Taking Sustainability Seriously

If we look honestly at what does not work, we begin to see a pattern. The things that are breaking are the systems that are no longer sustainable under the stress of a changing world. ”We are at a significant crossroads for our species,” says Keith Perske, a Principal at E-Business Strategies. “We must move from our evolutionarily advantageous practice of pillaging to the now essential lifestyle of stewardship.”

Luminary recipient and a sought after writer, speaker, and educator, Perske specializes in helping organizations with mobility, social media, and technology in the built environment. “Change, particularly big change, only happens when sticking with the old way is more painful than moving to the new. But we cannot afford to feel how bad the way of pillaging can get before we change. We need to mindfully and individually decide to change now how we source products, build buildings, consume energy, etc. and make choices to do it differently from our ancestors. If we do not, the consequences are massive starvation, deteriorating health, environmental collapse, social unrest and eventually war,” he says.

The pendulum is swinging towards meaningful conversations in the workplace characterized by coaching and mentoring employees. Research from the global management consulting firm Hay Group shows that highly engaged employees improve business performance by up to 30% and that fully engaged employees are 2.5 times more likely to exceed performance expectations than their ‘disengaged’ colleagues.

The system breaks down when companies fail to adequately recognize what motivates and engages their employees in the first place. That is why more are embedding sustainability into their organizations. They are increasingly recognizing the key role that their employees play in making these efforts a success. Taking sustainability seriously goes beyond sustainability reports. It is about getting the whole company to move together.

Most employees want to do a good job. When employees take their roles seriously and demonstrate their drive to “Exceed Expectations”, they become key players that will drive a company in a sustainable direction. With younger employees increasingly committed to sustainability as a way of life. eBay’s employee green team has over 2,400 employees across the company working on everything from eliminating Styrofoam cups in break rooms to encouraging eBay to build large solar installations at their San Jose, California headquarters. But green teams are only the tip of the iceberg.

IBM is one of several companies that have gone further, by actually inviting its employees to help determine the company’s overall sustainability strategy. IBM’s Big Green Innovations program includes environmental initiatives. They have discovered that green is good but not enough in itself. “Greening” the office is fine but the breakdown comes when employees begin struggling with what they themselves perceive to be poor job performance when it comes to green and that can be stressful. Beyond green, workers who feel their poor job performance could result in physical injury, damage to company’s equipment or reputation, or financial loss, they are twice as likely to experience high levels of stress. And employees working long or variable hours tend to experience more workplace stress. The system is broken and unsustainable unless employees have access to resources that address their mental health concerns. Employers should be asking, ‘What am I doing to reduce stress in my most valuable people?'”

Microsoft designed Windows Phone 7 with the mobile business user in mind. It aptly meets the needs of harried workers looking for easy, intuitive ways to handle stressful  business needs from their mobile phones. Equipping employees with smartphones that integrate company IT infrastructure makes working from mobile devices convenient rather than a headache. Cloud computing solutions has also erased the limits that used to exist when workers attempted to conduct business outside the office.

The biggest threat will arrive in the coming decades when many organizations  face operational discontinuity because they cannot transfer knowledge to a stable workforce. Companies have a choice. They can let change happen to them, or they can take a sustainable approach and manage change by designing engaging work experiences.

The best organizations will create core competencies around embracing change, anticipating it, and turning it to their competitive advantage. This brave new world of business will invest in new technologies and development. True sustainability is creating a culture that embraces change and develops creative strategies to serve customers and retain key people during the transition.

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One Response to Taking Sustainability Seriously

  1. Sidra February 27, 2012 at 12:39 pm #

    Great post! It is important to highlight to the employees and customers that going green is not the in thing rather its makes economic and social sense. We just made a powerpoint deck to help businesses interested in employee engagement

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