Motivating employees sustainability
A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still
–Benjamin Franklin

How can you get someone to do something they don’t want to do?  You can’t!

You can tell them all the reasons why they should change, create snazzy presentations that are beautiful to look at, and conduct a “road show” that repeats your message in a variety of formats. But let’s face it, when it comes to behavior change, how many of us just do what we’re told? Hint: not a whole lot otherwise we would have really listened to all the great advice we got as teenagers.

Use Personal Motivation

We change our behaviors when we want to, not because someone told us to. For instance, as a sustainability leader you may need your facility manager to start collecting data in a new and enhanced way to enable better visibility into your energy efficiency measures.

However, the facility manager may not have any desire to do this. She may not care that the data is used to inform decisions on building systems that significantly reduced carbon emissions. To the facilities manager, it’s a lot more work, more forms and more process that is just another to-do to add to an already long list.

You have to tap into an individual’s personal motivation to make behavior change real, substantial and on-going. As Vital Smart’s Influence Model states, you have to use this first source of influence to make the undesirable desirable.

Savvy sustainability leaders will develop strategies to create conditions where individuals can elect to motivate themselves. They provide the match that individuals can use to light their own fires. They create an invitation that allows others to discover within themselves the motivation to change.

One of the best ways to get others to “buy in” is to connect to their values. Connect what is in their heads to what is in their hearts. Use vicarious experiences to elicit a strong emotional response to answer “why do I care?” or “what’s in it for me?”

Bank of America’s My Environment employee initiative grew to 12,000 active employee participants in 26 countries within two years of its inception by expanding beyond an education focus to an action-focused global community, tapping into their employees’ individual motivation. The Bank raised awareness, built engagement and maintained commitment to achieve its goals of 30 percent aggregate reduction in global GHG emissions by 2015 against a 2004 baseline, and a 70 percent diversion of global waste from landfill by 2015.

Abundance @ Paladino

Built into Paladino’s DNA is a core value we call abundance. This approach assumes that any successful change initiative must contain an upside, a state of abundance. Sustainability does not imply scarcity. The idea that we must do with less is an outmoded frame of reference.

To ensure connection to our core values, every employee creates an Abundance Poster, a visual representation of his or her individual abundance story as it relates to Paladino’s mission of people, planet and prosperity all thriving together.

This exercise creates a vicarious association in which each one of us can experience abundance and how we create abundance through our actions and our roles at the company. We have created a situation where others can find their own personal source of motivation and apply it to our business goals and objectives. In other words, we give them a way to “opt in.”

Don’t be fooled or think it was easy because we already have a deep commitment to sustainability. Our folks are just like your folks. They’re busy! They have multiple deadlines and projects and competing priorities for their time and efforts. They all grumbled when we gave out the assignment — seemed like just another to-do to add to an already long list.

But look at what we got! Beautiful, interesting posters and a connection to our core values that no amount of snazzy presentations could create.

Robin McNeil, Accounting Manager

“It started on focusing how I fit into Paladino but quickly turned into what I do at work flows to what I do with my personal life and then to the world community. Everything and everyone is connected. During my recent vacation to Iceland, I toured an energy plant. If I didn’t work here, I wouldn’t have done that. It was so cool! They have almost zero carbon emissions. I brought back a book from the plant and have loaned it to others here to read. It was great to bring something back to the company.”


Scott Bareither, Associate Consultant

“I really enjoyed thinking through what abundance means to me. Expressing my idea of people, prosperity, and planet provides insight into what makes me…me. Anytime I am able to use my artistic abilities to evoke a response in a person, I influence the world around me.”


Alex Harry, Sustainability Analyst

“To me, my poster represents the interconnectivities and unexpected pathways of people, planet, and prosperity. These relationships between people, planet, and prosperity are not static or fixed but are constantly moving, almost as if their orbits harmonize.”

Maggie Santolla, Marketing Communications Manager

“This process really helped me articulate why I am at Paladino and why sustainability is important to me. I’ve been interested in environmental causes since I was a kid, but I hadn’t really thought about why in a long time! I started by thinking about what drives me as a human being—the issues and ideas that make me want to strive to create something good in the world—and then thought what that looks like, and it connects to what I do here.”

Melony Pederson, Sustainability Analyst

“Looking at my completed Abundance Poster re-centered and reminded me why I care so much about the work that I do. I expected this exercise to take maybe an hour and half to complete, but sitting at my kitchen table surrounded by laptops, glue sticks and shreds of paper three hours later it became clear that expressing my purpose in the world and to my family, and how I wanted to do it was not a quick task. Sharing the posters with team members was the highlight of the experience—gaining an intimate glimpse into people’s worlds we don’t normally share in everyday work life was not only informative, but uplifting.”

What are you doing to create personal motivation for your sustainability change efforts?

Julie Honeywell is Vice President, Talent Management, at Paladino and Company.

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