- Green Hotelier - https://www.greenhotelier.org -

Engaging Employees

Getting started: Why engage your employees?

According to a recent survey from Brighter Planet, which works with organisations to help reduce their carbon footprint, 86% of respondents said they were not engaged by their employers on sustainability, even though the same number said it was promoted by their organisation. So how do businesses bridge the gap?

Eating according to the seasons has for many people been largely consigned to the past now that you can buy produce, such as strawberries and asparagus, year-round thanks to refrigeration, heated greenhouses and global transportation. These methods create “food miles” (the distance the food has travelled from producer to consumer); every single mile adds to the food’s carbon footprint.

Capturing the hearts and minds of employees and getting them to believe in sustainable or Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policies is the Holy Grail of managers and human resources personnel. Without commitment from the workforce, the success of a company’s sustainability policies is likely to have limited impact. Creating an organisational culture that encourages staff to actively pursue energy-saving, waste-minimisation and ethical practices through emotional engagement is key to helping a business reach its sustainability goals. If employees’ values reflect the company’s values, and if staff believe that the company genuinely cares about the same things they do, they will be more motivated and productive. In fact, a recent poll by Gallup Consulting of more than 125 businesses found that those with highly engaged staff have 18% greater productivity and 12% higher profitability.

The benefits of engaging staff in sustainable practices:

For employers:

For employees:

Spotlight on Whitbread
Whitbread’s Good Together strategy, which aims to deepen the company’s corporate responsibility, has employee engagement at its heart. Attempts at staff participation work across four areas: training education and communication; community and environmental initiatives; its WINcard key performance indicator measures; and its Your Say employee survey system, which monitors the effectiveness of how well the company is engaging with its employees.

Creating a green team

Deborah Fleischer, founder of US consultancy Green Impact, describes green teams as self-organised, grassroots and cross-functional groups of employees who voluntarily come together to educate, inspire and empower staff about sustainability. “They are,” she says, “key to successful employee engagement, offering a framework to express their green values at work, increasing retention, attracting the best talent and educating staff on corporate-sustainability goals.”

Philip Newman-Hall, director/general manager of Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, near Oxford, England, which is owned by Orient-Express Hotels, advises: “Our green team was initially a staff idea and is made up of people who have a natural interest in the subject. There’s nothing imposed. If the ideas come from the team [pictured above], we find they get introduced much more quickly than if it was just a diktat from above.”

But it’s not enough to just tap into enthusiasm, it’s important to engage cynical members of staff, too. From his experience, Newman-Hall says it tends to be the younger employees who are keenest and it is mainly through their “infectious enthusiasm” that other staff become engaged. “Once they see small ideas changing their environment, they are much more likely to become involved with the next initiative,” he admits.

Nick Andrews of Great Performance Group explains that the law of diffusion of innovation comes into play: “There is always a minority of early adopters, while the majority will sit back and wait to see how an innovative idea is working before embracing it.” Andrews adds that people will only engage when you explain “why”. “It’s no good just selling an idea on when and how, people need to know why they should change their behaviour,” he says.

Keys to creating a successful green team

1 Make sure it is cross-departmental
The team needs to have buy-in from all departments to have a full impact.

2 Harness enthusiasm
Don’t force staff to be part of the team. Try to find “champions” who have a natural interest and enthusiasm for the issues.

3 Include all levels of seniority
The green team should not just consist of heads of departments; in fact, it tends to work better as a multi-level taskforce because more junior workers will see wastage or flaws in the system that senior people may miss. However, top-level support and participation is essential for a deep commitment to sustainability to take hold.

4 Meet every month to ensure continuity and momentum
Have an annual plan. Ad hoc events will also emerge but it helps to start with specific planned events throughout the year.

5 Have an open-door policy
Encourage all staff to suggest positive changes and then implement the best ones. This shows employees that their ideas are being implemented and that management is listening, consequently raising morale and increasing environmental awareness.

Spotlight on Sol Meliá Hotels & Resorts
Sol Meliá has made its sustainability objectives more relevant to its employees by including them in the variable bonus criteria for company executives. In its corporate offices, the system is based on 19 objectives related to the company’s four major commitments: certification as a Biosphere Hotel Company; progress related to the UN Global Compact; membership of the Spanish stockmarket’s FTSE4Good IBEX index; and Global Reporting Initiative indicators in its annual Sustainability Report.

