-scale projects and gather feedback. 

Experiment

Experiments offer a chance to develop manageable, concrete examples of actions to address decarbonization objectives without taking the risk of directly diving into complex challenges or introducing systematic changes. They also lay the foundation for deeper change, acting as success stories on which more ambitious decarbonization programs can be built over time.

  • Pilot projects and test beds: companies can set these up using the agile methodology of project management (breaking the task into several phases, continual collaboration with stakeholders, evaluation, and improvement at every stage) to explore sustainable practices such as waste reduction initiatives, sustainable transportation solutions, and so forth. By showcasing tangible results, companies can inspire employees by making them believe that Net Zero targets are achievable through practical solutions.
  • Cross-functional collaboration: by engaging employees with diverse expertise and perspectives, and from departments such as product design, engineering, sourcing, etc.), lean design thinking principles (product improvement to maximize customer value) can be applied to explore different approaches. Even sustainability is cross-functional, and this helps advance the decarbonization journey of companies

Initiating or accelerating a Net Zero trajectory within an organization involves more than issuing directives from the top or taking piecemeal initiatives. It requires a systematic pursuit of cultural change, using employee engagement levers to inspire and empower internal teams to catalyze the transformation of an organization toward Net Zero. Experimentation with manageable solutions is a good place to start and pilot projects can foster novel solutions. Employees should be enabled to drive organizational change through training, tools, and financial support. Creating and sustaining the momentum of employee engagement can be accomplished by setting up events, platforms, and competitions. Systematically building a culture of sustainability is a surefire way to smooth and accelerate an organization’s Net Zero strategy.

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