When looking at the business benefits of sustainability, companies often focus on how environmental and social responsibility initiatives directly impact the bottom line. Creating more sustainable products can capture customers’ attention in a way that leads to increased revenue, for example, and making changes like reducing waste can reduce costs.
But sustainability can also be a powerful driver of employee engagement, which can contribute to both greater revenue and lower costs. Only 6% surveyed chose this as the top direct business benefit, perhaps because it’s hard to calculate the exact dollar value of improved employee engagement.
Intuitively, though, whether employee engagement falls under direct or indirect benefits, it can make a meaningful financial difference.
Disengaged employees who coast through their workdays probably aren’t doing much to foster client relationships, discover new sales channels, negotiate with vendors, etc. Better employee engagement can also help companies save money on staffing costs, such as by improving employee retention, meaning companies don’t have to spend as much on recruitment.
However, many companies still face an employee engagement crisis. Only 23% of employees globally are engaged, finds Gallup.One way to boost employee engagement? Integrate sustainability throughout your company and let employees get involved in these efforts.
At KnowBe4, a cybersecurity awareness training company, sustainability is woven throughout the company’s operations, and employees are buying in.
In fact, 97% of KnowBe4 employees have signed the Knowster Climate Pledge, which covers eight categories of environmental sustainability that employees can personally commit to, such as following energy efficiency guidelines and reducing waste and consumption.
That high level of commitment seems to be making a difference from a business perspective. Lael Giebel, director of global sustainability at KnowBe4, points to research from the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF), which finds that:
While KnowBe4 hasn’t undertaken the same type of internal survey, sustainability does seem to be making the impact on employees that NEEF finds.
“Anecdotally, that totally rings true,” says Giebel. “I have hundreds of comments from employees saying how excited they are that we have our [sustainability] program or how much they love the Knowster Climate Pledge, or whatever [the sustainability initiative] is. It's clearly very important to our people.”
Bringing Together Hard and Soft Data
Part of what seems to be working well at KnowBe4 is that the company takes an analytical, hard-data approach to sustainability while also focusing on qualitative, employee-centered issues.
For example, KnowBe4 is a signatory of The Climate Pledge, which commits companies to reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2040. To get there, KnowBe4 has conducted greenhouse gas inventories.
Working with carbon accounting firm Optera, KnowBe4 has been able to measure its Scope 1, Scope 2, and Scope 3 emissions going back to 2020. KnowBe4 also has a zero-waste plan, starting with an 80% waste diversion rate goal at its headquarters.
At the same time, KnowBe4 has a robust green team called EarthBe4, which includes over 50 employees in seven countries. This team acts as sustainability ambassadors for the company’s sustainability initiatives and provides Giebel with a sounding board and ideas for what those initiatives should be.
Some of these sustainability practices have included environmental cleanups that tend to relate to the local offices — e.g., a scuba cleanup of ocean litter near the company’s headquarters in Florida — as well as tree plantings, quarterly contests/events related to sustainability, and educational sessions on sustainability.
These types of initiatives aren’t always easy to quantify or prove a good ROI in terms of environmental impact or financial impact. But they do seem to be a hit with KnowBe4’s employees.
Some companies, perhaps nervous about being accused of greenwashing, have shifted from these sort of feel-good initiatives to just focusing on hard data like carbon emissions management and waste reduction. But to gain buy-in on sustainability goals like reducing emissions, which employees play a role in, it can help to also build camaraderie through sustainability practices.
“I don't want to reduce the importance of carbon footprint measuring, because that's huge. But I also don't want to lose everything else that goes along with sustainability and employee engagement. So we've really tried to marry the two,” says Giebel.
Getting Employees On Board
Engaging employees on sustainability starts from the beginning at KnowBe4.
“Each of our employees, when they're onboarded, they get sustainability training so they understand what we're doing at KnowBe4 and why it’s important to us,” says Giebel. “Beyond that, we have a lot of voluntary training,” such as workshops from The Carbonauts.
Giebel has also been able to tap into the power of stories and symbols to build employee engagement on sustainability.
For example, before she joined the company, KnowBe4 hung a huge banner outside its headquarters to celebrate the company’s growth. Afterward, the approximately 300-pound banner sat folded up in a storage closet because no one knew what to do with it, yet they didn’t want to throw it out.
So, once Giebel came on board and learned about the banner, she decided to turn it into reusable bags.
“We did that two years ago, and people still rave about those bags,” she says.
Giebel has continued this initiative, such as by turning banners from the company’s KB4-CON conference into reusable bags for an Earth Day giveaway last year. By making these more visual sustainability efforts, while also doing the critical yet sometimes less obvious work around emissions management, KnowBe4 has been able to engage employees in ways that benefit multiple stakeholders.
“Having employees that engage in a sustainability program makes them that much more engaged in the company itself, and that much more loyal to the company itself, and makes people feel that much better coming to work each day,” says Giebel.
“Whether it's logging on from home, or actually going to the office, knowing that they're part of something important is really good for the health of the company, each individual, and [the planet]. So it's a win-win-win,” she adds.
Disclosure: Carbon Neutral Copy's parent company, JournoContent LLC, has clients involved in sustainability-related areas, among others. The owner of Carbon Neutral Copy, Jacob (Jake) Safane, has investments in sustainability-related companies, among others.
As such, conflicts of interest related to these and other investments/business relationships, even if unintended, may exist at times. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like further clarification on any issues.