The power of team in this space is vital: not only to help your organisation have the internal resource to ensure that you are ‘walking the talk’, but also given the multiplying effect. If you engage your colleagues, their individual impact will be greater and the ripple effect on their families, friends and acquaintances greatly increases.

Stephens Scown LLP has always been acutely aware of the importance and power of employee engagement – becoming the UK’s first employee-owned law firm. As an HR specialist lawyer I often work with businesses to help them maintain their ethos and culture; experience which has been invaluable in our own journey of becoming a Certified B CorporationTM, and an experience that we are happy to discuss and share with other businesses interested in becoming B CorpTM Certified. Here are my key learnings and some of our experiences:

Drive change upwards

Involve employees in the planning, design and implementation of any actions you take. Although external consultants can add a lot of value, real and authentic change comes from within. Get employees to input their ideas for achieving your goals and to truly feel part of the change sought, with responsibility and connection to the decisions made. This can be done through formal governance structures (like employee ownership, shadow boards or staff councils) and/or through more informal groupings or teams.

It’s helpful to invite representatives from across all levels of the business; providing a great learning and collaboration opportunity and bringing diversity of ideas. Those colleagues then act as advocates across the business – your ‘green champions’. Employees are more likely to get on board if they see their colleagues passionately getting involved and being listened to.

We found that having a team of around 10 volunteers from across all levels of the firm in our Giving Back Team really propelled us forward. The team includes a Board Member and meets quarterly. Providing ethical chocolate at those meetings definitely helps!

Bake sustainability into your decision making

Colleagues can tell when you are not walking the talk. It’s really important once you have set a sustainability commitment to properly bake this into all your decision making. A good starting point is to ensure your organisational and employee values reflect your commitments. One of ours is ‘Doing Good Matters’. At the start of every Board meeting, we remind ourselves of the commitment we have made as a B CorpTM to balance people, planet and profit.

This filters through to our business planning and procurement. An example is making sure that any gifts we give to staff are sourced appropriately and that our catering at firm events is 50% vegetarian. It’s not always possible to get this right. Some colleagues really did not appreciate the vegan sweets we sent to them at home through Covid!

It also helps engagement to discuss your goals and culture around sustainability with new joiners at induction and explain how they can get involved. We also give everyone a reusable water bottle.
We actively set objectives for teams and colleagues in their annual appraisals, which feed into our Giving Back programme: such as challenging them to arrange a volunteering event like tree planting.

To make sure your business is accountable you also need to be transparent about how the journey is going. For five years we have published an annual report, which we release both internally and externally, and which is available to view here. This is also a mandatory requirement for all B CorpTM businesses.

I have found that it is most powerful to focus on the ‘why’ and not just the ‘what’ in your communications around sustainability. This also then adds to engagement as people are more likely to emotionally connect and look for further ways to get involved and make a difference.

Find ways to make this a win-win

In the same way that the increased energy costs have forced all of us to address our energy use, if you can find ways to make sustainable practices at work the norm or easier, it can really help drive engagement and change.

Some examples are:

  • having just one switch on each desk to turn off all electronic equipment at the end of the day;
  • giving car park spaces or extra expenses per mile to employees who car share;
  • fitting elective vehicle charge points to all offices;
  • enabling electric car and cycle salary sacrifice schemes through work;
  • setting the default investment settings on your company pension to focus on ethical investments;
  • and ensuring you have tech and process set ups that are easy to use and minimise the need for printing.

We have also empowered our colleagues to support the causes that are important to them by giving everyone three paid volunteer days per annum and donations to their personal fundraising activities. This enables your team to engage directly with what interests them in this area. We have increased awareness of environmental issues by inviting external speakers to do lunchtime talks about plastic pollution, climate change and carbon footprints.

We have also celebrated events like staff long-service awards or other good results by giving donations to green charities and explaining to staff why this is important, alongside rewarding our colleagues personally for their successes.

Embed this in your Policies

To make your sustainability practices stick in the long run, you need to get it enshrined in your policies and followed on the ground. Some wider ideas I have come across for policies include:

  • Green Travel Policy: guiding staff on how they should choose to travel. Consider giving staff an extra day’s leave if they chose to travel by more sustainable methods (like train rather than flying).
  • Dress Code Policy: sourcing uniforms sustainably, providing a sustainable clothing allowance and re-using returned clean uniform.
  • Sabbaticals – allowing employees to take paid or more leave if involved in green volunteering.
  • Flexible Working Policies – allow home working to reduce commuting, perhaps with requirements or incentive to use renewable energy at home.
  • Whistleblowing Policy – make it clear to employees that they should report environmental concerns related to the business.

Challenging defeatism

Some people may take a negative view of your commitments and question the difference you can make. The more you walk the talk and encourage this through your culture, the more they are likely to engage or at least go along with this or vote with their feet. If, however, the person is becoming disruptive, do seek our support. Carrot is usually better than stick – and in my experience even the hardest naysayer can be brought around through some of the above practices.

If you are seeking advice or have any questions in relation to this article, please contact our Employment team.