Environmental engagement for people, planet and profit

Environmental sustainability is a world-wide concern. Communities are demanding action from governments and businesses alike on local, national and global levels, and they want to be involved. They want to actively engage with organisations in making decisions that will positively impact the planet. 
In this article we discuss the importance of environmental engagement (i.e. engaging with stakeholders on environmental issues), and how best to do it. We also introduce ‘green-engagement’ and offer some tips for green-engagement greatness.

Corporate Social Responsibility in the green age

Environmental engagement - engaging with stakeholders on environmental issues

In this day and age, organisations big and small, from local councils to large multinationals, are expected to care about people and planet, not just profit. Communities and stakeholders are increasingly reactive when it comes to organisations they deem socially or environmentally irresponsible. Even the smallest mishaps can play out in a big way, so when an organisation is caught greenwashing for example, it doesn’t sit well.

This is where Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) comes in, and for many stakeholders, it’s non-negotiable.

Your organisation’s CSR platform might mean the difference between signing on a new investor, getting planning approval, or increasing revenue, so it’s important to get it right. Rather than a set of values, your organisation’s CSR should be a transparent framework that outlines the social and environmental actions your organisation is taking and the goals it is striving for.

The benefits of environmental engagement for corporate social responsibility

When done right, your organisation’s CSR will benefit both you and your stakeholders:

Employees
Rather than settling for a job that pays the bills, many employees are seeking more meaning in their work. They want to work for an organisation that shares their personal values.

Taking positive steps towards a more environmentally conscious business structure will show your employees where your values really lie. In return, you’ll have a workforce who are proud to represent your organisation.

Investors
Shareholders are increasingly concerned about the environmental sustainability of the organisations they invest in. Why? Because sustainability means longevity, and longevity means reliable returns.

According to BusinessThink1, organisations with positive CSR performance can benefit from lower cost of capital and higher future cash flows.

By taking meaningful steps towards environmental sustainability, investors will be more confident in your organisation.

Consumers
Environmental sustainability isn’t a passing consumer trend, it’s a growing shift in the way people live their lives.

According to Deloitte2, 61% of consumers have reduced their usage of single use plastics, and nearly 1 in 3 consumers claimed to have stopped purchasing certain brands or products due to sustainability concerns.

By taking active steps towards environmental sustainability, you can foster consumer trust, confidence, and ultimately, loyalty.

Communities
Communities across Australia have been taking a stand against climate change. On a national level, there has been a significant push towards renewable energy. And on local levels too, communities have been pushing against unsustainable developments, for example.

Organisations who make environmental sustainability a priority will stand in good stead with communities, who support organisations that have community interest in mind.

Approaching CSR

While your approach to CSR should be grounded in living up to your brand values, it also needs to engage with the communities you operate in and reflect what’s important to them. With environmentalism continuing to be a top concern for many Australians, the vital role of environmental engagement in CSR is only growing.

However, it’s also important to recognise that each stakeholder group has a different set of environmental priorities and expectations. Employees might want to see an eco-friendly workspace, while consumers prefer recyclable packaging. Communities might want sustainable development and investors might be looking for environmental innovation.

As an organisation, It’s important to gauge these priorities. And the best way to do this is through a little something we like to call ‘green-engagement’.

Introducing green-engagement

definition of green-engagement

As engagement specialists, we’ve noticed environmental concerns being increasingly raised by stakeholders, even when we’re not specifically engaging on it! We’ve recognised the need for organisations and stakeholders to come together and engage on the topic in a dedicated setting. So, we’ve coined the term ‘green-engagement’.

What is green-engagement?

Put simply, it’s the process of engaging effectively on matters that are environmentally relevant or important to the organisation and that will impact positively on decision making and outputs.

Green-engagement is the promise of doing better, of taking responsibility for an organisation’s environmental footprint, and giving stakeholders agency in shaping it. And it works! The Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance3 recognises that engaging with stakeholders on environmental issues can:

  • enable informed decision making
  • avoid or reduce business risks due to better business intelligence
  • develop and expand business opportunities, brand value and reputation
  • bring diverse perspectives together to facilitate innovation

So how do you become a certified ‘green-engager’? Well, we’re glad you asked!

