In-House Climate Change: Use Communication to Engage Employees in Environmental Initiatives

By McDonald, Gabrielle | Communication World, November-December 2007 | Go to article overview

In-House Climate Change: Use Communication to Engage Employees in Environmental Initiatives


McDonald, Gabrielle, Communication World


With more than 40 percent of carbon emissions estimated to come from business, companies are under increased pressure to respond to climate change and show a commitment to environmentally friendly business practices. Using employee communication to raise awareness and change behavior can play a key role in reducing resource use, lowering emissions and maintaining profitability.

It would be fair to say that in the not-so-distant past, the prevailing view in business was that reducing greenhouse emissions and implementing environmentally friendly practices in the workplace were expensive, unprofitable and difficult. Yet, according to Australia's Climate Institute publication Top Ten Tipping Points on Climate Change, companies around the world are beginning to see such moves as a strategic way to drive business, with the development of new markets and new technologies, as well as areas for investment.

Businesses are increasingly having to address both international and national government requirements for compliance and regulation over their carbon emissions, along with more legislation over energy and water use, increases in energy prices, and requirements to disclose "green" credentials when tendering for new business. These pressures make being proactive about reducing an organization's impact on the environment a strategic and cost-effective option.

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However, one of the greatest forces for change can be a company's own employees. Climate change is being seen more and more as a moral issue, and people want to work for companies that "do the right thing." In any organization there will be employees with strong feelings o,1 this issue, as well as employees with limited awareness of or engagement with the issue. Not even the most robust environmental strategy will succeed if the employees of the organization are not aware of the environmental initiatives. Communicating the initiatives and actions to employees is paramount for achieving success.

Historically, the "environment" portfolio in large organizations has generally fallen into the hands of engineers or those with a technical background; the focus has been on physical infrastructure changes and technological approaches to reduce resource use and thus carbon emissions. However, there is only so much capital expenditure a business can undertake to reduce emissions and remain viable and profitable.

This is where communicating with employees about environmental initiatives can make a real difference. It is possible to achieve effective, measurable results in both increased awareness and actual carbon emissions reduction through communication. Developing and actively changing employee behavior in relation to the environment and engaging employees wholeheartedly in green initiatives such as energy, saving can deliver great success, without additional expense (see "Project Green Light," below).

Game plan for going green

Consider the following factors when implementing an environmentally focused employee communication program.

Get senior leadership support. The most challenging part of the process is making the environment a priority for your organization. To bring senior leaders on board, you need to build a strong business case on the financial, economic, social and market reasons why the issue can no longer be ignored.

Move closer to your audience. Once you have the support of senior management, it is important that you move closer to understanding your audience. How might the motivation and messaging vary for a machine operator on the factory floor or an accountant at the head office? The machine operator may have direct safety and productivity concerns, whereas the accountant needs to be convinced that any expenditure is justifiable. Be aware of the degree of skepticism and cynicism that may arise in relation to an environmental initiative such as energy saving--it could be construed as a cost-cutting exercise rather than an integral part of the business strategy. …

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