Connecting sustainability to your employees’ personal lives can have powerful results for your business. Personal connections to sustainability foster long-lasting behavioral changes.  We’ve posted two other blogs about Connecting Sustainability, one on energy and the other on water. Posting these made me think about a green cleaning disconnect I observed a few years ago.

I was doing an audit of the work of a green cleaning service. The cleaners had color-coded microfiber cloths and appropriate cleaning chemicals and equipment. It soon became clear that the workers I was following had a poor understanding of how to use their tools. More important, they did not realize that green cleaning protects them as well as the occupants of the building. 

One cleaner finished cleaning a bathroom and moved to the hall to clean the drinking fountain. She used the same cloth she had used to clean the stainless steel walls of the toilets stalls.  She declined my invitation to drink from the fountain, but got the point. She re-cleaned the drinking fountain with a different, clean cloth. Another cleaner dusted by moving the dust from flat surfaces to the air. We suggested that he could leave his dust mask at home if he dusted to keep dust particles on the cloth and out of the air. We demonstrated proper dusting techniques and explained how microfiber cloths work.

Engagement in sustainable practices is difficult to achieve without personal connections to the work. The woman cleaning knew she would never have to drink out of that fountain. So the process she used was irrelevant to her. The man dusting didn't realize that there were healthier methods for cleaning.  These workers lacked training, but they also lacked the kind of personal ties that make training make sense.

The story illustrates how important it is to focus on educating people when baking sustainability into your business. The concept sustainability education is often misunderstood.  It is less about providing facts and much more about helping people to reflect on the impacts of their behavior. This is true for green cleaning and any other sustainability initiative. Had the woman cleaning the water fountain connected to drinking from it, she might have thought twice before using a soiled cloth to clean it. Had the man dusting understood the capabilities and methods for microfiber dusting, he would have used his tools to better protect his health.

An important part of being a sustainability manager is to find emotional connections for employees. People need personalized connections to care about changing their behavior and that of those around them. This is how new social norms and business cultures evolve.

Try to create connections for your employees.

One way is to actually show them how to do green cleaning! When implementing a green cleaning program, use demonstrations of good and poor practices to connect employees to what you are trying to achieve.  One great reason for instituting day cleaning (besides saving energy) is the real time education you can give your workforce. Let them see the methods and benefits of green cleaning. Let your cleaners connect to the real people they are cleaning for. Both will connect better to the purpose of green cleaning and its focus on the health of both the cleaner and the occupant. As an added benefit, your employees might even take green cleaning concepts home to their families

So spark a chain reaction in your company! Let your employees know how they can help. Make it a team effort that will better your company’s workplace and deepen its commitment to sustainability right down to a personal level.  Want more specifics? Check out our Sustainability in Action blog on green cleaning.