How to Save the Environment While Engaging Employees

NWEI Director of Membership & Engagement, Liz Zavodsky

This week NWEI’s Director of Membership and Engagement Liz Zavodsky was featured in a blog post on volunteer programs to boost community involvement. Published by the Small Giants Community, an initiative dedicated to identifying, connecting and supporting purpose-driven business leaders, Liz focused on the guiding question: how can we work to protect the environment while also meaningfully engaging employees? 

At a recent Small Giants presentation, Liz discussed how organizations can save the environment while engaging employees using two innovative, technology-based tools: NWEI’s EcoChallenge and Discussion Courses. By giving team members a fun and social framework to talk about their relationship with the planet, these programs boost engagement and empower employees to take positive action in their communities. Liz oversees sustainability program engagement with businesses nationwide, and has been working with NWEI since 2011. To read the full blog post, click here. To watch Liz’s webinar on How to Save the Environment While Engaging Employees, click here

Are you struggling to implement engaging, impactful employee volunteer programs? We’ve all been there — demonstrating the value of community programming is a challenge, and other priorities like profit, sales, and growth wind up taking center stage. Although community is one of the six qualities of a Small Giant, many purpose-driven organizations struggle to implement successful employee volunteer programs that actually boost community involvement.

For companies looking for tools to effectively engage their teams, communities, and other stakeholders, here’s how two employee volunteer programs take community involvement to the next level.

What Is EcoChallenge?

EcoChallenge is part of a suite of educational and engagement programs offered by the Northwest Earth Institute (NWEI) in Portland, Oregon. The program’s flagship event is its annual EcoChallenge in October — a two-week initiative that is free and open to everyone, inviting organizations and community groups to take advantage of the platform’s tools to work together and reduce environmental impact…There are two key, upfront benefits to EcoChallenge: the platform is free and it already exists. While most community programming requires an investment of both time and money, EcoChallenge offers a robust, ready-made platform for instant engagement. Most employees are eager to give back to their communities, but without a clear path for getting involved, it falls to the wayside. EcoChallenge helps to inspire your employees about their daily choices and builds connections across the company by sharing individual actions as well as your collective impact.


What are the Results and Impact?

For Small Giants companies, meaningful contributions to the community are a key component of what sets them apart from the crowd — purpose-driven organizations strive to cultivate deep, lasting relationships with their communities, and that begins with engaging employees on an individual level. When businesses empower employees to make positive change, they cultivate a deeply rewarding, highly-engaged company culture that is intrinsically linked to its surrounding community.

EcoChallenge not only triggers individual action, but it also maps how each person’s individual action contributed to a much larger impact — last year’s EcoChallenge reduced 75,769 pounds of Co2, inspired 9,755 meatless meals, and saved up to 1,362 light bulbs. However your team members choose to give back, the program connects them with a larger network of change-makers who help amplify their contribution to create real, measurable change. That’s inspiring!

Across the board, participating companies find that the program boosts engagement and helps involve employees in company sustainability initiatives. It also cultivates a sense of community within the company, particularly among virtual and in-house employees. EcoChallenge helps employees learn more about one another, prompting employees to share what’s important to them, how they live at home, and ideas they have for making positive impact.

As Bala Cadambi, Director of I/O Technologies and Standards at Intel Corporation, put it, “It makes the workforce richer. It brings innovation to work. It makes you more community-oriented, more customer-oriented. All aspects of the workforce get better as a result.”

What are Discussion Courses?

While EcoChallenge provides organizations with a short-term employee volunteer program, many companies also want to cultivate a structured, year-round conversation around community involvement. NWEI’s Discussion Courses give people a framework to talk about community impact through discussion book courses designed to focus on different aspects of sustainability. These courses give your team members an opportunity to connect their personal vision to their work, deepening engagement and cultivating a culture of dynamic, collaborative leaders.

What are the Results and Impact?

One of the most consistent outcomes of Discussion Courses is a shift in how companies live out their core values. The Discussion Courses empower employees to think like leaders, taking what they’ve learned in the program to come up with new ideas for community involvement. As Liz explains, employees have helped their organizations align their food purchasing policies with company values, gotten customers and clients to adopt company values, and spearheaded waste reduction programs.

Think about it: if you empowered your employees to learn more about causes they care about, how would that impact company culture? How would it change how they connect to your core values? How would it change how employees, customers, and your community view your organization?

When we engage employees on an individual level and empower them to act as leaders, you can cultivate positive action throughout the organization. Liz sums it up best: “Our theory is that wisdom lies within the room, not necessarily at the front of the room.”


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