From the Board Room to the Living Room: How Corporate Sustainability Programs Can Influence Personal Wellness in Your Workforce


Stephanie Crockett

President, Chief Executive Officer

Corporate sustainability programs have become commonplace as businesses across all industries have adopted and implemented ways to cut down carbon emissions, reduce energy costs and encourage their employees to take part in more responsible behaviors. While these programs help bolster company reputations and lead to a better bottom line, the benefits of corporate sustainability are starting to gain traction outside of the board room. As energy efficiency and sustainability are becoming more closely linked to personal wellness, there’s a good chance employees are “taking their work home with them” when it comes to being more mindful of the ways they use energy in their personal lives.

Why does this matter to employers? Because getting your workforce to adopt energy-efficiency and sustainability practices from the heart (i.e., in their own homes) means you’ll have a better, more authentic experience with it in your business. It will no longer be an “initiative” or a “program” that is unveiled to the workforce as a way to support business objectives, but a way of life that will organically optimize as people proactively and enthusiastically take part in healthier, more responsible choices and behaviors.

As the trend for flexible schedules and working remotely continues, it will benefit employers to help their workforce adopt energy-efficient habits that can help them perform well on the job whether they’re working in your building or from their homes. 

Ready to get your employees in the right head space for your company’s corporate sustainability efforts? Here are three ways to help them see the intersection of energy efficiency and wellness, so you can get them excited about the personal gains they can achieve along the way.

Tip 1: Show them a healthy building equals a healthy body.

In 2000, LEED came on the scene as a way for new construction to incorporate energy efficiency and environmental best practices. It is now one of the world’s most widely used green building rating systems and a recognizable stamp of approval for sustainable buildings. When you see the LEED logo on a building, you know that it was thoughtfully constructed to “keep the planet healthy.”

Now that idea is spreading inward from the “building” to the “being.” The WELL Building Standard® is a performance-based system for measuring, certifying and monitoring features of the built environment that impact human health and well-being, through air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind. It’s expanding the idea of energy efficiency from using less power to powering better humans.

Saving E promotes more D.

Vitamin D, that is. Vitamin D is a key component of a person’s well-being. Daylight is a source of this nutrient, which can impact a person’s mood, how much energy they have, and how healthy they are overall. In the age of energy efficiency, architects and interior designers make conscious efforts to craft spaces that use as much natural light as possible, to reduce the need for more electricity to power bulbs. This practice, known as daylighting, keeps energy costs down and spirits high. If your office doesn’t have naturally lit spaces where employees can spend time, encourage them to spend time outside for quick breaks or meetings that don’t require an inside space. Let them know why natural light is important and suggest ways to help them incorporate more natural light within their homes.

Better air quality = a better bottom line and a better body.

According to the ACEEE, “Poor indoor air quality can result from inadequate or inappropriate ventilation. In commercial office spaces, Sick Building Syndrome is a real concern, and can be a result of HVAC systems that don’t adequately distribute air to occupants.” Clean air means a cleaner, more efficient system that won’t require as much power to operate, thereby saving on energy costs.

Cleaner air also means a “cleaner” body—poor air quality is linked to serious health problems with the lungs and heart.

Max Galka is a data scientist who keeps two air purifiers in his 600-square-foot apartment in New York City. Galka has studied the effects of poor air quality, concluding that it’s ultimately one of the leading causes of death in the United States and around the world. “Air pollution is not counted as a cause of death because it is not an illness,” he said. “Rather, it’s a contributing factor to other illnesses.” While addressing air quality within large commercial spaces can be a costly undertaking, employers can help educate their employees on ways to relieve these concerns at home with air purifiers and air-cleaning houseplants.

The right temperature begets the right temperament.

It’s common knowledge that adjusting the thermostat has an impact on how much we spend on energy, but it can also have an impact on how good we feel in our environment—beyond being too hot or too cold.

In a study published by the journal Nature Human Behaviour, researchers found there was an ideal temperature for being happy and social (spoiler alert, it’s 71.6°F / 22°C). While the study was focused more on outdoor climates, the same idea can apply to inside environments.

