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Linking Employee Engagement With Sustainability

Employees want to be proud of their organisation, they want to work for a responsible business, and they have lots of great ideas to share. Our London agency SAS, in partnership with WSP, an environmental advisory and sustainability practice and part of WSP Group Plc,   recently conducted a breakfast briefing to recognize sustainability as a business imperative and the role of employees in driving it.

We bring you five succinct points that employees need to consider while approaching sustainability, a straw poll taken at the meeting, insights from the top experts in the field and excerpts of two case studies as told by representatives of Glaxo Smith Kline and National Grid.

For more details on the briefing, download this PDF.

According to a recent study, 65% of respondents agree or strongly agree they are interested in environmental issues. David Symons, Director at WSP Environment & Energy, was keen to stress it was not just the young or blue collar workers who made up the 65%, but people across the social spectrum.


The briefing explored the link between sustainability and employee engagement, and speakers shared their own stories on the purpose and approach, to final results. It attracted HR professionals from organisations such as Virgin Media, Diageo, Sainsbury’s, Rothchilds, EDF Energy, Lloyds Banking Group, BAA, Nationwide, Balfour Beatty, Sanofi, Reed Elsevier, Linklaters.

Five points for employees to consider when approaching sustainability:

  • Be clear – Reducing energy consumption, restricting travel, improving employee health, increasing staff loyalty and raising corporate profile could all be drivers, but be clear on what you are doing and why you are doing it.
  • Engagement – not every sustainability practice will engage employees. If you implement a travel policy that limits face-toface time, in exchange of video conferences, those employees who love to travel and joined the company to do just that, will not be best pleased.
  • Pride – is not guaranteed from employees just because you have a recycling programme.
  • Imagination – you must make this interesting for employees.
  • Measure success – there are some easy ways to collate data like recycling rates and carbon footprints, but harder to measure an increase in staff commitment or stronger ambassadors.

Louisa Moreton, Client Partner at SAS, looked at the journey between engagement and sustainability, and ‘Greenwash’ – an approach to sustainability that is not bundled with a bigger offer. One example of such a malpractice is of a chocolate manufacturer that encourages consumers to buy more chocolate with an incentive that they will supply sports equipment for schools. She also warned that many volunteering projects have not been sustainable, but there are signs this is changing.

Louisa talked around the Service Value Chain, a model that links to some of David’s key points and works on the premise, that if you treat your employees well, you impact the bottom line positively for your company. The results are tangible; you might sell more, gain free PR, attract great talent, win new business etc. She cited ‘Reputation’ to be the essential glue to any Service Value Chain model.

Our Insights

Employee volunteering was probably the first tactic to bring together engagement and CSR, and in fact for many companies this was a way of “team-building” whilst also doing some good. Unlike reducing building energy consumption, organisations are only able to keep their promises to local communities or charities by engaging their employees to deliver on it. Increasingly today, employee engagement and sustainability are woven together with companies clear that they need everyone pointed in the same direction in order to achieve wider goals.

Louisa argued that reputation sits in the intersection between employee engagement and sustainability – because when the two come together there is authenticity and credibility and that is attractive to employees who in turn enthuse customers and stakeholders (the service profit chain still holds true).

Client Experiences

Clare Brosnan, Programme Director for London 2012 at GSK presented insights into how the company’s investment in support of the London 2012 games is being used to engage 100,000 global employees. Their mission is to help deliver the ‘cleanest games possible’ – GSK is providing all the medical facilities that will test 6,200 athletes at the games.

Ian Glover, Environment and Sustainability Manager at National Grid talked about the company’s commitment to being an innovative leader in energy management and to safeguarding the global environment.

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