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New NEEF Study Shows that Sustainability Engages Employees

Most sustainability professionals believe that engaging employees in sustainability leads to greater overall job satisfaction, but this belief is often based on little more than anecdotal evidence.  A new report by the National Environmental Education Fund (NEEF) provides some promising results to support this view.

Winning in the Marketplace and Workplace: Activating the Workplace by Engaging Employees in Sustainability is based on a survey of four companies to better understand the relationship between employee engagement in sustainability and job satisfaction.

Before the study could be conducted, NEEF needed to bridge a gap between how sustainability and human resources practitioners define and measure employee engagement. Sustainability professionals define employee engagement by how motivated and involved employees are with sustainability goals and program initiatives. This is often measured anecdotally or by number of hours of participation. Human resources professionals define employee engagement as their emotional commitment and discretionary effort and measure that with an index that uses employee survey answers.

NEEF worked with corporate leaders to create two comparable indices – a sustainability engagement index and an employee engagement index. This made the results from the questions on sustainability engagement comparable with questions on traditional employee engagement, allowing for the relationship to be better understood.

Some key findings from the report are:

  • Sustainability engagement positively impacts nearly all dimensions of traditional employee engagement
  • Nearly 90% of employees engaged with their company’s sustainability work say it enhances their job satisfaction and overall feelings about the company
  • The dimensions of sustainability engagement that have the biggest impact on employee engagement are whether an employee can incorporate sustainability practices into his or her job or personal life.

The report also discovered three best practices for creating and measuring successful programs, based on case studies at Interface, PwC, and SAP:

  • Create transformative sustainability engagement opportunities that offer opportunities for personal and professional development to foster purpose and drive employee engagement
  • Work within the existing business measures established by HR to measure sustainability and employee engagement
  • Demonstrate the value of sustainability engagement by linking measures of social impact to more traditional HR measures of employee engagement such as discretionary effort, retention, and pride.