Similar studies found that workplace performance increases with temperatures between 69.8°F and 71.6°F (21°C to 22°C), with the highest productivity at around 71.6°F. Whether you’re looking for more positivity or more production, temperature matters. Encourage employees to consider tools like smart thermostats, which can help to manage indoor climates for personal comfort.

According to the 2013 Gibbs & Soell Sense & Sustainability Study, 80 percent of employees who are active in corporate sustainability programs will encourage other people to engage in social responsibility initiatives. Also, 73 percent of employed U.S. adults said they were more likely to make sustainable choices at home as a result of their workplace experience with the programs.

Tip 2: Pitch your sustainability efforts as a purpose, not a program.

When it comes to changing behavior among your employees, it’s important to understand that people are more likely to accept change when they feel their actions are coming from a place of purpose. It’s common for companies to motivate employees to change their behaviors based on a reward system (extrinsic motivation), but the results are usually short-lived. Once the rewards go away, so does the desired behavior. Research suggests that intrinsic motivation is better. Intrinsic motivation means we want to change our behavior because of the way it makes us feel, and the satisfaction that comes from doing something—even without any rewards or recognition for doing so.

Intrinsic motivation is unique to every person, so a blanket program might not inspire employees to make changes. Instead, give your employees a top-line summary of what you want to accomplish in your company and why it matters, and then ask them to think of the unique and personal ways they might contribute to that goal. Be open to unorthodox and nontraditional ideas that might not align with your ideas for a corporate sustainability program. For example, employees might suggest that one way to cut down on environmental waste is to tap into the BYO cutlery trend wherein they might ask that your company no longer use disposable utensils, paper plates, paper napkins, etc.

Companies like Unilever have made a clear connection between sustainability and purpose with their program, “Power of U.” A recent article on the initiative states that “Unilever aims to help its employees fulfill their purpose while also being conscious of their surrounding communities and environment…. The company is working tirelessly to provide people with a platform that will help them find their purpose, act on it, and lead an impactful life. Being such a huge consumer goods company, Unilever realizes the responsibility it has for the society and the planet and follows a sustainable living plan which aims to improve the quality of life of millions of people. They believe that the greater the connect between the individuals’ purpose and the company’s purpose to promote sustainable living, the more mutually beneficial the relationship will be.”

Tip 3: Show, don’t tell.

Sometimes the best promotion for your sustainability program is to simply do the right things without packaging those actions into a company-wide movement or initiative. Employees will take notice of what is happening around them and see these efforts as part of the culture in your company, as opposed to a set of rules that must be followed. In an interview on corporate sustainability practices, a 35-year-old employee at a tech firm commented on the differences she noticed between two different employers:

“Where the company where I’m currently working doesn’t outwardly say they are energy conscious, I think we really are. We have air dryers in the bathrooms, all sorts of recycling bins, towels for cleaning dishes instead of paper towels and in general, not a whole lot gets printed here. In my last job, people printed everything, we didn’t have easy-to-access recycling for paper and cardboard (just cans for return money) and they gave out plastic water bottles to employees. I think little things like that speak volumes about how much an organization cares about energy efficiency and sustainability.”

Another woman had this to say about her employer: “My workplace tries really hard to be green. I can’t think of many actual incentives, but it’s just part of the culture, a pride they have. We get emails that update us on their efforts to reach certain goals of sustainability, emails about the heat levels and lights related to energy efficiency. We have regular lunches and events, and there are always signs telling us what to throw in what bin, as far as recycling. Pretty much all of the paper products and utensils are green. We also have containers to put plastic bag waste in, which a company then collects and uses for building projects. These things do make me think a little more about trying to do the same things in my home.”

The Marketing Payoff

Shaping up sustainability in the office and at home brings inherent benefits to your employees and your bottom line, but it can also elevate your marketing efforts. Telling your sustainability story can help you recruit talent, especially when reaching out to younger employees. Inspiring employees to engage in sustainability efforts at home helps to authenticate and fulfill company goals, which gives you a strong narrative to share in brand messaging, or expressions of the company’s purpose and values. Lastly, you can leverage the enthusiasm employees have for such programs by capturing testimonials and stories to share on social media as a way to amplify and celebrate your company’s culture. After all, you might not only inspire someone to engage with your brand, but to potentially change their own behaviors at home too.

Hey! Our name is pronounced Mōw-rrr, like this thing I’m pushing.

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