Report Questions Effectiveness of Employers’ Green Initiatives

By Steve Bates Dec 22, 2011
Organizations are engaging more employees in sustainability initiatives, but the effectiveness of these efforts has declined, according to a new survey report by Brighter Planet, a sustainability technology company.

The report, Greening the Workplace 2011, released in December 2011, follows a 2009 report on the same subject by the organization. The new report finds that shareholder pressure and greater demands for corporate accountability are the fastest growing catalysts for greener workplaces, though many other factors are involved. The report found that sales and marketing remain the main drivers for sustainability efforts in the workplace.

“Although [sustainability] engagement efforts are spreading, their effectiveness has dropped, with programs deemed very effective or somewhat effective decreasing by 8 [percentage points] in the last two years,” according to the report. “While the vast majority of companies attempt some sort of environmental promotion, only 17 percent were rated very effective. The most successful organizations have official policies with upper-level leadership.”

Data for the report were gathered through an online survey in October 2011.

Compared with the 2009 results, the Brighter Planet report said, “organizations are increasingly engaging employees on sustainability to at least some degree—more than half now promote it frequently or very frequently,”—up 5 percentage points. “Only 8 percent of respondents indicated their employer never promotes conservation in the workplace.”

However, the report noted that “most employers still lack official engagement policies on sustainability. And although engagement efforts are spreading, their effectiveness has dropped, with programs deemed very effective or somewhat effective” declining by 8 percentage points, from 66 percent to 58 percent of respondents, over two years. Employee satisfaction with sustainability engagement programs has remained essentially flat.

“The growing prevalence but decreasing effectiveness of employee sustainability engagement efforts could signal the need for a shift in focus by groups working to expand the employee engagement movement,” the report said. “The data suggest we have reached a point at which effort may need to be transferred from recruiting new organizations to helping organizations that are already promoting staff conservation improve their practices with new tools and techniques.”

Staff sustainability is practiced in a variety of arenas, led by waste and recycling and followed by energy use, commuting practices and purchasing and procurement efforts. Employees are the main advocates for sustainability, but less so in 2011 than in 2009, according to the report. “Management is the main sustainability driver in just one in five organizations, but this number is increasing.”

Other findings in the Brighter Planet 2011 report:

  • The financial services, government and wholesale sectors have the worst record in sustainability, while environmental, energy, utility and nonprofit organizations get the highest ratings for program effectiveness. Small organizations tend to do better than large ones.
  • Programs promoting sustainability in emerging areas such as business travel, purchasing, water use and food are rated as the most effective.
  • Organizations with a system for employees to share ideas, including use of electronic media, are much more likely than other programs to be rated as “very effective” by employees.
  • Demands for corporate and social responsibility are at an all-time high,” said Patti Prairie, Brighter Planet’s CEO, in a news release. “Many organizations are floundering in their efforts to promote sustainability. Our survey and analysis is a guide for engaging employees in initiatives that can have a direct impact on the triple bottom line—people, profits and the planet.”

Steve Bates is manager of online editorial content for SHRM. He can be reached at

Related Articles:

Humanitarian Needs, Company Presence Guide Charity, SHRM Online Ethics & Sustainability Discipline, December 2011

HR Has Key Role in Sustainability Strategy, Report Finds, SHRM Online Ethics & Sustainability Discipline, April 2011

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