These criteria represent 5% of variable bonuses. In Sol Meliá’s hotels and vacation clubs, the valuation system for 10% of variable bonuses relates to meeting the mandatory minimum objectives set in the company’s Sustainable Development Manual, including energy and water efficiency.

Maintaining momentum

The more staff believe that being environmentally conscious and working in a sustainable manner is part of the integral culture of a workplace, the more it will become second nature. There are many ways an organisation can help this change of mindset to occur.

Dominic Burbridge, the Carbon Trust’s senior adviser to the hospitality industry, advises:

1 Keep it simple
Look at your business and identify the top three to five things you want to change every six months.

2 Cultural differences
Ensure you have advisers who comprehend the issues but can also understand your business, the countries you operate in and the type of people you employ. Translate literature, initiatives and training into the native languages of your staff.

3 Training
Use the same style of training for sustainability as you would for other issues. In hotels, it is often cascading training from manager to shop floor; use the same techniques for maintaining a focus on environmental issues.

4 Integration
Integrate the training and ethos into your business. If it is seen as separate, it will be treated as faddish and forgotten as staff will quickly return to old ways.

5 Measure and reward
Install measuring systems that can be used to monitor and reward staff for good work. Create ongoing competition with league tables across sites or departments and announce winners every month or quarter.

6 Communication
Show employees what has already been achieved and ensure achievements are continually recognised, through staff newsletters, intranet and award ceremonies.

7 What’s in it for me?
By showing staff how they can save money at home through their actions, the gap between behaviour at work and home is reduced. Employees are then more likely to behave in a consistently sustainable manner, as it becomes part of their daily routine.

Spotlight on Hilton Hotels
When Hilton won the Carbon Trust Standard in recognition of its commitment to sustainability, the hotel group put a large part of its success down to employee engagement. Among the initiatives Hilton has successfully launched are:

  • Appointing energy champion employees in each hotel.
  • In 2009, its hotels competed against each other to see which one could save the most energy, with mountain bikes awarded to the winners.
  • Staff at the Birmingham Metropole took carbon cutting to another level by establishing a green committee, which runs its own campaigns, including “Office Switch Off” to encourage staff to think about their energy use, and “Green Chef”, which fosters energy-efficiency in the kitchen.

Challenges for franchises

One of the biggest challenges for the hotel sector is how to keep up the momentum of a CSR policy. That’s particularly difficult in an industry with high staff turnover (as much as 25% in a year) and low wages, where environmental and social issues may take relatively low priority. Multi-national companies with properties spread across the globe also face additional challenges, including addressing cultural differences and working with franchisees.

David Jerome, senior vice-president for corporate responsibility at InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) explains that although sustainability goals may be global, each market needs a local team who understands the cultural sensitivities to produce the greatest benefit from sustainable practices.

IHG’s Green Engage initiative was designed to be a resource that franchisees can tap into for information and training, to help them save money and develop their business in the most sustainably efficient way. To get owners and franchisees involved, you need to understand their drivers and treat green initiatives as a business exercise. “You have to speak to them about the things they want, and show them how they can improve their business by buying into sustainable practices,” says Jerome.

David Jerome’s tips to engage franchises

1 Don’t assume people know what you are talking about – explain it.

2 Think about win-win. How can sustainable practices benefit both owners and franchisees?

3 It’s not just about saving money, it’s about pointing out where they can stop losing money. Easy-to-implement initiatives that are simply about running a more efficient hotel are also simple to maintain.

4 Don’t underestimate the power of culture. In the US, sustainability is often seen as a regulatory or tax matter; whereas in the UK, it’s more of a consumer-facing issue. Each needs to be addressed to get a committed buy-in.

5 Allow operators to do it their way. Initiatives are more likely to continue if they are customised for each operation.

Spotlight on IHG’s Green Engage
IHG’s Green Engage (GE) initiative, which was launched last September, has already signed up 1,200 hotels, has 4,000 users and has trained 300 people in its GE Fundamentals course. A new version of GE, which will be easier and more intuitive to use, is due to be launched at the end of this year.

