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Changing behaviors to support sustainable business practices

Posted Jul 16 2012 2:20pm

This post first appeared in the  Huffington Post  in June 2012, written by Anca Novacovici. 

Employee engagement strategies can catapult the success of your sustainability program, as demonstrated by Caesars. They have shown that good employee engagement efforts translate into lasting results. Unfortunately, for many companies, employee engagement is not seen as a priority. A frequent comment I hear from executives is: ‘If we tell staff to do this, they will do it.’ Based on past experience, unless you have the active support of individuals across the organization — not just at the beginning, when the program is new and sexy, but on an ongoing basis — it will fail, or at least, it will not be as successful as it could be.

Put yourself in your staff’s shoes (if you’re not there already!). If you are told what to do, but aren’t told why and what’s in it for you, what is the impetus to do it? Why is this program worth the effort and why should you add more work to your already full plate?

That is why it is important to focus on staff — technology and mandates will only go so far. Some organizations have figured this out — and their next question is — how do we do this successfully? Great question. The answer is complex and depends on the organizational culture and each individual within that culture. Sample approaches include making sustainable behavior the social default, and creating opportunities to develop relevant skills, competencies and knowledge.

One large organization — actually, the world’s largest gaming corporation, Caesars Entertainment Corporation* — has successfully done this through internal grassroots efforts. CodeGreen, their sustainability initiative, was launched in 2008, and Gwen Migita, then Executive Development Director, Adviser, and Chief of Staff to Caesars Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications & Government Relations, was appointed to lead it.

Since a young age, Gwen had been heavily involved with local communities, being one of the youngest founding members of a Rotary Club (the Hawaii Club), and continuing her involvement with community and social justice issues throughout her career. Given her background and passion for community issues, her focus for the program has been on social as well as environmental sustainability. This has enabled Caesars to address two legs of the triple bottom line, while of course keeping in mind the third, profit.

The focus of Caesars’ initiative was, and continues to be, threefold: employee engagement, cost savings and branding. Since the inception of the program, and even though it is corporate-driven, Caesars has encouraged grassroots efforts. Migita and her team have accomplished this by continually evolving the program to keep and spread interest among front line employees.

CodeGreen falls under Caesars’ corporate ethos, the Code of Commitment — a large component of which is focused on a commitment to make their communities vibrant places to live. The grassroots approach was a result, in part, of the corporate culture — the majority of front-line employees are not in front of the computer, therefore engagement had to be face to face and site by site, via town halls, posters, and other direct approaches. Individuals were encouraged to come up with ‘green’ ideas and implement them. CodeGreen leaders were designated at each resort and asked to support staff as well as the overall initiative.

Between 2008 and 2010, the focus was on showcasing individual stories and successes throughout the company. This was achieved in conjunction with a top-down approach, which detailed a strategy that all properties needed to follow on a month-by-month basis. One employee initiative involved individuals who used window dressings/curtains, wooden pallets and crow modeling which were removed from hotel room remodels and redesigned them into tote bags, purses, gardening tables, and other objects to be sold at two properties’ Green Farmers Market. Another resulted in the development of a filtering system to turn waste vegetable oil from another property’s kitchens into clean-burning bio-fuel, which was then used to heat a warehouse and run company vehicles. In addition, an 18-month competition was launched that included three phases: energy conservation, recycling, and awards and recognition.

In 2010, Migita and her team began tracking results by implementing a balanced scorecard. This helped create some healthy competition among property leaders. However, with front-line employees, the approach was closer to community organizing to ensure continued engagement. Employees were provided with a toolkit and resources to support new ideas and sustainability projects.

As Gwen states, “Employee engagement is an ongoing effort. What works at one property may not work at another, so we have developed a program that provides guidelines but that is also flexible enough to encourage individual contribution and growth on this front.”

The latest development has been CodeGreen at Work Grants, designed to fund ideas around conservation or revenue generation, and the Total CodeGreen at Home Grants, to reward individual employees for creative conservation at home. An example of a ‘At Work Grant’ is a grant awarded for converting vacant land around one property for farming purposes. The land will be used in part to grow food that will be served in the dining room; a portion of it will also be used as a community garden for staff.

Caesars’ Codegreen is an example of how a large organization with multiple locations has encouraged grassroots sustainability efforts. The same can be applied on a smaller scale to any organization — even a small business can find ways to encourage ideas and contributions from front line employees. There are likely individuals within your organization who would love to contribute ideas — you just need to ask and encourage them to do so.

*Anca Novacovici and Eco-Coach are not affiliated in any way with Caesars, nor have worked with them in the past.

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