Three steps for green-engagement

There are many ways to ‘green-engage’ with stakeholders, from anonymous surveys to deliberative workshops, and you’ll probably find that each stakeholder group will need something different. Regardless of how you engage with stakeholders on environmental issues, there are a few things you can do to get the most out of the process:

1. Make the theme green

Green-engagement should be a dedicated process, not an addendum to a larger engagement topic. To get the most out of green-engagement, keep the theme green:

  • Make it clear that you are engaging with stakeholders on environmental issues, and why. Be specific. For example, “what goals would you like to see us work towards for improving our environmental sustainability over the next 12 months?”.
  • Have an agenda to keep engagement sessions on track. For example:
    • Discuss what you’ve done so far – what goals did you set previously and how did you achieve them?
    • Ask your stakeholders what they want to see
    • Ask them how this vision will be achieved
    • Develop a set of next steps to ensure action is taken
  • Offer opportunities for engagement on other issues that might arise
    • Sometimes conversations can take a detour. If you find an important topic has arisen outside of scope, offer stakeholders an opportunity to explore it further in a different session.

2. Manage expectations

Unfortunately, it’s unrealistic to take on every suggestion that comes your way, and it’s important that your stakeholders understand this. A local council isn’t going to solve flooding issues overnight, and a small business probably isn’t going to go carbon neutral in a day. As an organisation, it’s important to manage the expectations of the stakeholders you are engaging with so as not to make promises you can’t keep.

  • Make it clear what is within your scope and what is not. Some issues, like extreme weather events are out of your control, however, having a disaster management plan is a reasonable way your organisation can work to deal with the issue.
  • Work towards small, actionable steps. For example, what can be achieved in 3, 6, 9 and 12 months?
  • Have a predetermined set of negotiables and non-negotiables before initiating engagement – what compromises are you willing to make and what is out of the question?

3. Put it down on (recycled) paper

It’s important to show that you’ve listened to and considered the opinions and ideas of your stakeholders. It’s equally important to show what you’re going to do with them. Remember how we suggested developing a set of next steps to ensure action is taken? This is where it comes into play.

  • Follow-up with stakeholders
    • provide a brief report
    • detail important topics or issues that arose
    • outline next steps
  • Incorporate next steps steps into your CSR or business strategy. Your environmental commitments are critical to the way your organisation operates.
    • If you make a promise to only use recycled paper for example, you need to find a way to actually make it happen – make it part of your standard operating procedure to only order recycled paper, and tell people about it.
  • reconvene in 3/6/9/12 months. Refer back to the goals you set – how are you progressing? What has worked and what needs more work?

Green-engagement is a process

Finally, remember that green-engagement, like any engagement, should be a process. It doesn’t begin and end with a single survey or one-off workshop. It’s an ongoing cycle of setting goals, taking strategic actions and measuring achievement. And your stakeholders are part of the whole process.

We know that engaging with stakeholders can seem like a daunting process. No one organisation can solve the planet’s myriad of environmental problems, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make your corner of the world a better place.

So to help you on your journey, we have even more tips for achieving green-engagement greatness.

Three more tips for green-engagement greatness

1. Ensure your words match your actions
We can’t stress this enough –  When you take a stance or start a public conversation on environmental issues, you’re opening the door for others to scrutinise the actions of your organisation.

Credibility is built over years but can be lost in a moment, so make sure you’re ready to back up any promises with work you can stand behind.

2. Be sincere
When you take an insincere or hollow approach to environmentalism, you can expect to receive a hollow reception. If your sole purpose in taking environmental action is to better your reputation or increase your profit margins, accusations of greenwashing will likely follow any attempt to share these efforts.

Avoid bandaid solutions and only consider workplace policies and activities that will create lasting change, enrich your communities, and bring pride to the people that work for you and with you.

3. Consider the why
It’s not only about what you’ve done, it’s why. Why is this important to you as an organisation? How does it reflect your company values and culture?

With so many organisations improving their environmental practices, you need to show that you’re acting with intent and not just bandwagoning.


References

1. Why investors want to see more CSR reporting from companies – Business Think
2. Shifting sands: Are consumers still embracing sustainability? – Deloitte
3. The Corporate Social Responsibility Report and Effective Stakeholder Engagement – Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance

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