Employee Sustainability Ambassadors Bridge the Green Gap of Profit

In her book Green Giants, E. Freya Williams breaks down the success of companies that have been able to make sustainability the cornerstone of billion-dollar businesses. In Williams’ research, she closely examined American consumers’ attitudes and responses towards environmental and sustainability issues: 

“We found that most of America is smack dab in the middle ground—not hard-core green, but not completely unaware or unappreciative of issues surrounding sustainability either. In fact, about two-thirds of Americans characterized themselves as “somewhere in the middle” when it comes to living a green or sustainable lifestyle.” 

In total, Williams found that 82 percent of Americans try to live a green lifestyle, yet only one in six actually turn their positive intentions into meaningful actions.

She calls the 16 percent who follow through, the Super Greens — committed visionaries willing to make sacrifices to live out their ideals. The two-thirds majority — sympathetic to environmental causes, but lacking follow through — is made up of the Middle Greens. “The Middle Green area is where the Green Gap lives,” she points out, “and if you are anything more than a niche brand, this is most likely where your consumer lives too. 

Williams’ discovery lines up with some other interesting data points. The 2015 Nielsen Global Survey reported that 66 percent of global respondents say they would pay more for products and services from companies that make a positive social and environmental impact. That number jumps to 73 percent for global millennials.

However, if Williams is right, there is still a major gap between those who say they would pay more for sustainable services (the well-intentioned Middle Greens) and those who actually follow through (the Super Greens). 

So where is the breakdown? In the same survey, Nielsen determined that the number one factor for those actually willing to pay more is: “the products are made by a brand/company that I trust.” Enter sustainability ambassadors. 

Ambassadors Build Trust

Marketing campaigns will never generate more trust than a face-to-face conversation. In fact, the Trust in Advertising Survey reports 83% of global respondents view “recommendations from people I know” as the most trustworthy form of advertising. 

Innovative companies like Dr. Bronner’s are utilizing their Sustainability Teams as a direct entry point into local communities. “We have more than 200 employees here at Dr. Bronner’s who I believe are ambassadors within their families and in their communities outside of work,” Darcy Shiber-Knowles, Senior Sustainability, Quality, and Innovation Manager at Dr. Bronner’s, says in the book, Green Wisdom. “Change first happens at an individual level, and then individuals change the lives of those around them.”

The role of the Green Team at Dr. Bronner’s is first and foremost to “address climate instability and other environmental challenges.” This happens through internal campaigns, external educational events, and community initiatives.

In addition to saving resources and money, each of these actions allow Sustainability Team members to build trust with local community members, inching those individuals up Williams’ spectrum from half-hearted Middle-Green customer, to commited Super-Green consumer.  

Engage Your Employees

However, before your employees can act as successful ambassadors, they must first become engaged team members.

According to a Gallup poll of over 80,000 workers, “only 32% of U.S. employees say they are enthusiastic about, and committed to their work, and worldwide only 13% of employees say they are engaged.”

The breadth of the field of sustainability provides numerous opportunities for employees to connect their personal passions with their corporate responsibilities. 

Regardless of company size or field of work, the chance to be a positive part of sustainable solutions is energizing and motivating to employees. “It’s important to provide as many different entry points as possible for people to get involved into and get inspired,” Stephanie Meade, former Director of Sustainability at New Resource Bank, also shares in Green Wisdom.

“It’s all about what makes people feel passionate . . . 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 really helpful for us.”

By engaging your workforce through the work of a Sustainability Team, you increase employee productivity and happiness, and by extension, build the consumer base for your sustainable services. 

Bridge the Green Gap 

If unaddressed, the Green Gap is more than a disconnect between consumer thoughts and actions, it represents the potential ceiling for your company’s environmental offerings. 

Transforming your team members from disengaged employees to sustainability ambassadors doesn’t happen overnight.

But it can happen.

Committing to find those entry points of employee passion and community engagement will unlock the Middle Green consumer base and ensure your profits become a sustainable resource for the future. 

Front photo by Ilya Ilford.