These days, it is an accepted fact that the burden of reversing the climate crisis lies largely on the shoulders of governments and corporations. After all, research shows that less than 100 companies are responsible, whether directly or indirectly, for majority of carbon emissions throughout history. Thus, companies have been under scrutiny to ramp up their sustainability initiatives. The recent Grant Thornton International Business Report (IBR) even saw that 42% of the surveyed Philippine mid-market firms are ready and likely to invest in sustainability reporting and initiatives.

Be that as it may, personal responsibility is still important to achieve environmental and sustainability goals. Everybody is capable of being a changemaker. Adapting more sustainable habits is not only personally empowering, but it also compounds and ultimately affects largescale change. Dr. Steve Cohen, former executive director of the Columbia University’s Earth Institute, puts it succinctly: “Individual responsibility and the thought process and value shift that stimulates individual action [is] the foundation of the social learning process required for effective collective action.”

There is a unique opportunity here. One’s work environment significantly influences their identity and interactions with the world. As more companies lay down sustainable policies and initiatives, they can create passionate champions and advocates in the process too.

The Grant Thornton IBR asked Philippine mid-market firms how they can engage their workforce in sustainability initiatives beyond business. The surveyed companies provided the following top three responses. Let us explore the ways companies can follow through with each action point.

Partner with organisations with experience or capabilities in this area (55%)

Before employees can buy in to a company’s sustainability shift, it is important that they perceive the company first as being consistent in its messaging and practices. Partnerships with government institutions and non-profit organizations that share the same goals are the first step.

Among the United Nations’ sustainable development goals (SDGs), SDG 17 emphasizes the need to create and strengthen partnerships between governments, the private sector, and the general population. This is because cross-sectorial partnerships have shown to be more innovative and effective in achieving sustainability improvements than individual projects, more so when the partnership is long term.

Famously, a certain coffee shop’s collaboration with Conservation International transformed the former’s corporate governance and increased the amount of coffee that it sourced from biodiverse farms. This act of allowing partners to engage and influence the company’s processes in such a tangible manner is important for two reasons. First, it steers the company itself towards more sustainable ways of doing business. And second, it signals to employees that “sustainability” here is not just a buzzword. It is something that is taken seriously and perhaps even rewarded.

Introduce policies to encourage employee involvement outside of business (53%)

In addition to being seen as “walking the talk”, companies must also tie in sustainability with the more formal aspects of the job in order to successfully influence employees to adapt sustainable behavior. Outlining expectations in the employee contract or performance agreement, providing compensation once certain sustainability targets are met, and enacting company-wide policies or working arrangements are examples of how to do this.

One silver lining of the last few years is that it provided the opportunity for companies to redesign their workflow. With the rise of digitalization, it is possible for companies to go completely paperless unless necessary, reducing waste and the pollution related to its production. Companies that continue to work remote or hybrid reduce employee travel. Whether it is writing memos on one’s phone or walking to a destination instead, it is easy to see how these small practices stack up and become daily habit for employees.

Provide training on the importance of personal action (50%)

“Sustainability” has been such a popular catch-all term that sometimes it can be difficult to remember what it describes. But stepping outside of the business vocabulary here, sustainability is just making sure the generations that come after us enjoy the same – or more – privileges that we do. And with that goal in mind, everyone has an important role to play.

Companies can therefore use training and programs to communicate to employees the importance of sustainability and personal action, as well as suggest ways for how they can use their unique talents to strive for better. A professional services firm like ours, for example, is full of accounting, finance and tax professionals. One good way that we can move the needle on sustainability is to use our knowledge in accounting, finance and taxation to help communities, such as that of farmers and market vendors, be empowered with financial literacy. By initiating programs that address SDGs that are closely connected to the company’s core business, it becomes easier for employees to see the impact of their work.

There is no way to monitor employee behavior outside of the workplace. So, management’s role in creating sustainability champions starts and stops at imparting the importance of the topic and individual action. If done successfully though, then following Cohen, that is already half the battle won.


As published in The Manila Times, dated 28 September 2022