The Personal Sustainability Project

What if the employees of an organization start making sustainability personal? What if the organization can help employees in making this happen? What could be it mean for the employees and the employer? These are some of the questions that I am grappling with daily in my job.

One main issue we were struggling with was to create a compelling sustainability theme which should resonate with all our employees and make them change their behaviours at work. What we hit upon was providing them with a “sustainability lifestyle at work” or “sustainable work practices” program. The best part of this program – it will provide the employee with ideas and solutions to become environmentally friendly at their home and save some money!

Our’s is a state government organization with 7000+ employees spread over 300 offices and other buildings all over the state. Add to this the diversity of the workforce and the reluctance to change and we have a big job at hand.

Sarah Rich at World Changing writes about the “personal sustainability project”. Here, she connects sustainable workplace practices with the example of the personal sustainability project of Walmart. This is exactly what we are planning to do at the Department of Families and Communities in South Australia.

Sarah provides evidence about how “energy -efficient” work practices have increased the productivity of employees at various organizations. According to the Cool Companies report for United States Post Office branch in Reno, Nevada, when the management renovated the lighting system for greater energy-efficiency it has resulted in multiple benefits.

Energy savings projected for the whole building come to about $22,400 a year. The new ceiling also saved $30,000 a year in maintenance costs. Combined energy and maintenance savings came to $50,000 a year, a six-year payback. But the productivity gains were worth $400,000 to $500,000 annually – paying for the renovation in less than 12 months.

The inspiring example to me is however, Wal-Mart.

According to the NyTimes:

In the last year, Wal-Mart has quietly introduced an ambitious program in the United States — in equal parts self-help class, corporate retreat and tent revival — that tries to turn its 1.3 million workers into a model for its 200 million customers on issues ranging from personal health to the environment.

In extensive workshops held nationwide, the company is teaching its employees the benefits of carpooling to work with three colleagues (for a savings of $400 a year on gas), quitting cigarette smoking ($1,500 a year) and turning off a television ($40 a year in electricity, plus more time to spend with family).

The program, called the personal sustainability project, is voluntary, but it is proving popular, with roughly 50 percent of employees in a dozen states signing up so far. The company may eventually extend the program to its workers around the world.

For Wal-Mart, the payoff could be significant: if it succeeds, the initiative could improve employee morale, and therefore productivity; reduce health care spending on a work force with higher rates of heart disease and diabetes than the general public; and improve Wal-Mart’s reputation with the image-conscious consumers it is courting with costlier merchandise.

The main difference in our program is to change the behaviour of people at home and work both. One should follow the other. By doing it right at home and saving money they can bring the same behaviour to work (hopefully!). As the numbers and ideas in the Walmart example show, the experience can create a huge diffrence to the employees. In the end, this should translate into better performance for the organization.

Health programs were not in my agenda but I guess it is an idea which I can incorporate. The sell to the management has been hard but we have won them over. Now, we are building the resources (website, presentations, brochures, ideas, frameworks) needed to make this happen.

We will not have the massive budget of Wal-Mart however, one way of achieving the goal is to partner with voluntary networks inside the organization working on similar stuff.

I am exploring ideas on “social psychology” and “social marketing” to sell this concept to the employees and the office managers at various offices across the state.

Reading this article has provided me with further evidence that we may be on the right track.


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