When it comes to supporting their employer’s climate agenda, there’s a difference between what workers want and what they’re getting. On the one hand, employee hunger for workplaces to be more climate-focused is undeniable: Around 70% of employees and job seekers say a sustainability program makes an employer more appealing, while 44% of executives consider their company’s climate initiatives to be an effective tool for recruitment and retention.
On the other hand, multiple surveys have shown that a significant number of workers feel they need more information on their employers’ climate goals, as well as training on how to help the company reach those goals.
One way employers can bridge this divide: Think like a customer experience manager.
As a growing number of consumers consider a company’s climate policies in deciding how to spend their money, organizations are increasingly designing customer journeys that put sustainability front and center. “If you really want to grow business, it’s about creating an emotional connection with your brand,” says Jon Chorley, chief sustainability officer at Oracle. He cites the company’s ‘No Planet B’ study, which found that 70% of consumers would stop supporting a brand if they found their sustainability initiatives inadequate.
“Other than saving the planet, that’s one of the most important aspects of sustainability for companies: alignment of your objectives as a business with the values of your customer,” says Chorley.
In the same way, employers looking to sustain and deepen employee engagement on their climate goals can start by thinking of their workers as customers—and borrowing best practices from their CX managers to foster that values alignment. Here’s how.
Tear down information silos.
Chorley stresses that embedding sustainability into the customer journey requires two key traits: authenticity and transparency. “If you can communicate good information to your consumer that can back up sustainability objectives,” he says, “you are much more able to create a meaningful alignment between sustainability, your brand, and your relationship with the consumer.” Customers should be able to easily find and navigate a company’s sustainability objectives and results, ideally organized according to an established system of sustainability reporting.
For employees, who spend significantly more time interacting with a company than customers do, the need for transparency is even greater. Workers should have a clear, easily accessible pathway to understanding not only what their company does to address climate change, but why they do it. Deloitte’s internal climate learning program, for example, was created to give employees a grounding in climate science and an overview of the firm’s environmental initiatives; the course, given to all members of Deloitte’s 330,000-person workforce, is now part of its onboarding process as well.
Lean on labels.
The sheer amount of choice customers have when it comes to most products can make it difficult to appropriately weigh the environmental impacts of seemingly indistinguishable versions. This lack of information can be paralyzing: In one recent survey, roughly half of UK consumers cited a lack of information as a barrier to adopting a more sustainable lifestyle.
Many brands have addressed the issue with simple, readable labels, both physical and digital, that help customers compare products and make more informed decisions. Google Maps, for example, now uses a green leaf icon to signify more eco-friendly routes. Apparel companies like Patagonia and Pact have specific labels to indicate fair-trade practices, organic or recycled materials, and carbon offsets.
What does labeling look like when applied internally? One tactic is internal carbon pricing, which organizations such as Microsoft and Yale have adopted, to assign a price tag to each metric ton of carbon emissions the organization generates. Company activities—from heating the physical office space to data storage to ordering supplies—are then given a corresponding dollar value to come out of the team or company budget.
Another, lower-lift practice is a company-wide carbon emissions tracker for work-related travel, such as business trips and commutes, with the goal of making real the environmental impact of employees’ transit choices—opting for a walk over a taxi on the way to a client meeting, for instance, can feel more compelling when the climate benefits are quantified. At Charter, we use a modified version of the Environmental Protection Agency’s emissions calculator, but a number of third-party apps can provide employees with real-time data on energy use for in-the-moment benchmarking.
Design for lack of effort.
A tried-and-true rule of human behavior holds up when it comes to customer experience: Opt-out is more effective than opt-in at driving the desired action. Using an opt-out rather than framing has been shown to increase the adoption of green electricity, the reuse of hotel linens, and the use of electronic rather than paper bank statements.
All of which means CX managers’ simplest and most effective practice is often to make the environmentally responsible option a default for consumers. “When the onus is on the consumer to add carbon offsets at checkout or to choose the more sustainable product within a website, an opportunity is missed to bake sustainability into everything on offer,” explains Clarke Murphy, the former CEO of the consulting firm Russell Reynolds Associates and author of Sustainable Leadership.
As Chorley puts it: “Fundamentally, it comes down to making it easy for people to do the right thing.”
Or, at the very least, making it enticing. Apparel brand Reformation, which has amassed a following of young consumers with its sustainably and ethically made pieces, has in recent years invested in initiatives that nudge customers to adopt more sustainable practices outside their clothing choices. The brand offers store credit for purchasing renewable energy subscriptions and operates clothing exchange and recycling programs.
“The success of our sustainability initiatives is determined by how effortless they are to adopt,” says Kathleen Talbot, Reformation's chief sustainability officer and vice president of operations. That’s why, she adds, the company “give[s] our customers as many touch points as possible to make an impact.”
Applying the same line of thinking to employees means steering company sustainability programs in the most frictionless path. Default to virtual meetings when possible to curb emissions producing air travel. Reframe commuter benefits to emphasize mass transit, biking, and walking rather than driving personal cars. Choose office space based on energy efficiency, and subsidize home sustainability upgrades for remote workers. (And, crucially, accompany each initiative with an explanation about why it’s the default, which helps foster a sense of shared purpose.)
Make people feel heard.
One of the simplest ways organizations can give their customers a voice on sustainability (or, really, anything)? Asking them what they want to see, with tools like surveys and social-media engagement.
But giving people an outlet to voice their needs is one thing. Making them feel like their voice matters is another. As a 2020 Deloitte report pointed out, that means proactively communicating a company’s actions on social and environmental issues—not only on a company blog or website, but on social-media platforms and other digital spaces where customers actually spend time. “Disengaging from the external debate on important issues will imply indifference and lose loyal customers,” the report noted: Some 55% of consumers want companies to actively promote awareness around environmental and social issues, while 75% say consumer-brand CEOs should be working harder to reduce their organizations’ carbon emissions.
Within companies themselves, environmental employee resource groups (ERGs) solve for both challenges at once, giving workers both a place to be heard and a space to act on what they want the organization to accomplish. ERGs can help set a company’s climate agenda, internally communicate progress on that agenda, educate colleagues, and hold the company accountable to sustainability promises.
As we’ve written before in our guide to ERGs, the key to their success is investing in the work they do and the people who lead them. Environmental ERGs, like any other well-resourced ERG, should have a budget, influence on company policy, and compensation and recognition for its leaders. In doing so, companies signal to employees that sustainability is a priority—and that all employees can have ownership of the organization’s climate goals.