Have you ever wondered why you often see big banana peels or corn stalks poking out of the top of a compost pile? It’s not necessarily because these materials are more difficult to break down than others, but rather because of their size. Be it a leaf, food scrap, or tree branch, large objects break down slowly.
Though it may seem counterintuitive, these larger objects have less surface area for bacteria and fungi to go to work on. When you take a shovel and chop up a banana peel or corn stalk, you increase the working space for the microorganisms that transform the waste pile into fertile soil.
The same principle can be applied to the work of your Sustainability Team. You may have an energized workforce and bold, clearly communicated sustainability goals, and yet, there is a disconnect between your team members’ passion and the results of your sustainability initiatives.
It’s possible that all that needs to be done to reach your goals is to increase your surface area.
Sustainability touches all aspects of life and work and developing campaigns that attract different types of people over time is incredibly helpful in reaching a broader audience – both to enroll new volunteers, and most importantly, to continue reaching the company’s goals.
“It’s important to provide as many different entry points as possible for people to get involved into and get inspired,” says Stephanie Meade, Director of Sustainability at New Resource Bank (NRB). “People feel passionate about many different things within sustainability. One person can be passionate about animals and others might be passionate about oceans and beaches, while another is inspired by sustainable fashion.”
To maximize the number of entry points into their sustainability work, NRB allows employee interest to drive their actions. For instance, one of their major initiatives is an annual “Sustainability Challenge.”
“Each person chooses an area of sustainability that they are interested in learning more about and integrating into their lives. Examples include: growing a garden at home, wasting less food, eating less meat, or decreasing automobile use through public transportation. The “challenge” is unique to each person and all projects turn out differently. This event creates yet another “touchpoint” for people to learn more about sustainability and helps them transfer what they learn at the bank to their daily lives.”
This variety is crucial, because as Meade reminds, “It’s all about what makes people feel passionate. I think that with more entry points focused on education through an array of initiatives, you have a higher likelihood of getting more people involved because you’ll find their entry point. That has been helpful for us.”
When a Sustainability Team struggles to engage a workforce it is rarely because team members don’t care. Perhaps everyone on the Team just needs to chop up its big initiatives and create more space for individuals to connect their interests and passions to the company’s overall sustainability mission.
Author’s note: New Resource Bank has been acquired by Amalgamated Bank, which also has a very innovative sustainability program. Stephanie Meade now runs her own brand storytelling consulting company.