Emerging trends

Employee engagement facilitators
It is often a challenge for businesses to continuously think of schemes or activities to keep the workforce emotionally engaged in its environmental and social commitments, but there are an increasing number of companies that facilitate this. LeapCR, an employee-volunteering platform, for example, can assist companies that provide staff with paid annual volunteering days to support a chosen cause. Malcolm Scovil, its founder, explains: “We’re basically a technology provider with more than 400 charity partners on the platform, so staff can pick whichever activity they want, from gardening and river clean-ups to Father Christmas fun runs.” Staff can also use the platform as a social network, inviting co-workers to join in their activity. Other companies offering similar services are AngelPoints, a provider of employee engagement software; Environmental Resources Management (ERM), a global provider of environmental, health and safety, risk and social consulting services; and Smartchange, which helps companies manage their corporate community involvement and employee-giving initiatives.

Linking brands
Another trend in employee engagement is linking brands together to offer advice and subsidised services. This encourages employees to embrace sustainability by incorporating small changes into their lives. Hug Your Home is one such programme, which runs across different business sectors to help customers and staff take practical steps towards a more sustainable and environmentally friendly attitude at work and home.

Improving the measurement of employee engagement
One area where there is room for progress is the measurement of the impact of employee engagement programmes on a business’ bottom line. Companies often find it difficult to turn qualitative, anecdotal data into quantitative measures that help to bolster the business case for green policies. There is a requirement for baseline surveys and measurement tools that assess the business value and impact of employee engagement.

Sustainability-and-marketing expert Perry Goldschein, co-founder of SDialogue, recommends the following communication measurements:

Visibility & awareness


Employee effects/outcomes

Spotlight on Starwood Hotels & Resorts
UNICEF has been the hotel group’s charitable partner since 1995. This year, Starwood’s employees’ fundraising campaign, The Road to Awareness, raised US$320,000 for its “Schools for Africa” project. Additionally, the group’s “Check Out for Children” programme adds US$1 to every guest’s bill within the EAME and Asia Pacific.

Examples of fundraising initiatives across Europe, the Middle East and Africa, include:

  • 24 Starwood employees, including top management, rode 360km (225 miles) through the Dolomites.
  • In the Middle East, hotel teams organised a football tournament, fishing for charity and a swimming competition.
  • The Sheraton Abu Dhabi organised its own Summer Olympics.
  • Employees in Starwood’s Rome property organised a “walkathon”.


1 Have a global strategy with local implementation
Senior management needs to be involved but actions, initiatives and targets need to be kept at grassroots level.

2 Start a green team
Engage all levels of the business and encourage staff to generate ideas.

3 Pick key topics for change each quarter
Explain how they can be translated into saving energy and money at home.

4 Measure, track and report
Install simple measuring devices to calculate savings and areas that require work. Compare sites and performance regularly.

5 Provide incentives and recognise achievements
Recognition will help continued engagement, participation and idea generation.

6 Link sustainability goals to performance evaluation
For sustainable goals to be taken seriously at an individual level, they must be reflected in staff appraisals and performance reviews.

7 Communicate and share best practice
Don’t be afraid to let staff and customers know what you’ve achieved. Shouting about results will encourage more ideas.


Brighter Planet, www.brighterplanet.com [1]
The Carbon Trust, www.carbontrust.co.uk [2]
Considerate Hoteliers, www.consideratehoteliers.com [3]
Decarbonising The Brand, www.decarbonisingthebrand.com [4]
Gallup, www.gallup.com [5]
Green Impact, www.greenimpact.com [6]
Hilton Hotels, www.hiltonhotel.com [7]
Hug Your Home, www.wewillifyouwill.org [8]
InterContinental Hotels Group, www.intercontinental.com [9]
LeapCR, www.leapcr.com [10]
Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons, www.orient-express.com [11]
Marriott Hotels, www.marriott.com [12]
Starwood Hotels & Resorts, www.starwoodhotels.com [13]
Whitbread, www.whitbread.co.uk [14]

Further information

AngelPoints, http://angelpoints.blogspot.co.uk [15]
Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, www.bis.gov.uk [16]
ERM, www.erm.com [17]
Futerra Sustainability Communications, www.futerra.co.uk [18]
Future Conversations, www.future-conversations.com [19]
Personnel Today, www.personneltoday.com [20]
HRM Guide, www.hrmguide.net [21]
National Environmental Education Foundation, www.neefusa.org [22]
Smartchange, www.smartchangesolutions.com [23]
World Business Council for Sustainable Development, www.wbcsd.org [24]