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Selling Buy-In: A Multi-Faceted Approach to Employee Engagement

As evidenced by Sustainable Brands’ Issue in Focus last month, employee engagement is a key ingredient in any company’s path to sustainability. Here at Sprint, sustainability is one of the core tenets of our business. Our quest to reduce our company’s impact on the environment in a way that also benefits our bottom line is baked into nearly every business decision we make, which includes how we recruit, train and relate to our 40,000 employees. Our recent employee survey found that 92 percent of Sprint employees felt the company is “very committed” to sustainability; even more interesting: 85 percent of respondents would like Sprint to do even more in this area. We know that without the involvement, passion and ideas of our employees, Sprint would never have been able to achieve a #3 ranking on Newsweek’s 2011 Green Rankings, or be named a corporate sustainability leader in the U.S. wireless industry.

How did we get here? We’ve learned that engaging employees in our sustainability initiatives is best achieved with a genuine, multi-faceted approach that honors the individual’s motivation above all else. And, what we communicate to employees is just as important as how: Just as with external audiences, we want our workforce to understand that our commitment to sustainability is good for our bottom line — something that’s good for all of us. It also doesn’t hurt to have a very engaged and well-versed CEO who’s driven a sustainable business culture from the top down.

Here are a few tactics and lessons that have served us best:

A Pervasive Approach

Sprint’s 200-acre headquarters in Overland Park, Kansas, is a living, breathing reminder of the company’s larger environmental goals. The sprawling campus is home to a working wind turbine, free bicycles and a variety of indigenous birds, bats and other wildlife and plants. It’s also dotted with lakes, ponds and fountains; 100 percent of the water used to irrigate our 40,000 shrubs and perennials and 6,800 trees is provided through recaptured water runoff. Even the resident Chesapeake Bay retriever, Chase, contributes by chasing geese out of areas where they can do damage. Inside, the eco-friendly (and cost-saving) message is made clear through everything from LEED-certified buildings to the elimination of Styrofoam drinking cups to a daytime janitorial program that helps save electricity.

Sprint's Overland Park campus

A Varied Approach

Over the course of our engagement efforts, we’ve learned that people will start to tune out if we bombard them with too many messages about our sustainability programming, so we’re careful about not letting our passion override our approach. Sprint’s intranet and social-media site, Sprint Space, host sustainability conversation streams that allow employees to check in on their own terms. When they do seek out sustainability information online, they have a user-friendly format for sharing their ideas with our corporate responsibility team or for communicating directly with each other. Sprint Space also allows our various sustainability teams to share news and tips for staying green and healthy at work and at home (including a streamlined “Five Green Things” campaign and the video below, which was created as additional inspiration for employees).

A Fun Approach

Sprint’s annual Earth Day events bolster our company culture and foster a sense of shared purpose and community by highlighting our dedication to green business practices in a way that’s fun and accessible. This year, the event hosted over 2,000 employees and included live entertainment, food, games and more than 50 speakers and Sprint volunteers. Enormously popular with our employees, our Earth Day events offer a fun way for people to engage directly with each other and with our sustainability efforts. They’re supplemented throughout the year by employee-driven events, contests and celebrations that tie back to our sustainability goals (for example, we’re currently on a quest to transform our Overland Park campus into a zero-waste facility).

A Serious Commitment

Of course, it’s not all fun and games. Our position as the first U.S. wireless carrier to establish a clear environmental vision — and our aggressive goals such as reducing total greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent by 2017 and collecting nine phones for every 10 we sell — comes directly from CEO Dan Hesse’s personal passion for sustainability. This very public commitment helps us attract employees and partners who are just as passionate and interested in finding innovative business solutions that are also good for the environment.

Ralph Reid is Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility for Sprint. In this role, he leads Sprint’s overall social responsibility and environmental efforts as well as direct management of Sprint’s Community Relations, Employee Volunteerism, and Corporate persity and Inclusion efforts. He also… [Read more about Ralph Reid]

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