A fundamental aspect of sustainable practice is the recognition that it rarely has a finite endpoint. The implementation of governance structures, reporting processes and accounting systems will provide a pathway for change, but sustainability must also entail long term and ongoing behaviour change across the organisation.

Particularly for professional services firms; awareness, education, behaviour change and change management are critical to the sustainability journey.

For firms to ensure that individual behaviour leads to collective awareness and action it should introduce a structured knowledge sharing framework based on collaboration, communication, facilitation and training to help an organisation increase awareness of its own sustainability measures. Research has shown that businesses who demonstrate to staff their personal environmental savings are 60 per cent more productive1.

Activities aimed at raising sustainability awareness are essentially a type of change management and are critical to developing a workplace with sustainability embedded within its culture.

The culture of the workplace should be one in which staff feel empowered to challenge the status quo and the business as usual approach. It is important to recognise that a majority of firms do not see conscious individual behaviour as a major barrier to the implementation of sustainability—often it is an unlocking of unconscious behaviours that is more relevant. For others, it is simply being made aware of a certain process or behaviour, product or tool that will help bring about the shift.

Firms recognise that they must facilitate a learning process to encourage and facilitate rather than enforce behaviour change. This can be achieved by breaking change down into discrete process elements as opposed to seeing it as one event or moment. It is however critical that this does not become an excuse for inaction—it must be the case that efforts and initiatives should result in demonstrable changes.

For a successful outcome, there must be a level of acceptance of change and uptake amongst the workforce. This is best achieved when individual ideas, values and behaviours are allowed to flourish within corporate processes and cultures. When encouraged to do so, employees will often come up with hugely innovative ways of improving efficiency and sustainability2.

“Employee buy-in is a challenge, and opportunity, best realised when sustainability is visibly a priority to the organisation; clearly tied to organisational values; and championed and made tangible by committed management.”

 – Ingrid Cornander Aurora Consulting

1 Queensland Health, 2009 ‘Why go green?’, Green Office Resource Guide, Queensland Government, p. 6

2 ERM, ‘The workforce: changing performance’, A sustainability toolkit: An ERM guide for business, p.19

Indicator / measures Description Questions to consider
Management commitment High-level buy-in is required to ensure sustainability is on the agenda. The implementation, maintenance and promotion of sustainability policies, commitment statements, formal plans, communication plans and internal codes of practice demonstrate to employees that your firm and your leaders are committed.
  • What documentation and systems do we have in place to implement and manage sustainability in the organisation?
  • Are our senior and middle management actively promoting sustainability in the organisation?
  • Are senior and middle management ‘walking the walk and talking the talk’ and seen as leaders?
  • Are employees enabled and allowed to act on initiatives?

Indicator / measures Description Questions to consider
Employee induction As part of new employee induction, a preview of the firm’s sustainability vision and policies helps to promote the importance of sustainability within the firm.
  • Are new employees informed about our sustainability documentation, key staff, initiatives and facilities?
  • Have we developed a sustainability 101 document* for our firm?
Role descriptions A review of position/role descriptions to ensure that sustainability is considered on an individual basis will help to embed sustainability across the firm in a demonstrable and ongoing way.
  • Is sustainability incorporated into staff position descriptions?
  • If so, how many/which employees have sustainability indicators in their job descriptions?
  • Have we set sustainability KPIs for employees?
  • Is sustainability part of the balance score card?
Champions and teams Within professional services firms (with people as its capital), the importance of champions and dedicated teams cannot be overstated. It is important to establish champions and teams based on what suits your firm’s culture.
  • Are there ‘green teams’, champions or nominated key staff within the organisation? Has this team been given the power to bring about changes across all business units and departments?
  • Does this team have representatives from several business units/levels?
  • Do they report on the success or otherwise of their activities?
Internal learning events Internal learning events can be a great way to get staff involved in initiatives. Examples include: one-off or recurring staff events; brown bag lunches*; e-Learning programs; and office/ national/ global staff events to inform staff, engage, and increase the conversation.
  • Which different forums can we use to engage with our staff? Lunchtimes? Staff meetings?
  • Interaction with C-suite executives and senior management through social media, global calls etc.
  • Can these events be held online using social media platforms? Conference calls?
Third party training Third party training for relevant staff is another way to develop greater sustainability awareness and a knowledge sharing process. It is also a great staff incentive.
  • Which third party training modules would be of benefit to our staff on an ongoing basis?
  • Who would be best positioned to undertake this training and share the lessons learned amongst colleagues?
Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for existing employees Sustainability CPD involves ongoing, structured learning for employees. Where appropriate it reflects roles and responsibilities, but should be predominantly non-hierarchical, should sit outside of teams and departmental boundaries and should involve all staff.
  • How can we ensure employees are engaged and share their knowledge with one another?
  • What does knowledge sharing mean to our organisation?

