For firms and organizations looking to join the ranks of other industry leaders and assume the mantle of social responsibility, the first key step is engaging and uniting your most valuable resource: your employee base. Consider every interested employee in the process, they bring a level of diversity in departments, expertise, and interactions with outside stakeholders. Joining their talents and interests together creates a network of pioneers among your existing employees who can set the tone for the rest of the firm.
THE POWER OF THE SUSTAINABILITY AMBASSADOR
As a prominent sustainability ambassador for his company, Interface, Inc. Founder and Visionary Ray Anderson embraced a personal change on the role of corporate social responsibility, leading to the initiation of “Mission Zero” — a plan for Interface to eliminate all its negative impacts on the environment. Since 1998, Interface has saved US$450 million through its new business practices, achieving feats like sending 94% less waste to the landfill and wasting 83% less water.
“There must be a clear, demonstrable alternative to the take-make-waste industrial system that so dominates our civilization, and is the major culprit, stealing our children’s future, by digging up the earth and converting it to products that quickly become waste in a landfill or an incinerator.”
— Ray Anderson, Founder of Interface, Inc.
Just as Anderson’s firm arrived at a series of new solutions through his efforts as a sustainability ambassador, companies of all sizes and industries can benefit from developing a sustainability ambassador network amongst employees at all levels — from new entrants to visionaries at the top echelons of leadership.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution for developing an effective sustainability ambassador program, but here are 6 tips for building a sustainability ambassador network that can be tailored to suit the needs, values, and goals of your firm.
1. START SMALL
Create a small team with a well-defined mission. The size of the team should be manageable: large enough that varying perspectives, departments, and skill sets can contribute to the mission of the network, but not so large that it becomes difficult to coordinate human resources. Be ambitious in your ability to build future capacity, but stay realistic, understanding that scale will only come through the series of incremental successes and engagements.
2. ENGAGE AND EDUCATE
Inform your company’s leaders and sustainability team through multiple channels. Send out emails, publish newsletters, and host meetings at regular intervals to inform and remind your organization that sustainability is an ongoing priority. Build partnerships on the inside to engage diverse members of your employee base, and build partnerships on the outside as well — connect with industry organizations, cross-sector consortia, consulting firms or NGOs that share your sustainability agenda.
3. EMPOWER YOUR PEOPLE
Provide your sustainability ambassador network with the autonomy and freedom to “run with it.” Give people the opportunity to grow themselves professionally and personally through mentorship and taking on sustainability-oriented projects — this will both enhance their leadership qualities and help them become successful corporate change-makers. Be sure they receive a significant source of their motivation through contact and recognition from senior management, a critical factor not only from a visibility perspective but also in simply knowing that the work your ambassadors are doing is valued at the top of the organization.
4. GROW ORGANICALLY
As your sustainability ambassador network grows, don’t be afraid to let it flourish beyond your own control. Allowing employees to individually and collectively build programs that are important to them is one of the fastest ways for business-aligned sustainability strategies to grow in scale. At first, this may mean that the goals and objectives of executive leadership may not be seen as a priority, but keep in mind that these goals will not be a priority if the same staff is disengaged. It’s better to take the long road to large-scale change if it means progress is driven and sustained by a wider cultural shift.
5. RECOGNIZE AND REWARD
Visibly acknowledge and praise the accomplishments of your sustainability ambassadors. On a regular basis, be it through employee newsletters, internal websites, or awards, firms need to recognize and reward the work being done by their ambassadors. This is your way to both celebrate their success and encourage others to join the network. Praising your ambassadors’ accomplishments not only ensures that the ambassadors themselves will remain engaged, but will also be a primary means by which others will learn about and engage in future initiatives and programs.
6. REMAIN COMMITTED
Through good times and bad, organizations and their leadership must remain committed to the process of building a sustainable practice, and to the team delivering strong projects, events, and partnerships. When there are tactical and programmatic setbacks or “lean times” for your firm, ignore others’ calls to cut back. Instead, call on your ambassadors to learn from the program’s failures, make adjustments to prevent future mishaps, and invest better when considering new initiatives or investments. Just as in all things with business and development, perseverance is key.
Want to learn more tips, ambassador archetypes, and strategies for helping your firm become a sustainability leader? Check out Collective’s full report on Building a Sustainability Ambassador Network.
This article was adapted from our original report by Gabrielle Williams, Research Analyst at Collective Responsibility.