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  • Inspiring employees about sustainability

    People Matter


    World Business Council forSustainable Development

  • EmbedMeasuring, managing and embedding change: How to integrate sustainability in the corporate culture?

    SkillBuilding capacity: How to develop the skills and leadership employees need on the journey to sustainability?

    EngageOpening up the conversation: How to inspire people across the organization in the pursuit of sustainability?

    RewardAligning incentives: How to reward and recognize people to drive sustainable performance?

    People Matter

    People Matter is a project to explore the link between talent skills and sustainability. Through this project, leading companies are sharing experience and developing thought leadership on how to prepare, engage, train, motivate, reward employees around sustainable development.

    This first in a series of issue briefs focuses on the links between employee engagement and sustainability. It is an introduction to the topic, presenting the business case and highlighting best practice. It is designed for sustainability experts as well as human resources leaders in their quest to understand what sustainability challenges and opportunities mean for their work.

    People Matter is a WBCSD working group with over 60 members and led by member companies: Dupont, Henkel, Holcim, Infosys, Kimberly Clark, PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Business Initiative South Africa.

  • Contents

    Foreword 4

    The business case 5

    Practical applications 7

    Case studies

    TNT : Planet Me 9

    Nokia : The power of We 10

    Unilever : Brand Imprint 11

    Getting started 12 and getting serious

    Inspiring employees about sustainability


  • 4


    People are crucial to business success. As more and more companies are addressing sustainability challenges, the focus on people needs to be aligned. New skills will be required. Training and incentives must enable employees to make sound decisions for the long-term, and leadership must guide the business, keeping sustainability in sight. For a sustainable future, business needs to develop new products, new business models and new ways of working. This will inevitably impact people. People matter.

    The ability of companies to deliver more innovative and efficient products and services to more people depends on their ability to identify, mobilize and retain human capital. The challenge of enabling 9 billion people to live well within the resource limits of the planet requires a fundamental change in patterns of production and consumption over the next forty years. Corporations have a crucial role to play in building the skills and capabilities of their employees.

    It is increasingly recognized that when corporations align business strategy with sustainability goals, they can reap benefits in terms of financial performance and shareholder value, operating efficiency, brand image and reputation, and productivity. Achieving these results requires new technologies, systems, and regulatory change, but it also depends on the support and skills of the people in the organization.

    As part of the WBCSD People Matter project, within the Business Role Focus Area we have built a network of business experts to share experience and develop thought-leadership on talent, skills and sustainability. This is helping to create a bridge between sustainability and human resources professionals.

    This issue brief focuses on how to engage and involve people across the organization in the pursuit of sustainability. A key lesson learnt is that an effective sustainability strategy requires connecting with employees at all levels.

    Doing this also calls for open and transparent communications. This is why this issue brief explores methods to help people who are starting these conversations within their companies, as well as those who are working to sharpen existing practices.

    Dr. Mohammad A. Zaidi, EVP & CTO, Alcoa

    Co-chairs, Business Role Focus Area

    Idar Kreutzer, Group CEO, Storebrand

  • The business case

    Sustainable development challenges are becoming increasingly linked to business strategy. Whether this is called sustainability, corporate social responsibility, corporate citizenship or just good business, involving employees in addressing sustainability concerns makes sense.

    Many employees are already concerned about issues such as climate change, environmental degradation, poverty and health. Ensuring they understand the companys strategic objectives in relation to these issues fosters a sense of pride for working for an organization that lives up to its values and contributes to society. Importantly, it also enables employees to play their own part in addressing these objectives.

    Business leaders increasingly recognize that employees play a crucial role in driving and delivering sustainable business strategy. A survey by the World Economic Forum found that 75% of CEOs rated employees as a key driving force for corporate citizenship, 60% rated employee motivation as one of the top three benefits in taking action, and 90% saw communicating values and policies internally as a key step for achieving success in this area. Further, PwCs Global CEO Survey found that 75% of CEOs said employee engagement programs required more attention and resources.

    There are five key elements to the business case for engaging employees in sustainability:

    Behavior change: The gains from sustainability cost savings, risk reduction, reputation enhancement and innovation cannot be achieved simply by adopting new technologies or rules. Often it takes employees changing the way they work, learning new skills or pursuing new goals. Unless the rationale for sustainability and for performance in areas such as environment, health and safety, diversity, human rights and business integrity is clear and understood, there is always a danger of people complying to the minimum or finding ways to work around new rules.

    Innovation: Ideas for innovation and cost savings may come from anywhere along the value chain, from front-line employees or the factory floor. If employees can make links between the issues that matter to them, their community, the planet and the business with a clear understanding of what this means for their own work, then they will be motivated to address sustainability concerns. For example at TNT, when the company started buying green electricity, one depot worker asked if the company could also negotiate a green tariff for employees at home. This led to a three-year agreement with the Netherlands leading energy company to offer TNT employees green electricity and green gas with a substantial saving. Nearly 5,000 families have made the switch, resulting in a 20,000 tonne reduction of CO2 emissions per year.

    Attraction and retention: A commitment to sustainability helps in attracting and retaining talent. Even in a period of economic downturn, there is ongoing competition to attract and retain the best talent. Top graduates are increasingly interested in the sustainable development commitments and values of prospective employers. For example, in a 2008 Hill and Knowlton survey, 40% of MBA graduates rated corporate social responsibility as important to reputation. PwCs Managing Tomorrows People Survey found that 86% would consider leaving an employer whose corporate responsibility behavior no longer meets their expectations; 58% would consider an organizations climate change policy in deciding whether or not to work for an employer.

    Motivation and productivity: When business has a purpose, employees are motivated. Employees who feel they are valued are more willing to go the extra mile in solving problems, taking initiative, helping colleagues and customers and working collaboratively.


    Everyone who works for Nokia is a brand ambassador. That means we all need to know our brand, we need to understand what we are telling consumers, and we need to act accordingly. I expect all the Nokians to make a serious effort to live in accordance with our values and I look for people who find that easy.

    Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, Nokia CEO

  • 6

    Engaged employees are more motivated, take less sick leave, are less likely to leave their jobs, and are stronger advocates for the company. Reduced employee turnover means it makes good economic sense for employers to invest in building employee skills and competencies. This is the positive cycle that links being a great place to work and a high-performing organization. Many of the organizations that encourage employee engagement tend to make more effective progress toward sustainability. They usually demonstrate strong leadership toward the organizational vision, a culture that fosters trust and integrity and supports people in doing their job and sharing their ideas and developing joint solutions.

    Acting on sustainability brings people together and can help to develop a common sense of purpose between diverse and geographically-distant employees.

    Reputation: Employees can strengthen or damage brand reputation. It has been said that CSR - HR = PR.14 Protecting brand reputation and the license to operate remains the strongest business driver for addressing sustainable development. Yet, if employees are not involved, these efforts may be seen as a mere public relations exercise. Employees are the front-line ambassadors, both in customer-facing roles and through word of mouth, amplified through social media networks. While companies have become more transparent in the sustainability information and data they disclose, and understand they need to walk the talk to be credible, to a large extent, how their employees be


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