CIPD | Embedding environmental sustainability initiatives in your organisation: SUEZ

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The aim

Given the environmental services that SUEZ provides, it’s only appropriate that one of the business’s core values is ‘Commitment to the environment’. “We take a triple-bottom-line approach, so all the decisions we make at senior management level are through the lens of people, planet and profit,” explains chief business services officer Dr Tracey Leghorn, who is responsible for areas including HR, IT and business transformation. 

People often choose to join SUEZ because they feel alignment with its commitment to shaping a sustainable environment, Leghorn adds. Recent employee surveys had found that staff viewed the company’s commitment to sustainability as one of its three key strengths, providing a great platform to build from. So, the HR team decided that harnessing this employee enthusiasm for sustainability would be a powerful way of enhancing overall employee experience. Fully embedding sustainability into employee experience and the employee value proposition would also help SUEZ demonstrate to its clients the efforts it was making to improve sustainability in its own operations, something that is growing in importance in both public and private sector tenders. Focusing on sustainability was not only the right thing to do for the planet; it was imperative for future commercial success.

How was change achieved?

The team started by carrying out three surveys (one for senior managers, one with a group of 100+ employees attending one of their internal company conferences, and one for all employees) to get further insight into how employees across the business felt SUEZ could improve sustainability. Almost 300 employees took the time to share their thoughts. The top three suggestions were:

  • reducing travel
  • increasing the use of electric vehicles, and
  • improving on-site energy-efficiency.

To demonstrate commitment from the very top, the management team introduced a new critical success factor: ‘Sustainable environment’. The people team worked to ensure that all employees could develop a common awareness of what sustainability means at SUEZ. Together with SUEZ Group, they delivered Climate Fresco training, a team game based on the reports of the IPCC (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). During the game, employees explored two environmental challenges – climate change and pollution – and discussed the impact of how we live our lives in contributing to, and tackling, them. 

SUEZ then created 10 sustainability principles for each team and location in the business to live by, including ‘travel smarter’, ‘lower our utility use’ and ‘recycle on-site’. Crucially, these principles, which are easy to understand and apply, were co-created with staff throughout the business, rather than being imposed top–down or by HR. “It was vital to engage our people in creating these,” says Leghorn. “If we’d sat in a darkened room and developed them, perhaps they may have been more polished, but the priority for us was that they derive from the ideas of our people and belong to each and every one of them, not the management team.” 

How has change affected the organisation?

To support the ‘travel smarter’ principle, SUEZ has introduced a sustainable travel policy, which includes a meeting impact calculator to help people understand the financial and environmental (in terms of carbon emissions) cost of holding a meeting in person. In 2021 alone, the policy saved the business £2 million and led to a CO2 emission reduction of 2,000 tonnes.

To build on this and harness the energy of those most passionate about sustainability, SUEZ created a network of sustainability champions. This is particularly important given that remote and online forms of communication aren’t always the most easily accessed on-site. Each champion has been supported with training and receives a financial ‘thank you’ in recognition of taking on extra responsibilities. Local champions are supported by a network of regional champions and two substantive roles in the organisation who lead on sustainable development and social value. 

With so much great work going on around the business, being able to record and communicate it is key to engaging people further. As well as a dedicated Microsoft Teams channel and Yammer posts, the company developed a bespoke People and Planet app, which records and promotes the sharing of best practice. Examples of recorded activities include community litter picks, fundraising activity, energy-efficiency projects and on-site biodiversity activities, such as the creation of bug hotels. To date, almost 3,000 activities have been recorded on the app. 

“Employee experience at SUEZ has been greatly enhanced and deepened by our commitment to sustainability,” says Leghorn. “It is now a key tenet of our employee experience and a vital means of engagement, as well as an important attraction facet for new candidates.” And in 2022, the company received external recognition, being awarded Best Employee Experience Initiative at the CIPD People Management Awards.

Top tips

  • Involve your people; give them the opportunity to contribute. As Evans (1996) states, “It’s human nature to resist unless you’ve been part of creating it.” 
  • Start small (do two or three things well) and build from that rather than trying to do too much.
  • Find a way to record what you are doing and to share best practice and inspiration.

For businesses at the beginning of their sustainability journey, Leghorn suggests you should pick one or two things to start with. “Once you get things moving, communicate what you are doing and, if the idea came from an individual, be sure to communicate that as well. That can be very powerful and get people excited. This area can feel overwhelming, so start small and build from that.” 

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