Employees are key to the success of any ESG program. But it can be challenging to strike a balance between engaging employees and managing company priorities.
During my time working in the world of responsible business, I’ve learned quite a bit about how to build and run an ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) program that positively impacts our physical environment, society and business. As I’ve transitioned to new roles and new companies, one lesson has stayed with me: Incorporating ESG into products and the technical side of things is one challenge; but reaching and engaging employees is a whole different matter.
And yet, while employee buy-in and partnership are crucial to achieving ESG goals, it can be challenging to strike a balance between engaging employees and managing your priorities as a company. The keys to success lie in harnessing employee passion to help embed ESG across the business.
Harnessing employee passion for impact
When it comes to driving ESG progress, it goes without saying that employees are a critical stakeholder. In fact, according to an IBM study, 80 percent of employees want to help their company reach climate or ESG goals. This isn’t particularly surprising; after all, employees know the company, culture, and product intimately. They are the ones who will be both your biggest advocates — and most vocal about change that does not align with your stated values or priorities.
On the one hand, capturing the passion, goodwill and engagement of employees is an incredible opportunity. And on the other, it is a tremendous responsibility and one that many organizations cannot afford to get wrong. That may seem alarmist; but when you consider the impact of ESG on recruitment and retention, it’s clear that channeling this passion and engagement is critical to achieving success.
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There are a number of ways to map ESG priorities to employee engagement; but the best place to start is by driving knowledge and giving employees the tools to contribute to your sustainability goals, so that they are bought into your efforts from the outset. At HubSpot, ESG is baked into our culture and a pillar of our programming and events. This year, we’ve been running quarterly campaigns focused on specific topics — such as energy or travel — with the goal of educating employees and encouraging sustainable behaviors. For example, we kicked off the new year by launching an internal carbon calculator tool that gave employees the opportunity to understand and act on their hybrid working footprint. The feedback has been positive and it’s a fantastic way for us to meet our science-based targets while educating employees about their role in reducing our emissions as a company.
Another critical ingredient when engaging employees is transparency. Transparency builds trust and fosters an environment where everyone can do their best work. Plus, ESG is a rapidly evolving space — it’s impossible to get everything right; we are all learning as we go. So, it’s as important to address what is going well as it is to own up to challenges and misses that you may encounter along your journey. In addition to sharing updates with our Board and executive leadership, I publish a quarterly internal recap of our ESG efforts so that all our employees can learn about our progress and blockers. Being transparent also means engaging in active conversations with employees to understand their perspective, and communicating about omissions and why something is being deprioritized. That’s where presenting at team meetings, opening feedback channels and having those watercooler moments at the office or on Zoom are especially useful.
Decentralizing sustainability across the business
ESG encompasses a broad scope of initiatives; so, this work should not be siloed to one team or department. That doesn’t mean you can’t have an ESG team — but it should not be viewed as the sole drivers of the company’s ESG agenda. An ESG team should work cross-functionally with other teams including Facilities, Legal, Finance and Culture; and they should aim to embed a sustainability mindset across the company. In other words, the ESG team should operate as facilitators — building knowledge, skills and capacity; and asking questions such as: ‘How do we encourage sustainable behavior?’ ‘What tools are we equipping employees with to make sustainable decisions?’
When you integrate sustainability into your strategy, culture and operations, it no longer becomes a box to tick off but core to your business. At HubSpot, building a high-performing, sustainable and equitable company is one of our strategic objectives; so, it’s clear to everyone at the company what we’re focused on and why. Part of this means accepting that there are many routes to achieve our goals and therefore a bit of experimentation along the way.
There is little consensus on what constitutes ESG success and how we account for impact. But my measure of success is when an engineer approaches me and tells me they’re shipping code to help our product be more efficient, which results in fewer carbon emissions. Or when someone from the marketing team decides to use a more sustainable form of technology to do their daily work. This is when I know that we’ve succeeded in connecting our ESG goals to employee growth, passion and ultimately, our wider impact.