Why business sustainability training should be organization-wide

Sustainability Training

Employee Engagement in Sustainability

The top management often questions the rationale for organization-wide employee sustainability training, given the fact that most companies already have full-fledged sustainability cells in place. Why do employees across functions need sustainability training is indeed a tricky question to answer. That training is a mandatory requirement under ISO 14000 – Environmental Management System should be a good enough reason for the companies who have gone for the certification. But the business case for organization-wide sustainability training goes much beyond compliance.


As per the EPA,

“There are two excellent reasons to train employees on environmental management and your EMS:
• Every employee can have potential impacts on the environment; and
• Any employee can have good ideas about how to improve environmental management efforts.”

In its white paper titled, ‘The Business Case for Environmental and Sustainability Employee Education‘, the National Environmental Education Foundation, USA has cited cases of companies such as Intel, Baxter and Lockheed Martin have used employee sustainability engagement as an enabler for their sustainability strategy. The white paper also highlights sustainability training as “an important factor in attracting and retaining employees particularly with a new generation of “Millenials” seeking jobs that are aligned with their personal values”.

Innovation is another opportunity presented by sustainability. Sustainability Spurs Innovation. Employees across functions engaged in sustainability can come up with innovative environmental management practices, leading the company to costs savings through resource and energy efficiency and streamlined processes. Moreover, sustainability awareness among employees of all functions and levels helps ensure better management of regulatory, financial and reputational risks associated with environmental impact. Awareness of sustainability issues also help employees pre-empt macro-economic, policy and market changes, especially those resulting from climate change and brace to manage them.

This brings us to another point – employees need to be engaged with sustainability at three levels i.e. awareness, training and competence. While the entire staff of a company must be imbued with sustainability awareness, training at a more operational level needs to be imparted to those who will be taking key tactical decisions for driving sustainability in their organization e.g. to procurement managers who will ensure green procurement or the finance personnel who will ensure sustainable finance. The third level i.e. competence is to be achieved by the senior management who take strategic decisions, form policies and steer the company towards their sustainability vision.

This implies that sustainability training needs to be customized to suit the needs of employees at different levels, in addition to tailoring it to the specific needs of the industry in which the company operates. Sustainability training customized to industry, employee grade and employee function can go a long way in ensuring that businesses survive and thrive in the changing times.






Immersive Experiential Learning for Sustainability

A recent article in Guardian Sustainable Business explores whether putting business managers directly into the real world where the masses are battling social and environmental issues on a daily basis, can make them more sensitive to the impacts of business activities. Can trips to slums and landfills make them realize the magnitude and severity of global problems? While the skeptics believe that to the inveterate businessmen, such journeys may be nothing more than “corporate tourism” or “poverty porn”, most sustainability trainers believe that such experiences can indeed lead to the “epiphany moment”. In fact, the article cites cases where business leaders have had such tranformational experiences and have gone on to change how they do business.

Indeed management education and consequentially the corporate world has been far separated from the realities of their not-so-immediate stakeholders – the struggling masses, the communities who directly depend on ecosystems for their sustenance, the workers in the unorganized sector, the grassroots civil society. An important job of sustainability training is to bring business managers face to face with the stark realities of global social and environmental challenges so that businesses cease to function in swanky sanitized ivory towers and be more integrated with the world they directly depend on for natural and human capital. Immersive experiential learning holds a definite promise!