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Positive reinforcement keeps morale high during a cultural shift at work.

Positive reinforcement keeps morale high during a cultural shift at work.

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How to Create a Culture of Sustainability Without Rocking the Workplace

This is the fifth and final article in our series exploring how sustainable practices will help your business survive (and thrive) tomorrow and into the future. Read Part I here, Part II here, Part III here, and Part IV here.

In this series we’ve investigated different ways you can make your business more sustainable: from changing the light bulbs to buying used when you can. These types of small, concrete actions are important. However, the most important component is creating a culture of innovation within the organization — directed towards sustainability.

Research from MIT suggests there are five components to building a corporate culture that will thrive in leaving old systems behind and creating new ones. These are: 1) a clear direction, 2) the resources to pursue a sustainable agenda, 3) room for collaboration both inside the organization and without, 4) positive reinforcement, 5) and a form of accountability.

A Clear Direction

Ambiguity is not your friend. Choose concrete goals for improved sustainability in your business. The very term “sustainable” is, honestly, too general. What are you goals? To have a carbon-neutral workplace? To put more electricity into the grid than you use? To reduce employees driving emissions by switching a certain percent to remote work? To achieve 100% participation in a recycling program? These suggestions are, of course, all environmentally focused. What are your goals for a more equitable and diverse workplace, as well?

By making these goals clear, everyone knows what they are working for. And, hopefully, how it connects to your industry. As an example, InBev — the company the makes Budweiser beer among many other products — has a program focused on responsible water stewardship. Not only is the company innovating to improve water efficiency in its breweries, it is investing to “ensure water access and quality for both our communities and our breweries.” InBev has concrete benchmarks and a clear stake in making sure water is available for its product.

Show You Are Committed

Lip service to a sustainable future is all very good, but it needs to be backed up with resources. Words are, to use the cliché, cheap. Putting capital and time into your sustainability initiatives shows that you mean business. That creates momentum for employees.

Cynicism is strong in the world today. Many people have an innate disbelief in authenticity, even when they search for it. Showing, early on, that you as a leader are determined to work for a more sustainable culture through allocating resources is the only way to get everyone on board. And we need everyone on board for this fight.

Together We Rise, Divided We Fall

Collaboration on a global scale is key to solving sustainable challenges, but it’s also integral to creating micro-cultures of sustainable thinking. Internally, this means creating forums and teams across departments. One way to do this, according to Fast Company, is to hire skilled generalists. Specialists tend to stay in their silos; generalists can cut across the silos and become agents of collaboration.

Another way is to collaborate with the community and other like-minded businesses. This is where organizations like Boma become key. We bring together leaders from many disciplines to share their expertise — especially related to scalable ideas for a better and more intentional future.

Embrace the Gold Star

Positive reinforcement is essential to establishing high morale during a cultural shift in the workplace. It’s all too easy to think about sustainability only in terms of the enormous challenges before us and the horrifying consequences of inertia and failure.

However, you’ll accomplish more if you take the time to encourage the behavior you want to see in your organization:

“Thank people for their support, encourage engagement, and talk to the positive outcomes associated with behaviors. Negativity and fear are a final line of defense if nothing else is working, and should be used accordingly. But to create momentum, people work better when they feel good.”

Aside from using positive reinforcement to encourage employees to think about sustainable solutions for systems and products, this is a great moment to consider whether there are areas in your organizational culture that are punitive. Positive reinforcement creates a stronger and healthier relationship between employer and employee.

Show Your Work

Committing to sharing your progress will help keep you accountable for meeting your sustainability goals. Sharing your results can be motivational. Knowing that you will have to share those results can be motivational too.

This ties back to all the other components of creating a sustainable culture — clear goals are reinforced by meeting them. Success shows commitment. It also rewards your collaboration and serves as a powerful positive reinforcement.

As we face the many challenges that lie ahead, we need to remember to celebrate when we can — to take a moment to breathe and recognize how far we’ve come and who has been doing the work.

What’s Next?

This concludes our series on how to create a more sustainable business. We would love to hear what you’re doing in your industry to push the world in the right direction. Contact us and learn more about sustainable and ethical leadership by joining one of our summits or other events.


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