Can your organization increase employee engagement with sustainability?

Jennifer Schultz | September-02-14

Sustainability is more than just a buzz word - it’s quickly becoming the status quo for Canadian environmental companies. And research shows that it’s paying off.

Companies that incorporate sustainability activities into their operations make more money per employee and attract a higher calibre of talent. 

How can your organization incorporate sustainability activities to boost your bottom line? 

Take a cue from other organizations that are already incorporating sustainability, like AET Group Inc. (AET).
AET is a multi-disciplinary environmental consulting, auditing and scientific services company based out of Kitchener, Ontario. There were also named as one of the top 2014 environmental organizations in Canada. 
They not only manage and consult on sustainability projects for their various clients in such areas of solid waste management, air quality & climate change, environmental compliance, environmental audits, natural sciences, water resources, building sciences, environmental remediation & monitoring, GHG and energy & utilities - they also incorporate sustainability into their corporate culture.
“Sustainability is completely integrated in all things AET does. It affects our day-to-day decision making,” says Scott Freiburger, Managing Director & CEO. “We don’t just preach about sustainability – we walk it and set the example.”
“Sustainability also plays a role in how we hire our staff. Throughout the hiring process, we look at a candidate’s sustainability practices including personal habits, volunteering and projects they’ve worked on.” 
While AET works with companies to help them become more sustainable, they also continuously strive to be better corporate stewards. 
As part of their sustainability strategy, they recently underwent a third-party sustainability assessment to identify gaps and areas that needed improvement. 


Example Sustainability Projects

AET has implemented a number of internal sustainable projects, from developing internal policies to leading community projects.

1. AET’s Green Team

The AET Green Team manages and oversees their internal sustainability initiatives to reduce their environmental impact.  Ideas for initiatives are generated from both management and employees. The Green Team then puts them into action with the support of management.
The Green Team has taken on a number of workplace challenges. One of their recent tasks was finding the most environmentally friendly option for hand-drying in their washrooms. 
They used a lifecycle analysis and determined using re-useable cloth towels was the best option, as they would produce approximately 40% less GHG emissions than paper towels. Staff also keep their re-usable towel at their desk and re-use it for a week, further enhancing their water and energy efficiency.

2. Sustainable Transportation Incentives

After discovering a significant portion of their greenhouse gas emissions were a result of employee commuting, AET developed and implemented sustainable transportation policies. 
Employees who purchase a low-emitting and fuel efficient LEED compliant vehicle are eligible for a $1,000 to $1,500 reimbursement.  If commuting by public transit, 50% of transit passes are reimbursed. And if commuting by bike, employees are eligible for a $200 reimbursement to put towards their bike purchase. 

3. Project Plan a Tree 

AET is planting trees in their local communities using 1-2% of their profits to help re-green natural landscapes. To launch the program, they planted 1,000 trees to represent their 15 years in business.  
With 1,000 trees planted, 380 tonnes of CO2 is absorbed and 2,000 people can breathe clean air.
As part of the program, AET partners with local communities like the City of Kitchener Earth Day Event, to provide trees and volunteers to educate the public on the economic, ecological and social value of trees.  

4. Carbon Reduction Commitment 

AET is also a member of the Regional Carbon Initiative, a voluntary carbon reduction framework led by Sustainable Waterloo Region (SWR). AET has commitment to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 40% below 2010/2011 levels by 2020. 
Within the last 4 years, they have almost reached their goal by incorporating a number of greenhouse gas reduction initiatives, such as:
  • upgrading their fleet to more fuel efficient vehicles
  • telecommuting policy
  • sustainable transportation policy 
  • instituting a green purchasing policy
  • diverting 100% of their organic waste
  • renovating and upgrading their office that will soon encompass a LEED certified addition



How to Get Your Organization Involved in Sustainability  

“We believe our sustainability culture sets our company apart,” says Scott. “Companies need to embrace sustainability for their long-term future. We’ve been through the process and understand the challenges to be successful.” 
For organizations that are starting to explore internal sustainability projects, Scott’s advice is to:
  • Start the conversation with your staff. What topics matter? Who is interested in being involved? Form a Green Team.
  • Know where you stand – undergo a sustainability assessment to identify gap areas. Use it to monitor progress and benchmark your performance.
  • Tackle simple projects first. Start with tasks that don’t cost a lot to implement – ‘the low hanging fruits’, whether it’s staff time or financial resources. Then build off of that momentum to tackle larger projects.
  • Get management on board. This is critical to take sustainability ideas and translate them into real action. 
  • Don’t just focus on the ecological. Remember to incorporate social and financial sustainability.