Best practice overseas: The Employer Pass Program (EPP) is run by the regional transportation authority in Greater Vancouver – TransLink. The EEP allows companies to offer discounted annual transit passes to their employees when 25 or more employees are enrolled into the program. The transit passes can be facilitated through the convenience of payroll deduction and offer about a 15 per cent discount on monthly fares. In an analysis of the impact of the program – from data collected in 2006, customer survey and program entry information indicates that between 9 per cent and 16 per cent of EPP participants left their Single Occupant Vehicle (SOV) commute to join the EPP. If a conservative number is chosen, for example, 10 per cent of total annual EPP participants (600 for 2003, 1050 for 2004 and 1250 for 2005) and multiply those numbers by two trips per day x 5 days a week x 48 weeks a year, this results in approximately 288,000 SOV trips eliminated in 2003, 504,000 in 2004 and 600,000 in 2005.

Extract from Lambert, B., & Beadudoin, J. 2006, ‘Transit programs to enhance transportation options and partnerships’, paper prepared for Walking the Talk: Sustainable Transportation Implementation, Performance and Results Session, p.19

Indicator / measures Description Questions to consider
Define your communications Consider: communication of carbon footprint; electricity usage; audit results; sustainability report details; changes to policy; and sustainability program details. Communication should cover all staff and cover both positive and negative results.
  • Are all staff members aware of what sustainability means to them as an employee and for the company?
  • Can staff recite the sustainability goals of the company and hold comprehensive discussions about them?
  • Once strategies for improving sustainability are identified, how are they communicated to the staff?
Communication plan Successful communication plans are unique and should reflect the culture of your firm. Once the information has been made available, always consider what is next and how to ensure information is ‘digested’.
  • Considering our firm’s culture, how do we effectively plan and implement a communication plan?
  • Are we properly managing information flows, or just making information available?
  • Are we mistaking information management for knowledge management?
  • Have we enabled staff to unlock unconscious behaviours as well as teach them with new behaviours?

Indicator / measures Description Questions to consider
Two-way communication platforms Providing information to employees is only step one. Making sure there are opportunities for genuine, two-way dialogue to occur. This dialogue is key to effective information-sharing.
  • Is there a platform in existence enabling two-way communication between all of our staff, or can we look to create one?
  • Is there a coordinator or facilitator in place to support the two-way communication?
  • Are staff able to make honest insights?
  • Is management prepared and equipped for frustrations and criticisms to be voiced?
Intranet Your staff intranet can be utilised as a specialised knowledge sharing platform with forums and dialogue tools (e.g. wikis; chatter, mini blogging, videoconferencing etc.)
  • Is there a platform already in existence that we can utilise?
  • If not, is there knowledge and expertise within our firm that could be utilised to create a specialised knowledge sharing platform?
Emails Emails can be a simple, yet effective way for employees to share their questions or for those responsible for sustainability (e.g. champions or teams) to share information and engage.
  • Do we have a dedicated sustainability email account set up?
  • Is the account regularly monitored?
  • Is sustainability related information being communicated using this email?
  • Are email-based Q&As shared amongst employees?
Noticeboard Placed somewhere with high traffic e.g. water cooler, kitchen etc., noticeboards can be simple, effective ways to engage and remind employees of sustainable behaviour.
  • Is there a dedicated sustainability noticeboard?
  • Is the noticeboard maintained and kept up to date?
  • Is it suitably placed to remind staff to, for example, switch off computers and turn off lights?

Indicator / measures Description Questions to consider
Conferences Engaging with other industry professionals and across sectors represents an opportunity to learn, and share, new information, processes and skills.
  • What are the top five national/regional/global conferences that are relevant to promoting sustainability, in all its aspects?
  • How many conference have we attended in last financial year?
  • Where can the budget for attendance come from?
Articles Contributing professional articles helps to raise the profile of your firm and helps to get quality information into the public sphere. It also increases the credibility of your sustainability efforts amongst your own staff.
  • Have we contributed to peer-reviewed journal/industry journals/research papers in the last financial year?
  • Have we helped to develop thought-leadership pieces?
Seminars If you have an exceptional staff member, team or initiative, consider sharing with the broader industry.
  • Is there knowledge to share that would benefit the wider industry?
  • If so, have we hosted industry/client seminars in last financial year?