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Employee Engagement and Innovation: a Virtuous Cycle

A recent post on GreenBiz.com’s blog called for the disruption of traditional business models to spur innovation and sustainability. It got us thinking about nontraditional ways to drive innovation. This led us back to a topic we feel strongly about: Employee Engagement. Involving your team in sustainability leads to innovation, sometimes in ways that are unexpected.

One of the best ways to drive innovation is by allowing your staff to pursue projects they feel passionate about. If an employee presents an idea that you do not have the resources to execute, consider asking them to find a way to make it work. Challenges like these often lead to inspiration and creativity, often magnifying engagement, because most people take pride in overcoming an obstacle.

Campbell Soup Company has a goal of 100% employee engagement in Corporate Social Responsibility activities by the year 2020. The company recognizes that participating in sustainability can mean many different things, so it offers a variety of ways employees can participate. This draws in a greater number of employees. For example, in 2012, Campbell’s employees collaborated with the Food Bank of South New Jersey to divert thousands of pounds of bruised, but completely edible, peaches from the landfill into a product that could be donated to the Food Bank. The result was “Just Peachy” salsa. Without any significant financial resources to make the project a reality, various departments within the company worked together to create a recipe, gather donations from suppliers, and manufacture the salsa using its R&D plant. Employees even labeled the jars by hand because the plant lacked a machine to do the job. Salsa team members participated based on their interests and skills. Sometimes top management needs to develop guidance and provide support, and then get out of the way! Empowering employees to be creative can have powerful results.

Making an important sustainability project a reality is often about turning “can’t do” into “can do.” The GreenBiz blog post that got us thinking about this states, “For sustainability leaders, innovation is key to meeting human needs within planetary limits.” How can companies and their employees do their part to meet this larger challenge? First, ensure that each exchange in your value chain serves as an opportunity for innovation and impact. Second, acknowledge that sometimes you have to change your way of thinking. Business model innovation does not take place in a vacuum. It requires creative thinking throughout an organization. Make every effort to challenge your employees to find more sustainable ways of doing business. Disrupting old business models and valuing employees’ innovative contributions can move your sustainability initiatives, and your business as a whole, in the right direction.

Click here to download Sustrana’s white paper on using sustainability to spur employee engagement! 

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