Five steps to engage employees in company sustainability programs.
Since its grassroots inception, Adobe’s sustainability program has created opportunities for all employees to be environmental advocates.
The program started in 2009, when a group of employees in San Jose, Calif., wanted to encourage co-workers to live more sustainably, so they planted a rooftop garden and launched a brown-bag lunch series featuring guest speakers who were experts on environmental topics. This first employee-led sustainability group offered opportunities to build knowledge and competence, empowering employees to implement sustainability solutions at work and home.
Today, there are 22 global employee-led teams that focus on programs offering co-workers quick, easy ways to engage on key environmental issues. Adobe’s corporate responsibility team provides resources, encouragement, and support for the teams and for sustainability events.
At a recent event, more than 200 employees lined up over lunch to purchase discounted energy and water saving kits. Many of these employees participated because it was a low-effort habit change that would also save them money.
Individual action is important, but the program also works because it is aligned to the company’s broader sustainability goals. This creates a sense of purpose for employees as they contribute toward a greater goal, and it empowers them to be able to suggest corporate level changes.
Sustainability professionals and employee advocates across the company help make sustainability a widely recognized part of Adobe’s culture. Its environmental leadership has helped the company attract top talent, retain committed employees, and build a workforce that cares about its global footprint.
How to Launch a Sustainability Program
As organizations are looking to increase sustainability in the workplace, here are five steps to launch an employee program:
1. Create a corporate sustainability strategy and ensure it’s understood. Implementing a corporate sustainability strategy and helping your employees understand it will play a key role in your success. It will allow employees to feel engaged at both the corporate and personal levels.
If you don’t have a corporate sustainability mission, creating one should be a top priority. If you do, build a communication strategy that supports it and start spreading the word.
2. Find sustainability champions for each location/ department. Recruiting the right people to serve as “sustainability champions” will help set the tone for the program. They are, after all, the people on the ground in each setting.
Take notice of employees who offer their time during sustainability events—they’re likely to be active program leaders and participants. Then position the sustainability champion role as both a leadership development opportunity and a way to raise visibility at the site.
3. Provide corporate-level support for sustainability champions. Every quarter, the corporate responsibility team has a kickoff meeting with the sustainability champions, where they are provided a guide to thematic project ideas that can be implemented locally. Since each setting is unique, this allows the local champions to organize site-appropriate projects that will resonate with their co-workers. The kickoff meeting is a place for the champions to share ideas with one another and for the corporate responsibility team to offer support, but, ultimately, the champions are the ones who are on the ground making it all happen.
4. Determine a sustainability theme for each quarter. Employees want and need structure to maintain program momentum throughout the year—it’s not just about Earth Day. At Adobe, for example, a quarterly theme drives specific activities focused on renewable energy, sustainability at home, water conservation, and waste reduction. The themes repeat each year, educating employees and inspiring individual projects that add to the positive environmental impact.
During the waste reduction-themed quarter, the San Jose office held a freecycle event inspired by Yahoo. Employees brought in items they didn’t use, including electronics and household items. Other team members took what they needed, and by the end of the event there was only a handful of items left to donate. All of the items might have otherwise ended up in a landfill. By choosing themed activities that a wide range of employees can easily participate in, it’s possible to have a bigger impact.
5. Create a menu of incentives for each theme. Once employees understand corporate sustainability strategies, many of them want to implement these strategies in their own homes. To encourage and support them, Adobe negotiates between 10 and 15 percent discounts on local and global items connected to each quarter’s theme. Emphasizing costsaving solutions makes it appealing for employees to participate.
When the focus was on renewable energy, the company offered a number of discounts on at-home solar panels. Electric vehicle and charger discounts, as well as electric vehicle test drive events, were also very popular. The current U.S. numbers for the solar discounts are 83 leads on solar panels and seven purchases.
The great thing about sustainability is that it creates a chain reaction. One small project can inspire others—even to take an idea to the next level. The rooftop garden that employees started several years ago at the Adobe San Jose office still provides vegetables, but it has now inspired the San Francisco office to start its own office garden. More than 35 employees tend the garden, growing vegetables for a non-profit that provides free produce to people in need.
How do you keep participating employees engaged and attract new employees to your sustainability programs? Offer a wide range of meaningful projects and engagement opportunities—from gardens to energy saving kits—making everyone an environmental advocate.
Liz Lowe is the innovation lead of sustainability and corporate responsibility at Adobe.