The Key to Corporate Buy-In: Trickle-Up Employee Engagement?

When you ask any professional from a corporate sustainability leader about the keys for driving their sustainability efforts, you will likely hear a common refrain: Support from corporate leadership creates enthusiasm that trickles down through every corner of the company. This idea was illuminated at the SUSTPACK session, “How to Run a Thread of Sustainability Champions Throughout the Enterprise to Challenge the Status Quo.” Although the nature of the speaker’s companies shared little in common, every speaker attributed much of their success in leading sustainability initiatives to the willingness of their company’s leadership.

It’s something we hear about all the time, and it’s no mystery that corporate buy-in drives any effort through a company, but we rarely hear about how to obtain that support from leadership. The speakers in this session offered their advice. Michael Chung from Johnson & Johnson spoke about their focused and streamlined approach that cuts across all sectors of the business with a simplistic set of goals — making it easy for corporate leadership to understand and reinforce the efforts from the top. Ashley Hall from Walmart stressed the importance of setting sustainability targets that resonated with other corporate goals, never ignoring trade-offs and shooting for win-wins. Tetra Pak’s Carla Fantoni recommended developing internal sustainability champions from outside the sustainability team and creating the desired enthusiasm from within, which was supported by an insight from PepsiCo’s Daniel Brena that we rarely hear: It’s always nice to have support from the top ranks, and if you happen to have it, you’ll likely be in good shape, but it doesn’t need to start at the top. A groundswell of enthusiasm from the bottom of a corporate pyramid can be just as effective — and maybe more effective. Because when employees get excited about sustainability initiatives and spread that energy throughout the bottom ranks of a company, leadership listens.

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