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Brands in Motion: Engaging employees is key to overcoming ‘green fatigue’—companies must make sustainability commitments real to ignite change

by | May 24, 2023 | Public Relations

It’s not only consumers who don’t truly trust brands’ and business’s sustainability claims and commitments; there’s also much skepticism among employees about their own company’s eco-pledges and overall impact, new research from WE Communications reveals. The comms giant’s latest Brands in Motion global research report provides new insights into this issue and offers tactical approaches for brands to “get real” about sustainability.

The firm’s new study, Winning the Battle Against Green Fatigue, with research partner YouGov, uncovers that even though employees strongly support their companies’ missions to create a more sustainable world, this perception of inaction is leading many to experience “green fatigue,” which is clearly disheartening for for those who want to believe in their employers’ sustainability missions, but is also likely affecting productivity and employees’ own commitments to their jobs.

Nearly half of employees surveyed said they suspect their employers are involved in some level of greenwashing

Brands in Motion: Engaging employees is key to overcoming ‘green fatigue’---companies must make sustainability commitments real to ignite long-term change Suspicions of this practice, defined as the act of making a product, policy or activity seem more environmentally friendly or less environmentally damaging than it really is, leads to employees having deeper concerns about the validity and impact of environmental commitments overall.

“A level of fatigue has set in for many employees, despite well-intentioned efforts by their employers to design and launch impactful corporate sustainability programs,” said Hannah Peters, WE’s global lead for Corporate Reputation & Brand Purpose, in a news release. “Our research proves it’s time to think differently about the way employers communicate internally about sustainability—most employees are optimistic and realistic, but growing skepticism presents real risks.”

Bridging the corporate sustainability gap

For sustainability investments to reach their full potential, executives need to ensure that all employees understand their role in supporting corporate sustainability aspirations and outcomes. However, the new study shows a disconnect between leadership and the broader workforce: Almost two-thirds of employee respondents said they have very little or no involvement in their employer’s environmental sustainability efforts, and only 38 percent know that their companies have even made sustainability commitments.

Brands in Motion: Engaging employees is key to overcoming ‘green fatigue’---companies must make sustainability commitments real to ignite long-term change To address this gap, company communications—both internal and external—on sustainability must be clear and focused and deliver tangible proof points showing progress.

“Effective internal communications can mobilize and inspire employees—arguably a company’s most important audience—by engaging with them to not just stay on the climate-transition journey with their employers but to be active participants and ambassadors,” said Kemi Akindele, director of Corporate Reputation & Brand Purpose WE UK, in the release. “Turning every employee into a sustainability champion is the key to creating an engaged, inspired and loyal workforce.”

To engage employees, brands need to make it real and make it simple

The research identifies the top five strategies for an “Employee Sustainability Engagement Playbook” that engages employees and brings them along a company’s sustainability journey, from the initial declaration of a commitment to ongoing progress updates to celebrating milestone achievements.

These five strategies share common themes, including an emphasis on results that can be seen and felt:

1. Get specific and make it real

Employees want concrete proof of how their day-to-day work is changing based on the company’s sustainability efforts.

2. Step into the spotlight

Employees say that seeing their employer’s sustainability efforts showcased or praised by accredited organizations, such as Fortune and Dow Jones, is the top factor that improves their opinion of their company’s climate-friendly strategies and activities.

Brands in Motion: Engaging employees is key to overcoming ‘green fatigue’---companies must make sustainability commitments real to ignite long-term change 3. Don’t fear the deadlines

Committing to a deadline also increases optimism and confidence, with 88% of employees saying that their employers will meet some or all of their time-bound commitments.

4. Show that everyone’s job contributes to sustainability

Relevant initiatives should be communicated in ways that help employees understand how their roles relate to the company’s broader sustainability plan.

5. Make it personal

Take advantage of new and innovative ways to connect with employees, explore their views on sustainability and understand what matters most to them.

“Sustainability commitments are a clear business imperative, and companies are stepping up to meet the challenge with more fervor than ever,” said Peters. “With the right communications mix, leaders can initiate healthy dialogues with employees around environmental sustainability that show they respect their work, their opinions and their ideas—and make it clear that employees play a critical role in near-term progress and long-term success.”

Download the full report here.

Partnering with YouGov, WE surveyed nearly 2,000 employees across a range of industries and roles in three markets—Singapore, the United Kingdom and the United States—to understand their attitudes toward corporate sustainability programs. The study is part of WE Communications’ Brands in Motion global research. Now in its seventh year, Brands in Motion has surveyed more than 100,000 consumers and business decision-makers about how perceptions shift over time.

Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 17 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richard.carufel@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter

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